I’m pretty sure I’m a crap friend. This isn’t out of malice. It also wasn’t always the case. In fact, I remember performing such selfless friend tasks as dropping people off and picking them up at LAX (I was very proud of my secret, non-highway route; it’s an LA thing) and patiently enduring hour-plus, late-night phone conversations about that one guy™ in my friend’s life whose behavior I’d already dissected to death. I gave wedding speeches and bought gifts and went to parties and planned trips.
But now that I work full-time and have a child? Extracurricular activities have been flushed down the toilet. I’m so not there for late-night calls or spontaneous weeknight drinks. I don’t know how to make time for others anymore when I’m barely available for myself. There’s a yawning chasm between me and my childless friends at this point, and I won’t lie: It’s taken a toll on our relationships.
“It would be logical to say that I only hang out with the most important people,” says Amy*, whose kid is a little over a year old. (We’re in the exact same boat; I’d asked her how she manages to socialize.) “But actually, it’s just whoever asks, because I don’t have time to think of who I haven’t seen, not to be dramatic. I’m just much more passive now. Also: Anyone who didn’t come to meet the baby in the first year is dead to me.”
I personally haven’t declared any of my friends dead to me, but I do find myself struggling with the realities of my situation. As with any big life change, kids seem to bring up weird feelings of frustration, anger, jealousy and loss in both the childless friend and the child-having friend. When someone recently asked me for advice on how to stay close with their friend who’d become a mom, I realized didn’t have a quick answer. So, in search of guidance (for her and for me), I asked a bunch of moms how they would have responded. How have they kept their friendships alive? This is what they told me.
Rule No. 1: Plan further ahead than you ever have before
“Be okay with planning to hang way, way in the future,” says Meg, who just had her second kid. “Planning hangouts several weeks out when you don’t have kids might seem ridiculous, but when you have kids, it’s a game-changer. Even when I have the ability to do something spontaneous, I’m often too burned out to motivate.”
In my experience, this is one of the biggest sticking points of friendship post-children. Last-minute texts asking to hang are just…impossible. Stop flaunting your freedom and spontaneity in my face like that! Every after-hour or weekend social activity needs to be planned in advance, or else it’s probably not going to happen.
Rule No. 2: Consider their schedule
“Unless my husband is watching the kids, I try to plan my hangouts around nap time,” says Meg. “I’ll hike at 9 a.m. with my early-riser friends, my kid strapped to my back, or drink wine at 3 p.m. with my night-owl friends, at my house while my kid plays with sidewalk chalk. But I’m off the 1 p.m. brunch circuit for maybe eternity. You do not want to eat brunch with me and my kid who hasn’t napped. Brunch is bad enough as it is.”
When it comes to kids’ schedules, keep in mind that you’re trying to work around a.) daytime naps, which can make mid-morning activities tricky and b.) early bedtimes, which make evenings tricky. Often, it’s just easier to go to your friend, rather than have them meet you somewhere. “I have friends over to hang out AFTER my kids goes to bed,” says Michelle, a mother of two. “Most childless friends really only want to hang with your baby for a few minutes because let’s face it, they’re boring.”
Rule No. 3: But don’t assume your mom friend wants to bring, or talk about, her kid(s)
“Having time alone with non-mom friends makes it feel like nothing has changed,” says Yennie, whose kid is 10 months old. “I find time to see them privately (i.e. no kid or partner in tow), and absorb their relaxed attitude. It helps me to remember that even though I’m a mom, I’m also my own person who has a life outside of kids.”
I agree. While fellow moms are crucial for commiserating, tip-trading and baby-on-baby playdate action, childless friends are important because they (momentarily) pull you out of the grind.
“I used to go out almost every night,” says Meg. “Now I’m lucky if I get out five evenings in a month. That means, when I do go out, I want to go big. Lots of drinks, great food, something cultural, something hilarious, just something.”
Rule No. 4: Flexibility is key; multitasking, even better
“Getting your nails done is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. See your friend and get much-needed pampering at the same time. Bring wine,” says Michelle. Since I barely get to work out these days, I like to schedule friend time around a yoga class.
“I try to maintain the most-important relationships,” says Erin, mom of two. “It’s difficult, if not humanly impossible, to spend an hour on the phone ‘catching up.’ I try to do regular calls, even if they’re only five minutes.”
Rule No. 5: Be Patient
Your friend isn’t gone forever, but she might be under water for a bit — especially in the very beginning. Wait for her.
“I had kids in my early 20s, so I was the first of my friends to become a mom,” says Erin. “Some relationships fizzled. It became clear quite quickly that I wouldn’t be able to maintain each and every pre-child relationship to the same degree. My group of friends became much smaller, but much tighter. They’re unbelievably understanding. With that said, I’m always careful to invest in their lives as well. The friendship goes both ways.”
*Name has been changed.