Having a baby can have a pretty big impact on a marriage. But it turns out it can put significant strain on friendships, too.
Psychologist Dr Becky Spelman explains: “Friendships can be challenged when one friend has a baby and the other doesn’t. Suddenly priorities seem different, and the one who has become a mum or a dad simply doesn’t have as much time as before. Also, parenthood can be so absorbing that many new parents become (let’s face it) baby bores, endlessly telling everyone about all the new milestones their little one has reached.”
However, it’s seriously awkward trying to tell your friend she’s boring you to tears with baby talk. Likewise, it’s tricky for a new parent to ask a good friend why she doesn’t seem that interested in their new arrival.
So, in the name of friendships everywhere, we’ve done it for you. We’ve found out exactly what friends on both sides of the parenthood divide wish they could say to each other, and asked an expert to explain what everyone should be doing to stop the friendship falling apart.
What parents want their friends to know:
Wait for me
The early days of parenthood are all-consuming. The chances are your new parent friends will drop off the face of the earth. “But please wait for us,” says Sarah, 32, mum to a two-year-old and a 10-month-old. “We will come back to you, and we’re just hoping you’ll still be there when we do. Believe me, I would far rather be out watching the new Ab Fab movie with you than being sat at home Googling ‘why is my baby’s poo green’.
"I know I don’t always call when I say I will any more. I can’t always keep my promise to ring my grandma when I say I will either. But I don’t want to stop being her granddaughter. And I don’t want to stop being your friend.”
Don’t be a baby
“Of course my priorities have changed,” says Jess, 34, mum to seven-week-old Huey. “If that makes me a worse friend than I was before, then fine. My baby is going to come first, every time. It would be madness for my friends to assume they’re on a par. But, as 30-somethings, they should be big enough to understand that.”
I miss you too
“I miss the old days enormously,” says Kelly, 28, mum to three-year-old Alfie. “I hate that half the time I only know what’s going on in my friends’ lives because of their Facebook updates. I can get really jealous because I feel I’m missing out on loads. There’s no way I can always be there, but I wish my friends realised how much I’d love to.”
I have to talk about my kids
“I have to talk about my kids because I have nothing else to say,” says Emma, 38, mum to two girls. “I dread the question 'So what have you been up to?’ because absolutely nothing happens in nappyland. Meanwhile the friend asking the question is just back from the Maldives, has started a new job and is doing a weekend course in Italian cookery.”
What people without kids want to tell their parent friends:
Stop patronising me
“I’m the only one in my friendship group who doesn’t have kids,” says Harriet, 34. “We haven’t really discussed it, but I know they all feel sorry for me. I hear the sympathy in their voices when the conversation turns, as it always does, towards babies.
"They assume I want kids, because doesn’t everyone? Actually, I don’t right now, and I’m not sure I ever will. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hang out with them and their kids. But if I turn down an invitation to spend a cold and windy Saturday afternoon in the park, it’s not because I can’t bear the emptiness of my childless life. It’s because I’ve had a better offer, in a nice warm pub, where I won’t have to pretend to be Luke Skywalker all afternoon.”
I miss the old days
"Your life has changed beyond recognition. Mine hasn’t. And there’s a big hole our friendship used to fill. I rarely see you now and although I understand why, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. I just wish I could tell you that without you getting defensive,” says Jo, 41.
There’s such a thing as TMI
“People have a kid and lose their brain to mouth filter. There’s way too much information being shared,” says Jo. “I don’t care about your baby’s poo. And I don’t want to hear about your vaginal stitching either. Can’t we talk about something else? Anything else? Just as long as it’s nothing to do with children.”
You’re not smarter
“Having children does not automatically boost your IQ,” says Matt, 37. “Being a parent doesn’t make you smarter. It doesn’t make you better. It doesn’t give you a greater stake in the future of the planet or the human race, no matter what some misguided politician said (and instantly regretted).”
How to get past the problems
Both sides have a point. Lots of points in fact. It’s inevitable that children will impact even the strongest and closest of friendships, and it’s clear that the terms of the friendship need to be renegotiated to survive and thrive. But how?
“First of all, both parties need to remember that children aren’t small forever,” says Dr Becky Spelman. “For the parent, it is important to keep friendships alive not just for the sake of having enough adult conversation to keep them sane, but also because they are not going to spend the rest of their lives in the morass of responsibilities that comes with a new baby.
"For the friend who doesn’t have a child, it can be sobering for them to find themselves experiencing some negative emotions, and even jealousy, towards the new arrival. There are times for sharing your feelings, but this isn’t one of them. While they should admit these feelings to themselves, or even discuss them with a third party, they need to remember how important parenthood is to their new friend, and provide them with support and an emotional outlet at this important time in their lives.
"Above all, remember that none of us are defined by parenthood or its absence. The personal qualities and interests that brought you together as friends are still there. This is a new phase in both your lives, and with patience and consideration, your friendship can emerge all the stronger for it.”
*Some names have been changed to protect friendships that are already a little strained.