Ask Unclutterer: Prioritizing relationships after the birth of a baby

Reader Nichole submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I both have large families that we need to travel to see. We also have a large network of friends. We both value these relationships immensely and [try to] make them a priority in our lives. We are expecting in August, my husband is finishing up a degree now, and I am working full time and a doctoral student on the side. We also have 2 dogs that we love to pieces and we enjoy spending time at home with them.

Many of our friends and family members are celebrating big events this year — weddings, graduations, etc. They would also like to see us as much as possible before and after the baby is born. My question is do you have any tips to balance the needs and desires of ours and our loved ones to visit and spend quality time together without overrunning our weekends and our budget? I feel pulled in too many directions. We have stuff to do at home, have a very tight budget (that I manage well, but still), and enjoy being home together, we would like to see our local friends and leave time for impromptu summer BBQs and hikes, but the people and the events that also require our attention feel too important to miss.

I don’t know if this is an issue of priorities, budget, or too many close relationships (that has always been such a blessing in the past!), but it is stressing me out having to choose between my loved ones and feeling like there is not enough time left for myself. Any ideas?

The truth of the matter is that all of this will naturally work itself out, regardless of any advice I give. When you chose to have a baby you prioritized your growing family over your friends, and the changes that are to come will reflect this decision. You didn’t decide to get rid of your friends, but your relationships with them will be different — some friendships stronger, and others will weaken. So, instead of advice, I’ll explain what the next three years of your life will probably resemble (something I wish someone would have done for me):

In your last six weeks of pregnancy, you’re simply not going to be able to travel long distances to see friends and family members. Even if your doctor gives you permission to travel that close to your due date, you likely won’t have the desire. You won’t be sleeping well, you’ll constantly feel like you have to pee, and standing on your feet for hours on end at a wedding reception won’t be something you’ll want to do. You also might have a strong desire to nest and spend time getting the house ready for its newest addition. Plus, your little one could decide to arrive early and thwart all your last-minute plans. All of my friends who have been pregnant say the last few weeks of pregnancy are physically draining, and I believe them.

Then, your child will arrive and life will be hectic for two months. You may go out a couple times with local friends, just to prove to yourself you can do it, but mostly people will come to you during this time. If friends and family members offer to make you dinner or do your laundry or wash your dishes during this time, take them up on their offers. (You can return the favor at some point.) Your dogs will probably be very jealous that there is a baby getting all your attention, so be prepared to spend daily time with them to help keep their behavior under control.

If you and your child are healthy, things become easier during the three to nine month range in comparison to those first two months. Your social life will perk back up and traveling will be relatively simple. The Holidays might be a perfect time for you to travel to see family — but if you plan to go by airplane, be sure to check with your child’s doctor first. A long car ride might be better suited for your specific little one’s ears (and easier to transport all the baby gear).

The big hit to your social life will most likely happen when your child becomes mobile. Even though your child-less friends will say they love your baby, the novelty starts to wear off when your kid can break their stuff. Family members and friends with children seem to be less annoyed by toddlers, so your social life will probably veer toward these relationships. As a result of this period, I’ve certainly become closer to my parents, which is a wonderful benefit. Also, this time is so much fun with a little one because they start to be less like a blob and more interactive with vibrant personalities and crazy preferences.

There are babysitters you can pay to watch your child in the evenings and on weekends while you socialize with friends (ranging between $15 to $20 an hour where I live) — and I recommend having a date night with your husband at least two to four times each month and some alone time for yourself, too — but you probably won’t use a babysitter as much as you think you will. It’s not just a money issue, but a priority issue, especially if you both work outside the home and your child is in daycare for eight to 10 hours a day. Time with your child will be rare (maybe only two hours when he/she is awake each weekday), and passing up those awake moments can be difficult.

You’ll notice another shift in your social life around age two and three, when your child starts demanding play dates with specific friends from preschool and getting invited to birthday parties. You’ll befriend your child’s friends’ parents, and you’ll start to hang out all together. Your social life will be active again, but in a different way. Your family will also demand that all major holidays and vacations are spent with them (because they want to hang out with your cool kid), and they will be hurt if you don’t come to visit or have them to your place. (This is often less of an issue if your parents already have a slew of grandkids.) This also might be when you decide to have another child and start the cycle all over again.

Children are amazing, and you and your husband will love being parents, but your social life will change to reflect your new priorities. My advice is to jam pack your social schedule this May and June, ask friends and family to come to you July through October, make plans to see family at the Holidays in November and December, and then expect to see more of your local friends in January through May of next year. After May 2012, you’ll just have to follow your little one’s lead. Schedule daily time with your pets to keep their jealousy under control. And, most of all, enjoy the blessing of your larger family as much as possible.

Thank you, Nichole, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check back in with me in a couple years and let me know how things worked out for you. Also, check the comments to see what other readers have to say and if their experiences are like what I described.

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49 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Prioritizing relationships after the birth of a baby”

  1. posted by Anna on

    Most of my family live an hour or two drive of each other. My brother-in-law recently had a baby and if my kids had the decision, we’d be there everyday to see the new baby.

    Skype has been nice to use for this. We found a time to all get online so the kids could see their aunt and uncle and new baby cousin and we didn’t have to go to their home and disturb them. (We did visit them at the hospital so we could see and hold her.)

  2. posted by Jeanne on

    Dear Nichole,

    Having worked full time and studied for & completed my doctorate “on the side,” your questions reminded me of that time. My son was older… between 8 and 12, so he was much easier to take care of than a baby.

    Looking back, I am amazed at all that I did & that I made it through. Mornings: get ready, drop son off to school. Work all day. Get home by 7:00 p.m. Evenings: Eat take-out while watching part of a Star Trek rerun. Study from 8 to 11. Go to bed. Do it over again. Organize driving son to play practice & picking him up. Attend performances! Weekends: Friday in class or a night off! Saturday, either class or study. Sunday, at least half a day of studying (reading, studying, writing papers, going to the library).

