Despite efforts from both sides, people often find that their friendships change when one of them becomes a mother. It is inevitable really. For those who are mothers, the world has literally been turned upside down overnight. And friends, no matter how well meaning, will often find it very difficult to relate to or understand your change in circumstances.
Long time friends Natalie and Emma admit they struggled with this when Emma became a mom to Jack last year. Despite Natalie adoring Emma's new baby, she found it difficult to cope with her friend's shift in interests. “I started avoiding her phone-calls because all she would talk about was the baby. I love her, but I didn’t want to hear how many dirty nappies she’d changed or how tired she was. She was never able to chat anymore because the baby always seemed to need feeding”
Emma in turn, felt resentful at what she saw as her friend’s lack of interest or support in her new life: “We’d always shared everything. I supported her when she went for new jobs or her boyfriend broke up with her. I wanted to talk to her about this.”
It's a common scenario but a new baby doesn't mean the end of a friendship. According to the book Best Friends, there needs to be a shared understanding between both friends that one of them becoming a mother is a shift, and that things will definitely be changing.
Dr Ruthellen Josselson PhD, sociologist and friendship expert, and his co-author Terri Apter have worked with hundreds of girls and women over many years, which gave them insight into the emotionally important relationships that are integral to a girl's self-image. The book Best Friends explores the bonds of friendship between girls and between women, and the sorrows and joys they experience together, from early adolescence and throughout their lives.
Some friendships have a natural expiration date, but if you have a dear friend that you care deeply about, you should make it clear that the relationship is important to you and that you want it to continue.
So, for friendships that have become tired, it means the decision to invest in it is a conscious one. Sometimes you will have to make the tough call that this is the end of it
The key to maintaining these friendships is to set new boundaries:
This is vital. Emma and Natalie had a long phone-call where they both discussed their concerns and resentments. This meant they were able to set these aside and start over, recognising the shift in circumstances for both. A practical step forward was to agree to keep in regular touch via text or email. This meant Emma was able to reply when baby was asleep or she had some spare time.
They also agreed to schedule a regular catch-up once a month when Emma would be child-free or that Natalie would visit at a time that fitted in with Jack's sleep schedule.
They also both agreed to show an interest in each others' lives and listen to what the other person was sharing. For Emma it meant she was able to keep in touch with elements of her pre-baby life. Natalie enabled her to keep in contact with a world that she wasn't part of anymore, but she still enjoyed hearing about. For Natalie, it meant learning about a whole new world and to continue developing her relationship as an adopted auntie with baby Jack.
Re-adjusting expectations is the key to maintaining friendships after baby. For Emma and Natalie it also meant a new lease on their friendship.
For more on books by Terry Apter and Ruthellen Josselson: