Years ago, I used to do yoga all the time with my close friend from high school. After class, we’d grab coffee and talk about our plans for the night, the weekend and life in general.
Then she became a mom.
Her tiny daughter was so sweet and I was truly happy for her new family. But things between us changed.
Her world filled with things I just couldn’t relate to – and it wasn’t just the diapers, board books and organic pureed peas. She had responsibilities that made our leisurely lunches and late nights a thing of the past.
Suddenly, there was a deep divide between the lives we were living, and it became seemingly impossible to meet in the middle – let alone get together for a drink.
Fast forward a few years and it was my turn to have kids. I suddenly got it. The intense nature of parenting, especially when your kids are super young, means you have to leave the independent life, and unfortunately some friends, behind. At least for a while.
Or does it?
BYE-BYE, SOCIAL LIFE
My friend Chris Jablonski, a single dad from Brighton, finds bridging the gap between his new family and former friends a challenge.
Jablonski was a long-time bachelor who continued living la vida loca long after most of his peers became parents.
Jablonski says he tried to keep in touch, but the chasm continued to widen as he indulged in Detroit’s nightlife scene and a rich social life that his friends with children just couldn’t match.
“You try to keep them on your invite list as long as you can, and after a while you just kind of get it,” he says. “You just kind of figure they’re soccer parents now. It’s really kind of sad.”
Now that Jablonski is in the thick of raising his own munchkins, he’s the one falling from the scene.
“It’s come full circle, because now their kids are grown and out of the house. My kids are 2 and 5, and I’ve got war stories they don’t have anymore,” he says.
Jablonski deals with it in part by meeting up with friends at daytime music festivals, so he can experience local bands and culture with his children in tow. He also entertains at home, mixing up the crowd with kid-less couples and families alike.
“Isn’t that the key to a good party, anyway?” he says.
Another friend, Lauren Romeo, says it can be a struggle staying connected not only with acquaintances, but her own two sisters who haven’t had children yet. When she has her younger siblings over, the kids are “a novelty” that gets old fast.
“It’s overstimulating. Even if you have good kids, I find that sometimes people without kids just get a little overwhelmed,” says the Northville mother of two. “It’s fine for a while, but they get to the point where they need a break.”
It’s even difficult to find common ground with friends who have children of different ages, Romeo says. Bring families together and spouses may not hit it off, older kids may not want to “babysit,” and children of the same age may not get along.
Yet Romeo is a great connecter, and she’s found ways to draw people together through community service projects as chair of the Main Street League. Among her events (ironically) are diaper drives at her family’s South Lyon restaurant, Lake Street Tavern.
Romeo also hosts an annual girls holiday party with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres where she invites friends old and new, with children and without – and of course, her sisters. The only requirement is to bring a bottle of wine and an inexpensive “girly gift” to exchange.
Her husband takes the kids and meets up with other dads for a late dinner, then puts them to bed while the party continues.
“Some years it changes, and I don’t get to it or it’s a last-minute thing, but I think it’s so important to set up traditions like that with friends,” she says.
Staying in touch after baby is a challenge on both sides, says Tara Lindsay, co-founder of the Michigan Professional Nanny Association.
Although the Waterford resident is accustomed to kids, she still feels the sting of getting blown off by friends with families.
“It’s hurtful when my friends become parents and seem to have all sorts of time to socialize with other parents, but can no longer include me,” says the Waterford resident. “I deeply appreciate the friends who make the effort, despite my lack of parenthood.”
Blair Koenig, author and creator of the humor blog STFU, Parents, says she has observed the divide between parents and non-parents through five years of writing about the topic. The New Yorker launched her blog in reaction to friends who used social media to communicate every detail of parenting minutia like diaper changes and nap schedules.
“My one friend from high school posted at least 10 times in one day about her baby’s fever going up and down,” Koenig says.
The blog has resonated, and its audience is split about evenly between people with kids and without. Koenig thinks that’s a testament to the fact that friends want mutual understanding.