    Friends: Stop by a birthday party for an hour. Make excuses. Go home; finish paper. Finally, I called my good friends, told them I cared about them, but that I had to hibernate for awhile to get my dissertation done. The good ones understood & stuck by me.

    Deciding to finish my degree: Several times I had to sit down and decide, “Am I going to finish? I’ve put so much into it already, but do I have the will & the stamina to get it done?” Finishing is great & feels good for a long time. NOT finishing means that everyone forever thinks, “Oh, Nichole, she didn’t finish.” Not, “Oh, Nichole, she has a master’s and some additional coursework, isn’t that great?” I’m sorry, but it’s true.

    Toward the end of the process I set two goals for myself: 1) get the dissertation done & 2) reduce stress. Whenever I thought of doing something, I thought “Does this get my dissertation written?” If the answer was “no,” then “By doing this will I reduce my stress level?” So then I’d either work on my dissertation or do whatever else needed to be done—spend time with my son, pay the bills, clean the kitchen, finish up something I brought home from work, take a walk—that would help me to fend off all the other things competing for my attention.

    Now… you are proposing to do all this while changing diapers & doing more laundry than you can imagine & being sleep deprived because your little one may not reliably sleep through the night (like more than 4 or 5 hours at a stretch) for up to a year or maybe a bit longer. So this whole thing with traveling to see family? Or hanging out with friends? Carefully scheduled time with family & friends may work. Hopefully you have “down time” from studying… vacations, summer… and you can work in visits (or having people visit you, which is easier—traveling anywhere with a baby for even a few hours is a bit like going camping).

    It can also help to have something to look forward to when you are not up to your elbows in diapers & your eyebrows in studying. Schedule time with husband (and possibly with your baby)… but something special… at the end of a push to get a big paper done or at the end of a semester. It will help you & it will be good for your relationship.

    Good luck to you! What you’re doing is a bit like climbing Everest without sleep, but you sound really organized & I’m thinking that will help you a lot.

    Jeanne

  3. posted by Maaike on

    One tip I read in a book about raising dogs is to actually give the dogs lots of the attention while you are holding the baby, and ignore them when the baby is sleeping. This makes sure the dogs associate the presence of the baby with something fun, and assures that they do not feel resentful to the new addition.

    If you only pay attention to the dogs when the baby is down for a nap, they may want the baby to go away (and thus have you all to themselves again) – not a good start for the relationship between your little one and your furry ones!

  4. posted by Jenn on

    Hi Nichole,

    My son is 4.5 months old and my husband and I were always very active socially. We live far from family so before baby we traveled often to see them.

    This is my advice to you: Do not try to do it all. Do not try to keep everyone happy because you won’t be able to do it. Having a baby is wonderful but it changes your life so much! You will have a finite amount of energy and time and you (and hubby) must decide on what’s (and who) are really important to you.

    Best of luck! At times it is hard, but it is all worth it!!

    Jenn

  5. posted by Maggie on

    My husband and I are expecting our first child in September and this post was SO helpful to me. Thank you so much for all the great information!

  6. posted by timgray on

    One fact that is universal. Friends that do not have kids will start falling by the wayside. They don’t want to hang with friends that are baby centric and do baby stuff. It’s not good for a baby to go to a Motorhead concert on a Tuesday night. Childless couples and friends do things that people with kids don’t. So those relationships will shrink a lot. It happened to my family when my daughter was born. She is 19 and gone now, and my best friend is having their 1st baby. We do not hang out as much anymore as I don’t want to do “baby stuff” anymore. This is normal, so do not take it personal when some friends just don’t come around or even call as much as they used to, you’re taking a new path in life that is going away from theirs.

  7. posted by Wendy on

    As a parent, you will quickly learn that you CAN’T DO EVERYTHING. You need to spend this time before your baby arrives learning to dial back your expectations and learning how to set boundaries with those you love. You have to be able to take care of your own needs, too, before you can have the energy to be the parent, child, and friend that those around you need.

    For now, try to determine what you are most interested in participating in, rather than just trying to fulfill all the expectations of those you care about. The wedding 1000 miles away sounds like so much fun, and the travel seems worthwhile, but the graduation across town may only be on your calendar because someone else expects you to attend. Learn how to say no in those situations, and remind yourself that any guilt trips are their problems, not yours.

    If you have trouble setting boundaries, start reading Carolyn Hax every day until you learn where your responsibilities lie:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....nkset.html
    and http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....nkset.html

  8. posted by writingallthetime on

    Congratulations! And thanks to Erin for such a well thought out reply. I don’t have kids, but I’m impressed with the way the basic structure of preparing for major change is the same all the way around.

    For working with your dogs, go to Dogwise.com and browse their list of children and dogs books. Lots of help there. I’ve heard that bringing something home from the hospital with your baby’s scent on it for the dogs to get used to is a good idea.

    If your dogs don’t already know sit, stay, go-over-there, start teaching them now. A specific place for them to relax, like an old towel or dog bed, is a perfect thing to teach as well. You’ll want them to be able to stay out of your way when you’re walking with your little one, but still be part of the family.

    If you think you might be utilizing a dog walker, (paid or volunteer) have the dogs get used to being walked by the new person now as well.

    Good luck with all the prep and change – and remember to enjoy your little one!

  9. posted by Celeste on

    This is all true. A baby will enrich your life in many ways, and prune it down in others.

    Unless they’re willing to make a Herculean effort, most childless friends of yours will move on. You might not even notice (sadly) because the complexity of your life in terms of how time is spent (your alone time, your husband’s alone time, your couple time, your threesome time, your baby’s alone (ie sleep) time, your time with friends, your husband’s time with friends, your threesome mixing with family…it’s all more complicated adding another person to the mix.

