Staying Friends With Your Friends Who Have Kids
It’s been said that Shakespearian comedies end with a wedding. I think it can also be said that television comedies end with a baby. Whether an inadvertent jump of the shark or an intentional move as a series winds down, once a main character on a sitcom previously dominated by singles has a kid, the show tends to have only a season or so left, two at most. I’m not saying babies are a bad thing; when a show’s run is 8+ seasons, it’s not unreasonable to think that someone would have had a kid in that time frame. All the same, when someone has a kid, it tends to change the vibe of the show. The same can be said for real life. My friends are starting to have babies, and it means changes for friendships, but unlike TV, it doesn’t mean the end. For some people, this is obvious; for us single childless folk, the news that a friend is expecting can lead to a little bit of panic about the relationship. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be this way. Below are some helpful tips I’ve learned from TV, and from real life.
Acknowledge that your friend is having/had a baby. Does this seem obvious? Sure, but sometimes it isn’t. On Sex and the City, after Miranda gives birth to Brady, Samantha is determined to continue their friendship like nothing has changed. It isn’t her baby, after all, so why does she have to worry about it? She’s going to keep using inappropriate language at brunch, even with innocent baby ears present, and she’d really rather not interact with the kid til he gets to college. You can pretend like having a kid doesn’t change anything, you can avoid places the child might be, but a baby isn’t like the bad haircut or the odd date your friend had that one time. This is a person they created, and who they’re going to be taking care of for the next eighteen or so years. Even if you’re totally baby-averse and have no desire to be within a mile of a diaper (more on that later), congratulate your friend. Ask about the kid. Be happy for them like you would about any other new life development.
Decide what kind of friend you’re going to be. Are you a fan of kids, the one who can’t wait to be referred to as “Aunt so-and-so” and will offer to babysit at a moment’s notice? Or are you the kind of person who’s afraid if you have to hold a baby, you might break it, like Robin on How I Met Your Mother? Both are okay; just know who you are, and play to your strengths. If you’re happy to bring over toys and have play dates, great! If you’re not, it’s perfectly fine to be the friend who calls and says “Hey, I already talked to your husband/mom/babysitter, and they’re taking care of little Susie tonight, I’m taking you out for a pedicure.” Just be sure at some point during the course of the outing to actually ask how Susie’s doing.
Realize things are going to change… What I have learned from TV, and also from talking to people who are actually parents, is that having a kid drastically alters your priorities. I can see how having a tiny human being depending on you to keep it alive would do that. Your friend might not have the time or energy to deal with your every crisis. On HIMYM, Lily and Marshall at one point institute a rule that their friends can’t talk about a problem unless it’s an eight or higher on a 1-10 scale of seriousness. Translation: your friends with kids might not want to spend 30 minutes analyzing the contents of a text message from a guy you’ve been on two dates with. And you might have to listen to them talk about the benefits of resusable or disposable diapers. Just think of it as advance research for if you ever decide to procreate.
…but maybe they don’t have to change as much as you think. I used to think that having kids turned people into completely different people, ones who would then have more in common with my parents than with me. I recognize now that this is silly. Your friend who had a kid is still your friend; they still remember that doofus you were obsessed with in middle school or what kind of cookies you always brought to your high school advisory meetings. They just also have a kid now. If your friend does do a 180, and turns into one of those parents who only wants to talk about their kid and can’t acknowledge whatever you have going on in your life, you have every right to call them out on it, or spend more time with your childless friends. Most of the time though, your friend probably still just wants to get coffee and catch up, or whatever your usual thing is, they just might have an adorable bundle of joy in tow. And maybe you’ll need to cut down on the profanity if that’s the case.
Know when to make your exit. There must be something about motherhood that mandates modesty get thrown to the wind. There’s a SATC scene where Carrie comes over to have coffee with Miranda, and Miranda starts breastfeeding Brady with pretty much no warning. Something somewhat similar may have happened to me recently. In these and other baby situations, your friend may insist that no, you should stay, you can definitely keep talking, they just need one second to deal with the baby, but know when this is just politeness and the new mom in your life might appreciate some time to herself. (This can also be a self-preservation thing; I find the more I know about motherhood, the more it terrifies me, so I’d like to leave some mystery there so I don’t entirely scare myself out of ever having kids.)
Kids change things. While they’ll probably ruin your favorite TV show, they probably won’t ruin your friendship. (My panic attack over whether they’d try to write Kerry Washington’s pregnancy into Scandal was justified; my panic attack over what to wear to a friend’s baby shower was not.) If you’re still on the fence about your friends with kids, remember that your friend is still your friend, and their kid is an excuse to buy toys, go places like the playground and Disney World, and attend birthday parties that will definitely have cake, with the added bonus that you’re not obligated to change a single diaper.
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