I don’t have children. I’m not sure I want them. That doesn’t mean I’m not over the moon for my friends when they have kids. But when it seems, overnight, their life is overflowing with new love, joy (and poop) it can be hard to relate as a non-mother. But I want to understand. I yearn to understand how they feel, what they need from me during this time and how to evolve our friendship to make room for this addition to their family.
Because it’s harder to connect when we have fewer shared experiences, when a friend has a child, a deeply insecure part of me wonders: Will we remain friends? Will she get closer to other people who have babies so they can share in the experience? When will we hang out? Do I need to be more flexible because her life has dramatically shifted?
I am constantly left wondering how I can be a good friend to a new mother when I don’t have the shared experience of motherhood. I reached out to a few moms for their advice. Here are my questions and their answers.
Q: So you’re pregnant. The baby is set to arrive in a few weeks. You are constantly on my mind, and while I don’t want to be THAT person who is messaging every day and being annoying, I do want you to know I’m thinking of you. What did you want from your friends right before the baby was due?
Jen (mom of two kids, aged 6 and 3): Text me if you feel like it! Send me funny or cute messages and gifs that show you’re thinking about me. All of that is cool. What’s not helpful is trying to help. What I mean is: please, no advice. And if you know I’m stressed (I hated being pregnant so I was usually a little stressed), please don’t ask about the thing that is stressing me out because it will make me stress even more to answer you about it. And people constantly ask how you’re feeling when you’re pregnant — not a huge deal, but if you can be more original and not make me answer that question again, I’m probably going to be grateful. Also, pep talks are cool (“You’ve got this! You’re totally going to kill it at giving birth!”).
Amy (mom of an 18-month-old): What Jen said, plus keep asking me to get together. I’ll say no if I’m busy or not feeling it, and even if I do, it’s nice to continue being treated like a whole person who is more than a baby receptacle. You and Sarah asked me to join you for a yoga class and dinner two days before my due date, and it felt so good to get out and move and laugh with good friends. Also: please don’t tell me I barely look pregnant. I know this seems like a lovely compliment, but receiving it when I was already concerned about my baby’s development was anxiety-provoking. If you want to say something nice about my physical appearance, a good old-fashioned, “You look beautiful,” is great.
Q: It’s official. You have texted or posted on social media that your little nugget has arrived in the world. I have seen a picture of you looking a deep mix of exhausted and in love. What do I do next?
Jen: Reaching out is great, especially if you don’t necessarily expect a reply. Passive outreach is best: text, voice memo, or social media posts. Tell me how beautiful I look (I can’t speak for every mom, but I, at least, felt pretty hideous and hormonal in those early days — and I’m extremely vain). Tell me you love my kid’s name. And if we’re super close, tell me you’re around if I get bored in the hospital and want to call, but no pressure, only if I’m feeling it.
Q: When one of my friends had a baby recently she messaged me about it almost immediately. Something in me wanted to go see her THAT DAY, so I showed up with all her family on the east side of Manhattan. I traversed the hospital, found her husband, met all her family and waited with the cupcakes and feminist baby books. But really…do you want your friends at the hospital? And if so, what do I bring that’s useful?
Jen: Visits could be fine. I loved having family members parade in and out. But definitely don’t stress about it — you don’t have to come. If you do (and the new mom is open to it), food is definitely a welcome gift. What they say about hospital food is true. And giving birth and breastfeeding (if the mom is doing that) take a huge physical toll and burn a ton of calories. Sneak in a beer and say you heard it’s good for breastmilk production. Someone did that for me and I thought it was hilarious and wonderful. (Then I drank two sips and fell asleep.)
Amy: I wasn’t sure what I’d want, so I told friends to plan on not visiting and I’d let them know if I changed my mind. I even asked my siblings to hang tight until they heard from us. I didn’t want them to wait in the lobby for a long time if I had a rough recovery or wasn’t ready to see anyone. I also wanted to avoid the potential stress and energy drain of having to “host” guests, even though my closest family and friends would have been low-key and sensitive to our needs. In the end, we only had immediate family visit us the day my daughter was born, and I’m glad we did. I was uncomfortable and exhausted, and initiating breastfeeding was difficult, so it was nice to have some privacy.
Q: You and the baby have made it home and it’s been a few weeks. Would you like me to come visit? When? And should I bring something?
Jen: Make it easy for me. Text me and say something like: “I’d love to meet your little one. Can I come this Saturday at 1pm? Feel free to say no or tell me to check back next week.” Or “I’m in your neighborhood, can I come visit today at some point?” When people asked open-ended questions or gave me too much notice, it felt like an equation I could not compute at that stage of sleep deprivation. Everyone is different (obviously), but we were probably ready for visitors after about a week. It was a really nice break from the crying and diapers monotony. You don’t have to stay long. Just stop by and hold the kid for a minute to give the parent(s) a break. Food contributions welcome (recurring theme for me I guess). Also gifts for the mom are a wonderful and welcome anomaly — think fancy body products or a massage gift certificate (also true for baby shower gifts).
Amy: I second all of Jen’s points. Alyssa, I loved it when you and Sarah stopped by, and the delicious treats and meal you brought were a boost.
Sarah, one of the Juggle co-founders, also does not have children and had some questions of her own.
Q: Sometimes I assume that friends with kids are busier than I am, so I should adjust to their schedules, though it can feel frustrating to always adjust to someone else. Do I need to adjust to your schedule to see you?
Jen: Tough one. I obviously don’t want you to feel like you have to adjust. BUT I would ask that you be patient and don’t give up on me. My husband and I have an arrangement that works really well for us: we’re each allowed to take one night off from parenting, as long as we give the other one a heads-up. If I already have a night booked in a given week — including for work events and travel, which still put extra burden on him even though they’re not exactly “fun” for me — then I’ll need to hold off on plans with you until the following week (or a month from now, sorry about that). Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the complexity of scheduling, so I might not reach out as often as I’d like. So again: please don’t give up on me. I never want you to feel like you’re carrying the whole friendship, and I want you to tell me if you do. But unfortunately I find that I need to be invited more often than I do the inviting.
Amy: I feel strongly about this topic. For example, it drove me nuts when a former employer sent an email to all employees asking team leads to hold meetings during normal business hours as much as possible so as not to “unfairly burden” staff with “family obligations.” It sends a message, however unintended, to employees who don’t cohabitate with a partner or dependents that their out-of-office time isn’t as valuable or defensible as employees who do. All this to say, your time is important too. Please let me know if it ever feels like the burden of syncing our schedules falls disproportionately to you.
Q: I generally love my friends’ kids, but I’m not always in the mood for a kid hang. How important is it to you that your friends get to know your kids? And how often do you want friend hangs to include your children?
Jen: Sometimes I don’t feel like I have a choice — if it’s a weekend day, for example, then I’ll probably feel like I have to bring one of my kids with me. I hope that’s OK. If I could, I’d actually prefer to hang out with you without my kids most of the time. I just don’t always have the freedom for that. Bottom line: I don’t really think of my kids as a necessary part of my friendship with you.
Amy: I think it’s similar to how you’d approach hanging out with a friend who’s in a relationship. You don’t always want to hang out with them AND their partner, whom you may not even like. But you know that person is an important part of your friend’s life and find ways to acknowledge that. So, I appreciate when you ask about my kiddo from time to time, but it’s okay if you’re not interested in spending a lot of one-on-one time with her. I definitely want to hang out with you sans my daughter when possible, and I’m grateful for friends who understand that sometimes it’s not.
Parents: do you have anything to add? Non-parents: any other questions you want us to tackle in the future?