    One nice thing though is that you will certainly make friends with other parents who have kids of the same age(s), and those will be enriching new friendships.

    You will have to find your balance of spending holidays with the families. Sometimes you’ll plan it, but illness or a subsequent pregnancy will prevent it…or there will be a massive weather system that makes you not even go to the airport to get stranded. It’s best to be able to roll with it when the unforeseen happens. I will say that airline travel with a baby under 6 months is the easiest you’ll have, and sometime after the age of 3.5 it gets a lot better. In between, though…it’s just rough. It can be done, but it’s much easier in the car, both for entertainment and for periodic bouts of freedom from a carseat.

    Another poster mentioned Skype. Don’t forget about Facebook updates just to keep yourself in peoples’ loops.

  10. posted by Amy on

    I don’t really feel like my friendships with childless friends have suffered any. We’ve always been more sit-around-and-play-boardgames types than, uh, Motorhead concert-goers (I don’t even know who that is), and sure, there are some differences – when my kid was nursing non-stop, my partner had to shuffle for me because I didn’t usually have two hands free, and now we can’t play at the same time because someone has to wrangle the two-year-old – but we’re still going to the same gatherings and dinners as we always did.

  11. posted by Drea on

    I am expecting my first baby in November and am excited about the social implications for another reason. My two best girl friends are already mommies, and while our time together has been limited somewhat since they had kids, I am really excited about the family oriented things we will be able to do together (and I won’t feel like the odd one out with no child of my own!). They’ve been hassling me for a couple of years to get on with it already so it’s pretty neat to finally join the crowd!

    Great article, I like the timeline on what to expect.

  12. posted by Kate on

    Thank you, Amy!

    I was actually pretty taken aback by the original article and timgray’s additional comments about relationships with childless friends dropping off.

    I’m childless and I have no problem accepting that my friends’ lives have changed. Sure there’s some adjustment internally, but that’s what I use a friend’s pregnancy or adoption process time for, getting used to the idea that soon they will be parents.

    When I want to do “adult” stuff, I reach out to other childless friends or parents whose kids are much older.

    What *I* find is that my new-parent friends are the ones to make all sorts of assumptions that I wouldn’t want to, say, go to the Zoo with them or schedule a visit that had to include nursing or nap time or account for a toddler’s energy, so *they* choose to hang out more with other parents, and don’t cultivate me as much.

    I’ve never understood it.

    You hang out with me, I’ll be completely focused on YOUR kid/s which is fun for all of us, and can even make that day at the Zoo easier–there’s one extra adult around, one who’s not already exhausted.

    I find myself trying to convince my new-parent friends that a) I like kids; b) I like THEIR kid; c) with a little guidance about their particular rules and routines, I can actually help out with their kid; and d) even if I’m lying a bit at certain times on the above, it’s still worth it to spend time with my friends!

  13. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Amy — You may have really cool child-less friends, or you may be oblivious to their real feelings. Here’s how you can find out … The next time they invite you over for game night, get a babysitter for your little one. At the party, try your hardest not to bring up or talk about your child. As the night progresses, see how many times someone mentions how nice it is to see you and your husband without your kid. If anyone brings it up at all, it means your kid hasn’t really been welcome in the past. Instead, if everyone talks about how much they miss your child being there and not a single person mentions how cool it is to see you without the little one in tow, then your child-less friends are much cooler than most.

    What often happens — and I’m not saying this is your situation — is new parents force their kids on other people. I’ve done it. My friends have done it. Babysitters are expensive, and we wish our relationships with our child-less friends wasn’t changing. But, it’s not fair to our friends who don’t really want the kid there. I only have one child-less friend who is cool with my son always being around, and that’s because she and her husband are trying to have a little one. The rest of them say it’s cool, but then they rave when we get a babysitter. So, we try our hardest to always get a sitter when we hang out with those child-less friends.

    @Kate — It sounds like you’re an awesome child-less friend. A lot of people are not like you. However, you said, “When I want to do ‘adult’ stuff, I reach out to other childless friends or parents whose kids are much older.” This is exactly what I’m talking about in the post. As a parent of a young kid, you don’t hang out with your child-less friends the way you used to. Child-less people stop inviting you to “adult” stuff (bar hopping, fancy dinners, concerts, spur-of-the moment campouts on the beach), and you stop going to as many “adult” things as you used to. The relationship changes. Like I said, you don’t give up your child-less friends, your relationship with them just morphs into something different.

  14. posted by Mletta on

    Very interesting comments here about what happens to one’s “childless” friends after you become parents.

    I think the real issue is not necessarily that you have children (who require your almost full attention for several years) but how you decide to treat your friends (with or without) children. Because it is about choices, on both sides. Where there is a will and an intention, you will find ways.

    As Erin notes, some folks with kids aren’t even aware that their friends may wish for time alone with them, no matter how much they love their friends’ children. Nobody wants to upset their friends by having to ask that the kids stay home. But this is where some parents fail to think about the world beyond their own needs. (Sorry to say, some folks, once they have kids, they really do change. It’s like nothing else on the planet matters. You spend maybe 10, 15, or 20 more years being in someone’s life daily and always there for them and then poof, they disappear and loose interest in you when they have kids. Not everyone, but some folks.)

    Close friends lived right across the hall from me when their son was born. I spent many a night over there during the week and volunteered to babysit, a lot. I wouldn’t say I was a “kid” person but I loved their son as I loved them. I felt very lucky. Fortunately, as much as they loved their son, they both understood the importance of time “off” when they weren’t being primarily parents (it helped that they had a big family who were always fighting over who would take their son for weekends!)

