by Sharon Miller Cindrich
After I had my baby, I needed a shopping trip with my girlfriend more than ever.
But our time together proved more stressful than relaxing. My friend arrived on time, dressed in tight jeans, high heels and sporting a fashionable designer purse. I fumbled in late wearing a pair of old maternity stretch pants, a breastfeeding blouse, and the industrial-sized diaper bag I was now using as my purse – complete with giant giraffes on the side and a pacifier dangling from the shoulder strap.
Aside from our fashion differences, we discovered that the cadence of our conversation was off kilter, too. The play-by-play account of the weekend’s partying escapades and work gossip seemed to lack its usual interest for me. And as I detailed my recent visit to the pediatrician and lamented over my inability to get more than 20 minutes of solid sleep, I noticed that she was the one suppressing yawns.
Having a baby changes a lot. Your body, your job, your free time – and sometimes your friendships. But change doesn’t mean a relationship has to go sour. In fact, while it may take a little adjusting and a bit of planning, friendships can become even stronger when a baby arrives.
How can you find a connection when a baby makes three? Try these tips for getting past the pacifier and nurturing your friendship.
Be yourself: Share your feelings, surprises and joys about your baby with your friend – even ask advice. It can be tempting to avoid the topic of baby altogether or to feel self-conscious when you find yourself gushing over the experience of parenthood, but trying to force conversation will be uncomfortable and make your friend feel left out. Just because your friend doesn’t have a baby doesn’t mean she won’t be fascinated with your experiences and share in your joy, too.
Be honest: When you’re with your friend, if you feel awkward, sense tension or feel distant, get it out early. Reassure your friend that you don’t want her to feel uncomfortable. Listen when she expresses concerns about growing apart. Talk about the changes in your relationship and openly acknowledge the new differences in your lifestyles.
Develop a plan: Once you have a baby, you may feel “on call” 24/7 and your friend may have a hard time stealing your attention. Set up a time to connect – on the phone or in person – when there’s little chance of being interrupted. Naptimes, evenings when your partner is feeding the baby, or early on a Saturday might work. Let her know you’re making an effort to carve out time for your relationship and she’ll be more understanding, even when naptimes end early.
Take interest in your friend’s life: The truth is that your perspective on work-related gossip or the worry involved in finding a new hair salon has completely changed – these topics that might have consumed your pre-baby life seem inconsequential now. But you can remember when a bad haircut or a ruined date night were hugely important to you, so make time to listen with a sympathetic ear to your friend’s worries, concerns and stories.
Connect on the subject of change: You may not be the only one who is going through a life change. Perhaps your friend is starting a new endeavor too – entering into a new relationship, buying a new house, training for a marathon or starting a new job. Find ways to relate the new experiences in your lives to each other and share the common challenges, fears and excitement associated with change.
Reclaim your common ground: Maybe you worked out together. Perhaps you loved to bargain shop or had drinks at a favorite Mexican restaurant every Friday during happy hour. You may not be able to spend an evening eating chips and salsa at your favorite cantina, but you can invite your friend over, whip up a couple of non-alcoholic margaritas in your blender, and share a bag of chips on your deck one evening. Find new ways to spend time and conversation on the things you enjoyed together before the bundle of joy entered your life.
Include old friends in your new life: Perhaps you’ve met new friends through a Mommy and Me class. Or you’ve connected with another couple through your Lamaze experience. There’s no need to keep your circles of friends separate. Include your old friends in invitations to birthdays, baptisms and cookouts. Help new and old friends mingle.
Leave the baby at home: Babies are amazing, wonderful bundles of joy. They are also unpredictable, demanding and downright distracting. When you need a little one-on-one time with your friends, it is OK to occasionally leave the baby with your partner or a family member. Even an hour to have coffee together without the baby can be more enjoyable for you and your friend.
Be sensitive: There are circumstances when your new child may make a friend jealous, angry or sad. Friends who long for a relationship and family, have miscarried or are waiting for an adoption to come through may find it difficult to spend time with you and your new little one. Try to be understanding and not take their distance or emotions personally. Find opportunities where you can both benefit from a friend-to-friend getaway – a long walk on the beach or a dinner out together.
If you used to work out together, pick a time to walk once a week with or without the stroller.
If you used to shop together, agree to split the shopping between your friend’s favorite clothing store and the new baby boutique.
If you used to talk on the phone for hours, try texting or sending e-mail. Both are more flexible when it comes to finding time to connect and dealing with interruptions.
If you used to meet for coffee on Fridays, whip up a pot at home and share a cup on your front porch.
If you used to see movies together, try renting a chick flick and pop some microwave popcorn at home.