A dad shares the advice he wishes he’d known about navigating friendships post-baby.
A few months before my twins were born, I stumbled down an internet rabbit hole that nearly destroyed me. I was one of the first people in my friendship group to have kids, so I was worried that my relationships with my non-parent friends would change. Or worse yet, completely end.
So I did what one should NEVER do and I typed “friendships with non-parents” into Google. Big mistake. I was blown away by all the negativity. From “don’t talk about your kids in front of them” to “remember that not everyone likes children”, one thing was abundantly clear: friendships between parents and non-parents were impossible to manage. That is, according to Google.
I was afraid. And when I’m afraid, I often make silly decisions (like believing everything you read on the internet).
Head over to kidspot.com.au for more stories like this.
My new daily mantra became “Don’t talk about your kids too much” and I put a note in my phone that read “don’t show too many pictures, you psycho”.
It started to take over my life. I didn’t attend a dinner party without analysing every word that came out of my mouth. I apologised, and I hid, and I lied.
Before I knew it, I was a boring shell of a person. I quite literally had forgotten how to communicate with humans above the age of two.
I had stopped having authentic conversations with my very best friends. I was so concerned with how our friendship would be impacted by me becoming a parent, that I wasn’t actually talking about the most important things in my life with the people who had earned the right to hear them.
I didn’t realise it was a massive issue until one of my very best friends called me out over text one day.
“You have to give us the opportunity to decide what’s boring and what’s not,” he said. “I love you. I want to hear about the good, the bad, and the poopy. I want to know how you’re really doing. Not this BS you’re pushing off on me.”
There it was. I had been lying to my friends to “save them” from the truth. My truth.
That’s when I decided to re-write the script and start over from scratch.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
I took the standard “Guide to Friendship Between Parents and Non-Parents” and threw it out the damn door.
Here are the things you ACTUALLY need to stop saying to your non-parent friends:
1. “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you”
If you’ve been rambling on for an hour or two and your friends have fallen asleep, then yes, you can politely move the conversation back to them. But real friends will listen for as long as you need them to. Real friends will decide when they’ve had enough.
Remember that this transition to becoming a parent is a powerful and often traumatising one. You need to be able to openly express how you’re feeling with the people you love and care most about. So don’t, under any circumstances, belittle your situation and hold back from telling your truth.
2. “You probably think this is boring”
You don’t get to decide what other people think is boring. In fact, if they haven’t had kids, it’s probably much less boring than you think it is. It’s your job to tell your truth to the people you love most. And it’s their job to tell if you if they are, in fact, bored by that truth.
Not all friendships survive the parenthood transition. And you know what, that’s okay. What you can’t do is attempt to hide your reality just to save a friendship. You (and they) deserve better than that.
3. “Sorry I haven’t called or texted as much as I used to”
Everyone on Planet Earth knows that parenting is difficult. Apologising is really nice, but communication is a two-way street. Non-parents often admit to wanting to give their friends space after the birth of their baby.
Instead of just putting all the pressure and blame on yourself, try devising a plan with your friends before the birth of your children. Sure, it’s not sexy. But scheduling dates and times for calls in advance takes away unnecessary (and often completely non-existent) tension. Your sleep-deprived brain will thank you childless brain for taking care of the boring scheduling ahead of time.
4. “I would love to, but I’m [insert lie]”
It’s funny how we become parents and then instantly feel bad about using our children as excuses. Guess what? They are. It’s okay to be tired from parenting. It’s okay to not want to go out and get drinks with friends because you only slept for three hours.
Instead of lying to the people you love most, remember that these humans are your best friends. They can handle the truth.
I always go with “I would love to, but I haven’t slept in two years and was thinking I would drown myself in bourbon and go to bed without watching Netflix or even eating.” Works every single time.
Having friends is incredibly important. More important, in fact, once you have children. But don’t feel obligated to say yes to things just because you’re the “boring parent in the group”. If everyone wants to meet up or get drinks at a time that doesn’t align with your baby’s sleep schedule, tell them the darn truth. I prefer humour-filled and equal parts truthful responses like “Annoying parent bomb alert: can’t make that time because children are monsters and need sleep when Dada really wants to be drinking. Can we pick another time?”
6. “Is it OK if I bring my kids?”
Your friends have to know that it’s not always easy to get time away from your kids. And if they don’t, it’s your job to tell them. It’s completely acceptable to not want to leave your kids or pay for another sitter. Though I believe it’s critical to make time for your friends, it’s your job to tell them that it’s simply not possible to attend without your kids if that’s the case.
I prefer “That’s my day with the twins. If I can bring them, I’ll be there. If not, no worries at all. I’ll make the next time – ideally on a Saturday please!”
7. “When are you going to have kids?”
Yikes. Yeah, this is a big no-no.
Just because you have kids, doesn’t mean your friends need to rush to get pregnant, too. This is an incredibly sensitive subject and one that some women (and men) don’t want to talk about. I think it’s best to avoid the subject completely.
8. “My daughter is 24 months old now”
If your goal is to alienate and confuse your non-parent friends, this is a great way to do it. When you’re not a parent, you don’t think in months. So do yourself a favour and just round up or down in years.
And if you do forget and slip a few “47 months” into conversations, just laugh it off with a “forgive me but I’ve forgotten how to talk with adults.”
9. “You wouldn’t understand”
This one’s a biggie. Sure, your friends might not have kids yet. But we all have different experiences that make us more or less equipped to understand what others are going through. Most people, especially when they are your close friends, will have empathy through the roof for you and your experiences. Do yourself a favour and give them the opportunity to help you. Their perspective as a non-parent may be exactly what you need to hear.
10. “I adore every single second of being a parent!”
So much of parenting is performative. Not only is lying harmful to you, but it’s also harmful to your childless friends who might be considering starting the journey themselves. If these are your true friends, then do them a favour and be honest about your experience. It’s not your place to say, “don’t have kids”, but it’s appropriate to paint a picture of reality.
When my friends ask, I always rely on “there are good days and bad days. Today is a _____ day.”
Listen, parenting is really difficult. We need our friends – parents and non-parents – to survive it. Do yourself a big favour and throw the damn “rules” out the door. Treat your friends the same way you treated them before you had kids, with respect. And tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If they can’t handle it, they probably aren’t the friends you want around anyway.
Oh, and stay off Google. That should help, too.
This story was republished with permission from Whimn.com.au