    My heart hurt when they moved out of the city to the suburbs and my business schedule made it difficult to see them very often. But we both made accommodations to continue our relationship, including times with and times without the kids. That was key. They didn’t stop being people with interests and passions beyond their children. Some people primarily define themselves in their role as a parent. Yes, it is very important, but just as being married does not define your total self, having a child is not the end all and be all (sorry, that’s how I and others feel. And there are plenty of kids I’ve grown to love and find fascinating, sometimes even more so than their parents, my friends!)

    The really tough thing is when you have working single-parent friends. They often don’t have the money to hire babysitters or have others around to babysit. Some really don’t want to spend a lot of time (and they don’t have much)with those who aren’t directly involved in the same stage of life as they are.

    Here’s all I know. I’ve spent a lot of my time/energy and attention trying to focus on the changing needs of married and married with children friends. It’s the rare friend however that even remotely considers what my life as a single woman is like. It’s as if married and married with children is “better” than and more important–and more deserving of understanding. Obviously, friendships with those folks don’t last.

    We all need to be careful not to get stuck in any kind of label or with one group of folks.

    Does it take work? Yes, it does. But both folks have to make the effort.

    What’s fascinating to me is how people drop out of my life, almost totally, in the name of kids, and then reappear expecting to pick up where we left off. Sorry, that doesn’t work. On the other hand, folks who make the effort to still engage and connect, even if it changes radically, can and do continue relationships.

    Being honest with yourself is the first step. Then finding a way to respectfully and with compassion explain what’s going on to your friends. Don’t just expect others to know and understand that they suddenly don’t exist, except as last-minute babysitters.

    You can’t have it all, but, you can still find ways to stay connected and to “relearn” each others lives and find new ways to integrate your different paths.

  15. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    Mletta, I think you have to be a bit more honest with yourself.

    When parents have children, do they really have to explain to you how difficult and different their life is than it was before?

    I’m not suggesting you allow yourself to be taken advantage of. But unless you’ve raised a child, you do not know how little energy you often have left to maintain relationships with people who consider your child an intrusion instead of an integral part of you.

  16. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    On the issue of children’s acceptability in society, see http://minimalistmum.blogspot......r-pan.html

  17. posted by Pamela on

    Mletta is totally right.

    I’m childless by circumstance but happily an Aunt and have both lost friends who’s universe became centered on their children and retained friends who stayed more balanced in life.

    Do I mind doing things occasionally with your kids? Nope. Do I always want to do things with your kids? Nope. When your kids aren’t there do I want to hear you talk about them ALL NIGHT LONG? Nope. Do I want to hear about them some? Yep.

    People who are able to remember they are adults with adult interests outside of their children keep diverse friends. My best friend is this type. We have lunch about once a week and talk every few days and text every day. Doesn’t require any babysitting time for her for us to keep up with each other and stay very close. We figured this out because having our time as friends was so important to us both.

    Those who make their children into little suns around which everyone is expected to revolve, find their world populated with the same.

    That’s fine. It’s a choice.

    Jess, being single can be waaaaay harder and more energy draining than being in a couple with children. Depends completely on the circumstance.

  18. Avatar of

    posted by anitamojito on

    Just 2 days ago, I held my friends’ newborn in the hospital. I was there with some other currently childless friends, and we all talked about how we always want to be a part of this baby’s life. We see this couple that is so dear to us in their beautiful new son, and we see an amazing, unique new person in him, too. We’ve been so excited to welcome him since the day we learned he was on the way, and have such big hopes for his future. I think we’d all be heartbroken to be dropped because we aren’t parents ourselves (yet). I know having a baby is a major life change, and I fully expect changes in our relationships. And I would expect the new parents to respect the major changes in my life. But that being said, the only thing all childless people have in common is that they don’t currently have children! Some adore children and have a great deal of experience caring for them (possibly more than brand new parents). And sad to say, there probably are some parents that would think taking their infant to a Motorhead concert is a great idea!

  19. posted by Jen on

    I totally agree that your relationship with any childless friends will change. Not go away, just change. But I think that relationships will change more with childless couples (although they may soon follow you with a child of their own) than with your single friends. I have a 5 yr old son, and one of my closest friends is a single woman my age. We have, in the past, often hung out just the two of us, and my husband hasn’t come along. Sometimes he does, like if we go in a big group, but often he doesn’t. So we continue that now, and it’s less difficult because of the childcare issues – he can stay home with our son while I go out. And for the record, she is totally interested in my son, sometimes he will come to lunch with us, and she even came to the hospital to see us the day after he was born.

    As for your travel and weekend plans, I think Erin is right that they will kind of work themselves out. Just don’t try to do too much, especially in the beginning before you get a feel for what you’re really capable of doing with a baby at your side. Also keep in mind that any weekend plans you make may have to be cancelled on short notice once in a while when the baby gets sick or whatever – these things happen and they happen a lot more when a baby or young child is in the mix. As the baby gets older (age 3ish and up), your weekends will fill up quickly with soccer games, birthday parties, and the like.

    Congratulations, and enjoy your baby!

  20. posted by Gayle on

    I find this topic fascinating. When I was in my “free” single/no kid days, it was no big deal for me to attend friend and holiday functions (2-3 hours away)…and I did all the driving. I was young, single, spry, apartment lifestyle. It was no big deal.

    Fast-forward 15 years. Divorced and a 1yr old…it was just assumed by friends and family that I would continue the get-togethers in the same way with kid in-hand because that’s the way it always was.

    I actually had to have a sit-down talk with several family members. I can’t do all that driving anymore. I’m tired. I’m older. I’ve got a young child, a full-time job, grass to mow, laundry & shopping. I’ll have to skip Thanksgiving and other holidays. There comes a point where routines, precedents, and expectations have to change. I felt bad going into the talks.