“A lot of things have changed with social media since I started it, and so have my feelings about the parent and non-parent divide,” she says. “I think it exists largely in our minds.”
Koenig says people come to see themselves differently post-parenthood and might think it’s too difficult to bridge the gulf. Old friends, on the other hand, can feel jilted.
But it may all be one big misunderstanding.
“If my friend has a newborn, a part of me doesn’t want to intrude, eat up her time or wake her from a midday nap she might desperately need. Whereas my friend is thinking I just don’t care and I’m writing her off completely,” Koenig says. “We project our own fears and insecurities, and we should probably let go of that. People need to be patient with each other and not make any assumptions.”
10 TIPS TO STAY CLOSE TO FRIENDS (WHILE RAISING KIDS)
- Use social media wisely. It’s a lifeline for staying connected, but it’s worth some strategy. Consider making a “close friends” list, so high-priority people show up at the top of your news feed; then make it a point to message them and comment on things going on in their lives. Consider making a special group for friends who enjoy sharing parenting advice, so your TMI questions about placenta pills reach a limited audience.
- Use the ‘hide‘ feature. We all have that fabulous single friend who throws us into a spiral every time she posts photos from her five-star ski trips and bikini yacht adventures. Why agonize? She’ll never notice if you “hide” her status updates. Instead, connect in the real world and get beyond her Facebook image. You might find she wants to settle down, and those family adventures you share have the same effect on her.
- Be interesting. If all you ever want to discuss are the joys and irritations of parenting, even friends with kids will get bored. Remember why you connected in the first place. Was it because you shared an interest in local music, a love of great food or the same sense of humor? The Rohdas’ best friends are childless, but talk remains a lively mix of current events, hobbies and other things they have in common. “Our conversations are rarely just child-rearing based,” says Amanda Rohda, with MOMS of Berkley. “We do not talk about kid stuff.”
- Create traditions. Each fall my husband goes up north with the guys, and it’s the only time he sees one of his still-single friends. Whether it’s a hunting trip, spa getaway, book club or holiday party, building traditions – and sticking to them – will ensure you get together. Local mom Leah Lynady says she and some friends rotate a monthly girls night. “Those of us with kids leave them at home and get to enjoy a kid-free night with our girlfriends. It has worked out well for a few years now,” Lynady says.
- Foster ‘aunts ’ and ‘uncles.’ My husband’s long-time bachelor friend is a hockey buff who gave our son his first stick and took him down to the ice. Now, our son always looks forward to seeing “Uncle Jeff.” Hype your best friends as “aunts” or “uncles.” Their great chocolate chip cookies or mean high fives are simple ways to connect with your kids.
- Be a connector. If you can’t find (or afford) a babysitter for happy hour, why not throw your own party? Invite friends with and without children and set up activities to keep the kids busy while you mix and mingle. Consider a light brunch, so you can still hit your mom bedtime. Or see if friends want to tag along on outings you already have planned. Joining you at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum or Detroit Kid City in Southfield will bring out their kid at heart.
- Mark milestones. Don’t just obsess over planning the perfect Pinterest party for your own children. Keep track of your friends’ birthdays too, and wish them well on social media. Better yet, send them a handwritten note with a gift card to a coffee shop and an invitation to spend it with you. Then keep your promise to meet.
- Make a date for the gym. Whether you go to Zumba or barre, make your bestie a workout buddy. It will help you stick to your resolution to bounce back after baby while giving you and your friend a chance to meet up and share some inspiration.
- RSVP. Even if you have to refuse friends’ invitations for the umpteenth time, don’t just leave them hanging. Explain why you can’t come and propose another alternative that does work. If you can make an event, find out beforehand if kids are welcome instead of just showing up with your stroller in tow.
- Be honest. The foundation for any good relationship is communication. Open up with your friends. Let them know how much they mean to you. And be honest with yourself. Are you really too busy to get together or are you using your kids as an excuse? Once you’ve shared your feelings, it’s their turn. Sometimes listening is the true mark of being a good friend.