    You know what…I realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to maintain a social lifestyle that didn’t work anymore. A couple friends have dropped off the radar, but the majority just needed to hear it from me that the old dog needs new tricks. I just had to speak up!

    We split up the travel/locations now. Those who love you want to see you, and the attitude changes from “what am I going to do” into “what are WE (family) going to do” to get together.

    Sound selfish to take care of yourself, your home, and kid first? Some people say yes, but I’ve learned those are the people I don’t want to grow old with.

  21. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    The hard part for us was not that our relationships with our friends changed but that our relationships with our parents proved not to be good ones at all. They (the grandies) were not interested in our kids. They didnt want to visit (they expected up to pack up the kids and go to them all the time), didnt want to help, didnt want to babysit.

    Now, Christmas is one big mess. My parents put their foot down and said they expect everyone to come to them at their house. They have a tiny cluttered unit with no outside space 90 mins drive from us. I have two sons, one who has ADHD, and they expect the entire family (12 in total including a child in a bulky wheelchair) to cram into their space on a stinking hot day (Perth, Western Australia – Christmas is summer and HOT)while they completely ignore my children and talk to us only. We of course said no – we will go to a family meeting in a mutually acceptable spot – like a shady playground or even a holiday house if someone hires one (since we all have to travel to get to my parents)as long as it has playing space. I think thats fair given our boys are 7 and 11.

    i never expected to not have interested grandies. They were so eager to meet our pets, but not our children.

    The other thing we didnt expect is that our weekends for our oldest never included sport or parties. Thats the downside of having ‘issues’. We have fabulous friends who love our boys and we spend our time with them but its sad for my oldest that he doesnt get invites (especially since the younger one gets heaps).

    I have learned not to have expectations, to enjoy every outing that includes other people and to accept that since most people dont have our life, they dont realise how hard it can be.

    of course, I hope for you Nichole that none of this turns out to be your story.

  22. posted by Nikki on

    A baby is only a baby for a very, very, very short time. Establishing a healthy bond between baby and parents is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. If family and friends are close and will be a regular, ongoing part of the childs’ life, sure, we make time for them. Family and friends who live far away are not a priority for us – it works better when the child is older and able to remember them between visits, talk on the phone, etc.

    I refuse to travel long distances to spend small amounts of time with people who are not significant in their lives, no matter how much those people think they’re entitled to demand we spend what precious little energy we have bringing the children to them. They’re welcome to visit, if they respect our values and beliefs AND help out while they’re here LOL!

  23. posted by Julie on

    I think this debate illustrates the importance of communication and flexibility. For an expecting parent- communicate with friends and family that you realize your life is going to change dramatically. Communicate how much you love them and that you want to see them but let them know that it may be more difficult to visit as often. Maybe you can incorporate new ways of spending time with loved ones.

    As a friend-communicate that you still want to be part of their new life. Be flexible in the beginning and try to reach out to your friend. Discuss ways in which you can still spend time together without draining what remains of the new parents energy/money.

    I have a friend who upon learning she was pregnant started having friends/family over 2x a month for game/movie night and dinner (often just take-out we all chipped in towards). By the time the baby had arrived she had built a new routine into our relationship and it happened to be new parent friendly. No, we weren’t all out at the bars, but we still had an aspect of the relationship that kept us engaged. I don’t think she intended this as she just didn’t want to go out when pregnant, but I think it worked quite well regardless!

  24. posted by Danielle on

    It seems to me like it’s mostly a question of setting expectations. Our childless friends don’t expect us to go out together as a couple to events where a child isn’t welcome very often. We have a lot of daytime or early evening get-togethers, go out with friends separately (girls night or guys night out), and every once in a long while we get a babysitter to go out as a group. (We actually get a babysitter about once a month but generally use those nights as date nights for one-on-one time.) Sometimes there are things our friends do as a group that we just can’t make it to–or can’t both make it to–and we’re fine with that (and I think they are too).

    Our friends are all still fairly young (right around 30) and are for the most part planning on having children, though…I can bet this routine might be less ok with older friends who’ve made the lifestyle choice to either stay single or not have children.

  25. posted by Alice F. on

    I’m 40 and still single and without kids – not because it’s a “lifestyle choice” I made willingly and actively, but because that’s the hand fate has dealt me.

    @Julie, I think you’re right that communication and flexibility are important. I want to add that compassion is key, too. Friends without kids need to have compassion for new parents and their limited time and energy, and changed priorities, and those with kids need to have compassion for their friends without kids who may feel a sense of grief for the old days or feel left behind.

  26. posted by Amy on

    @Erin – “you may be oblivious to their real feelings… new parents [sometimes] force their kids on other people”

    But why stop there? Maybe my friends would secretly prefer not to see my partner, and I should see what they say if I show up alone. Maybe they hate the weird way I laugh and I should try keeping silent some night. Maybe they don’t like *me* and would be thrilled if I didn’t show up! (Although I’m not sure how I’d collect the data on that one. Send the spouse to observe, I guess.)

    Given the choice between paranoia and taking people at face value, one of them seems like mental clutter to me while the other seems a lot simpler and less stressful. YMMV.

  27. posted by Rhian on

    It’s a good point about lunches. How you manage to keep up with child-free friends really depends on how you tended to meet up with them before.

    I have a lot of friends in different departments at work, who I’ve always met for lunch in town. Now I have a child (a toddler now), I work part-time, so it’s easy to still meet and catch up. If they say they want to meet up with my son as well, I meet them for lunch on one of the days I don’t work, and bring him.

    I also have a social group that my husband isn’t a part of (a knitting group at a local pub). So every week I go to that, and he looks after our son.

  28. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Amy — In my experience, most adults have the ability to read social cues and know when and where they are welcome and not welcome. However, when their worlds are focused so intently on their children, they can become blind to the fact that not everyone adores their kid as much as they do. (This is very common when children are still very dependent. The parents see the kids as actual extensions of themselves and believe wherever they’re invited their kids are, too.) It’s like when someone falls in lust with someone else and they’re blind to red flags and other social cues that are saying, “this person is a jerk.” It’s not until the person takes a step back and detaches themselves a little from the situation that they are able to really see the whole picture. My advice was more about getting a balanced view of the situation, not about being paranoid.

  29. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    Pamela, your post is quite simply a classic post from a person who is able to give the children back to their parents when she is finished.

    It isn’t a competition about who has a harder life. It’s a question of where priorities lie once you’ve had children.

    For many, it is far easier to socialise with people who have children for yours to play with and are also genuinely interested in the job of raising the children.

  30. posted by A.D. on

    @Nichole, Like anything in life, when you change your life cycle (having a baby in this case) you will find out who changes with you that includes your family. It sounds like you already know that the way it was being done before cannot continue. Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean that you can’t continue the relationships that you have with your family, just not in the same way that it was done before. This is where you find out who continues with you in this particular life cycle.

    I think as far as the travel goes, you should decide with your husband which occasions you want to travel for and stick to that schedule until your financial situation gets better and your finish your degree (I was just exhausted reading about all of the stuff you were doing.)

    For those who are celebrating the big events and you might not have the funds, energy, and time to go them can you send them a gift? Also, maybe find a way to talk (I mean talk, not a facebook message,etc.) to the celebrants on the phone or via Skype so that they feel acknowledged but you are not stressed out about spending so much money? In my experiences it’s always been the lack of acknowledgment that has caused the most tension and vice versa, where someone will say I remember you couldn’t attend, but you called me….

    Once the baby arrives a lot of these questions will work themselves out naturally. Please don’t stress yourself about it because my understanding has been all bets are off once the baby arrives.

    Good luck to you Nichole. I wish you well.

  31. posted by katrina on

    Nichole, I agree with A.D. – life changes when it needs to just as it changed when you married.

    There’s plenty of useful advice here.

    Whether my advice is useful or not … I’d add that you shouldn’t forget that your husband is a partner in all of this. If you attempt to be mega-super-mum-wonder-student-and-perfect-friend don’t forget that the stresses you put on yourself you also put onto your relationship, simply because of all the competing priorities. Its a mistake that a lot of new parents have made and sadly its one of the reasons some new parents split up.

    I’ve found that what counts with family and friends is Quality not Quantity communication. A skype chat with relatives can be a better catch up than a 3 hour drive and trying to catch up while caring for an overtired baby.

    Encourage your friends to organise monthly get togethers that are low cost, baby-friendly and take only a little planning. e.g. a weekend brunch picnic in a park, a theme DVD night, a bookshop crawl (visit bookshops and browse) followed by coffee, visit art galleries, whatever it is you like doing that you can do as a group.

    Having a friendly get together gets everyone involved and having them monthly lets you catch up and you can then use email etc inbetween when catching up in person is just too hard.

  32. posted by Melissa on

    This is really great advice! I don’t have kids, but I have many friends and loved ones that do. Their lives change dramatically, and it’s just better to go with the flow! Their priority *should* be the baby, not making friends happy!
    It’s also really wonderful to see a new side of my friends when they have children. It’s a different kind of happy, and it’s terrific!
    Congratulations to the expectant parents!

  33. posted by Marla on

    This is the first time I have ever posted a comment here, but the topic is particularly poignant for me.

    Over the years, our close friendships have suffered as our friends started growing their families – while my husband and I remain childless.

    For all of you writing that relationships just “change” once kids are born, you seem to be missing the
    other side of the story.

    The experience has been heartbreaking. We have done what we can to accommodate our friends and their growing families, but the fact is we have been pushed aside. This from friends who call us “family”…

    Please understand, we fully realize that your children are the center of your universe. We do not anticipate or expect that our relationships will be the same, nor do we demand that you “make us happy” as posters have commented. However, it is saddening to read how easily some of you advise just letting these childless friendships slip by…

    I empathize with those who have posted about the same.

  34. posted by marjoryt on

    I’ve done the family/baby/education/job balance, and it’s really easy to feel guilty about your life. Don’t allow anyone else (especially friends and family) to add to the guilt load. It’s perfectly ok to say, “Be sure to send photos of the event! We can’t be there in person, but will be in spirit.” You don’t have to say anything else – not excuses, not offers to make up the event, not offers to host at your home. And no, you do NOT have to host people at your house unless you want to do so.
    Also, please learn from my experience. My husband’s family is very close and very numerous. My parents were dead and my brother in the military, so it seemed easier to always go to to the inlaws for every holiday. After several years, I wanted to have some holidays at home, simply to create some of our own family memories. My husband and inlaws have never understood this. Now, my 3 grown kids say, “We don’t have memories of our own family holidays, just having to go to the grandparents,” which has shocked my husband. The kids and I have decided that we will have at least 2 holidays together as a family unit, and they are free to spend the other holidays as they wish (with their grandparents, with friends, on their own).

  35. posted by momoboys on

    Is not the bottom line that the most uncluttered way to live is to treat all relationships with respect and kindness–childless friends, with-child/ren friends, as well as family, others, everyone? No matter what your personal choices for time, priorities, friendships, and family needs, you can *always* choose kindness.

  36. posted by Celeste on

    I had my one and only child at 40. I’ve been the one left behind by family-building friends and I’ve been the one who couldn’t keep up with childless friends once I had a child. I found more time for friends when my child got older, but had I been able to keep having children, I can see exactly how it would have happened that that time for myself and friendships would become even more elusive.

    There are no easy answers, and sometimes life just hurts.

  37. posted by Jill on

    Great conversation!

    My infant daughter was very demanding, and my husband and I were not prepared for the toll it would take on us. Fortunately I had a neighbor whose daughter had been born a week before mine, we commiserated a lot and got each other through the winter. If I had it to do over again, I would have asked more people for help when things got tough. Many people are just waiting to be asked, especially in those first few months when everything is a mess and sleep is fleeting. Something simple like bringing lunch or helping fold baby clothes can really boost one’s mood. If someone says, let me know how I can help, give them something specific to do, and see what happens! Maybe that can help predict who is going to be a good friend After Baby.

    I also echo the “don’t let anyone add to your guilt” comment. Everyone is going to have lots of advice (witness this column) and many will judge you without fully understanding your situation. Find the people who don’t and enjoy their company. Practice saying, “thanks for sharing your thoughts, but this is what works best for our family.” Say it with a warm smile and don’t apologize. Say it to yourself when you start to feel doubts! Encourage your husband to practice it as well. My in-laws have been judgemental and somewhat toxic, but my husband and I talked through it and we agree on our choices and present a common front. That makes a huge difference!

    One other thing – don’t be afraid to just be with your baby. You are the mommy and no one else will ever replace you in that role! One of the most precious gifts you can give right now is to respond to your baby’s signals, and meet his or her needs as best you can. This will give you both a great attachment and trust that will pay off greatly down the line. Even if you don’t think you understand what your baby wants, remember that your intuition is a very important thing to listen to. You will know your child better than anyone at this age – better than your husband, better than your family, better than your doctor! This will fade over time, but savor it now and use it to make the best choices. Good luck!

  38. posted by Katie on

    @Erin — I respectfully disagree with the following portion of your comment: “As the night progresses, see how many times someone mentions how nice it is to see you and your husband without your kid. If anyone brings it up at all, it means your kid hasn’t really been welcome in the past.”

    I am one of the “childless friends” that keeps getting referred to in so many posts. And, while I *honestly* do enjoy spending time with my friends and their kids, it is also nice to occasionally spend time with my friends without their children. So, I may tend to mention that to them on an occasion when I get to see them without their kids, but that definitely does not mean that their kids weren’t welcome on other occasions.

  39. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Katie — I agree with you. I probably should have said “… it means your kid hasn’t been welcome to EVERY event in the past.” There are certainly times when it doesn’t matter if a kid is in tow, but I think most people don’t want their friends’ kids around every single time they see their friends.

  40. posted by Kat on

    I am childless, but have a total of 10 babies arriving this year, along with a few others who have arrived in the past. I very much enjoy children and will be sure to ask parents about them if the kids aren’t around. I also don’t mind doing stuff with kids and taking longer. It is fun to see stuff from kids perspectives.
    That said it is very nice to spend time with your friends without their kids sometimes. While I don’t say it is great to see you without your kid attached to your hip, I will say it is great to see them. It is also nice to spend an evening not hearing about the kids all the time. I say this because a lot of what parents talk about, I can’t relate to because I have no child and it leaves the conversation very one sided.

    Reading some of the comments, it is freaking me out that I will soon be without any friends since I won’t have children.

    What some parents seem to forget is they are getting an awesome new person in their life and their childless friends are not. So while they have a replacement for the hole their friends leave, the childless friend does not. And I am very happy for them, but don’t just drop me because I don’t have a child.

  41. posted by Annabel on

    wow, this sure opened a can of worms! I don’t know how useful it is to divide friends into those who have children/those don’t. Both kinds of friends can still be an important part of life with baby. My husband and I call on some of our childless friends for babysitting so we can go out on dates sometimes. Most of our friends seem to enjoy spending an hour or 2 with our son and I would rather ask them than someone who has children of their own, who probably needs a break! When we have friends around for dinner we invite them for ‘dinner and show’ i.e. come at 5 ish and hang out with Harper for a couple of hours, or ‘show only’ – i.e. come at 7.30 when he’s in bed. Childless friends are great to call on when you feel like a wild night or have an unexpected window and want to do something fun with someone who doesn’t need a month’s notice.

    Also, even though i am a mother myself, I am not a big fan of socialising on a large scale which combines adults and kids. If i want to catch up with my adult friends, I would rather not have to do it whilst managing my son and whilst they manage their offspring. it feels too chaotic and virtually impossible to have a proper conversation. So, even though I like to see my friends’ kids sometimes, I also like to see them without their kids.

    One thing which hasn’t been discussed is the possibility of holding a welcoming/naming ceremony for your baby. This is a great way to include family and friends of all stripes in wlecoming your baby. You can do it at a park if you don’t have a large home, and ask people to help by bringing a plate of something for everyone to share. Kids can run around and everyone can see you, your husband and your new baby. It is a way of feeding a lot of birds with one seed.

    I also found sending text messages a good way to keep in touch with friends when my son was a newborn. I composed long text messages one-handed while breastfeeding! But right in the beginning, it’s important that you always put your own immediate family’s needs ahead of anyone else’s wish to get together. The first few months are tough going and you have to be a little bit slefish to maintain your sanity. We found that this meant things like, only one lot of visitors per day, and no social activities at times that put the baby’s routine completely out of whack (this will depend on your baby, of course, as some are more flexible than others).

    Good luck with it, and just keep in mind that there is no one right way to manage it – it is just about finding the balance that works for you and your husband, your baby and your loved ones.

  42. posted by Nichole on

    Hi everyone,
    Thank you so much for all of the great & very thoughtful advice! It is nice to hear the perspectives of both those with kids & those without since my friends & family may not tell me as honestly what you have laid out here….while I might not always understand where they are coming from, it is nice to have heard some perspectives to consider from you. Again thank you thank you thank you for all of the support & great feedback! And thanks to Erin for such a thoughful answer & a forum for great conversation. I love being part of the uncluttering community & am greatful that the quote “Never worry alone” is so supported for all of the facets of our lives here. THANK YOU!

  43. posted by Rachel on

    I have ofter told newlyweds to watch their moves for the first few years – if you spend Thanksgiving Day with his parents Year 1 AND Year 2, it will have then become a TRADITION, and you will find yourself at your in-laws dinner table for the rest of your married life. Same with all other major and minor holidays. Set up alternatives early: his parents, her parents, travel. Travel alone, travel with family. Solitude. It may sound simple, but it’s like increasing your productivity by simply turning off the TV and maybe turning on the radio or music. Something your body can move to versus watching and not moving TV. DVRs rock for more effective TV watching hands down!

  44. posted by Vanessa H. on

    Personally I have found that once my friends have children, they lose interest in anything outside their own home. In my opinion, it is not the friends who do not have children that do not want to spend time with the friends who do. Again, my personal experience, not saying that is true for everyone. All I know is that in my experience, a girl friend pre-baby and post-baby is a completely different person somehow!

  45. posted by NeenaJ on

    I have an 18 month old son and you’ve pretty much nailed the experience thus far!

  46. posted by Mickey on

    As someone who was a childless friend for a long time, and now mom to a 2 month old, I agree that friend relationships will change and morph. I think the key to it all is not being offended on either side. When I didn’t have kids, if my friend didn’t call me back, or it felt like I was always the one asking her to do things, I didn’t let it get to me. I knew she had a lot on her plate, and the relationship was important, so I kept at it. I’m taking the same view as a parent now with my friends – but reversed. If a friend who doesn’t have children seems to be disappearing and not ooohing and ahhing over every facebook post (which I limit, so I’m not “that” person) I don’t take offense, and I reach out to her over things we have in common.

    So don’t try to overplan your relationships. Just be honest with everyone – and so you may miss some parties or events, but your friends will still be your friends if they care. And if not, then don’t fret – you’ll be too busy to care :)

  47. posted by lisa on

    Friend relationships will change drastically after the baby, as will your own personally energy level, desires, and values. Expect this, and the transition will be easier. Also keep in mind that the pendulum will swing back the other way in a few years. Maintain the friendships that you can, and you will emerge from the baby fog able to live a life much closer to what your are used to.

    If you decide to try to be as active as before the baby, you totally can. Just know that it won’t be the same. You are 24/7 focused on the baby, even when it is sleeping. Your childless friends will be sipping a latte and chitchatting right next to you, and you’ll be there in body and spirit, in your mind you’ll be thinking about naptimes, feedings, where you can change a diaper, where you can nurse, etc. You’ll get the hang of it, but for the first year or two your brain will be relentlessly focused on the baby, to an exhausting level.

    Btw, I took the “stay active” approach with my first kid, and the “stay at home and relax” approach with the second kid (two years later–so I was TIRED), and both worked. I lost one friend (with first kid), gained many more, and found a happy rhythm.

  48. posted by Jess on

    I had my oldest six months before starting a rigorous PhD program. I’m now in the fourth year of my program and just had my second child four months ago. My husband’s family lives across the country (extended family is in Europe); mine lives across the country in a different place and in a different European country.

    Here’s my experience:

    1) My childless friends/classmates got me through the first two years of my PhD program both academically and emotionally. I spent a lot of time with them without my kid, but also brought him to department events and happy hours (yep, I took my baby to a bar) and invited my friends over. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing– sometimes it’s just grown-ups (get a sitter) and sometimes you bring your baby along. My friends were cool (still are :-) and I think we achieve a balance. I also stayed close to some childless friends I had before, and they love spending time with my kids. As one commenter pointed out, don’t assume that your friends don’t want to hang out with your kids, but also don’t assume that they do– I just ask: “Not sure if attending the toddler Easter Egg Hung is your cup of tea, but if you’d like to join us we’d love to have you– no pressure, though.”

    2) It’s also true that I made tons of friends through my son– and yes, it is with other parents that you can go on and on about your kids while the kids scatter their toys about the living room. I also have a Mom’s Night Out (sans kids, plus cocktails) once a month with the Moms I met when my son was a baby and we can dish about everything (parenting, kids, husbands, work-life balance, etc.) knowing that we won’t bore each other to tears since we are all going through the same stuff. It’s an important outlet.

    3) Date nights are key. You need to date more AFTER you have a baby than you did before. Having a baby may really upset the equilibrium of your relationship with your partner– a new human being is coming into your household, a very needy human being who will depend on you and your partner for everything and the new roles you will take on mean you have to rebalance and reaffirm the core connection to your partner. Don’t forget– your kids will want two happy parents and a stable family in the long run, so investing time in your relationship is NOT taking anything away from your baby. Every penny spent on a baby sitter is worth it.

    4) Pick one hobby, max. My husband and I had several pre-kids. Now we have a lot of gear collecting dust in our basement because we don’t have time for golf AND painting AND sailing AND AND AND… Pick the thing that is the most restorative for you (for me, exercise is totally mental health enhancing, so I make time for it).

    If I have one other piece of advice, it would be just to stop watching t.v.; you have a lot more time for yourself and your kids when the box is off. I don’t miss it and if there is something I really want to watch, I can usually download it commercial free.

  49. posted by Jess on

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, about the families and travel:

    5) Try to maintain one actual vacation for you, your partner and baby. With us, we could easily spend all our time visiting family, but (for us at least) family visits with kids in tow aren’t usually very relaxing (in fact, they’re usually exhausting). Last summer we went camping for a few days and then rented a house by the sea for some quiet R&R. You have a right to your own family time– not every second has to be given over to relatives, who, by the way, can also visit you!

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