Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let’s acknowledge the tension that can arise when a friend has a new baby and seemingly falls off the planet.
Here is one woman’s example, but how many people have related to this feeling at some point in their adult lives?
“I don’t have kids, so I’m curious what the ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ etiquette is in this situation. My good friend of 20 years just had her first baby. Before she delivered, I told her I would be respectful and wait for her to invite me over to visit when she is ready. I bought a bag full of expensive baby gifts and tucked it away in my closet. She had the baby and she sent a few pics. I checked in every so often to see how she was feeling. Waited. Waited. Nothing. Several weeks went by and I had not heard from her, other than “we’re doing good.” So I started asking friends how long do new moms usually keep visitors away? I was told it can be up to two weeks. Friends suggested maybe she was waiting for me to ask to come by. Even though we discussed it, maybe she had baby brain and forgot our conversation. I started to get worried, I didn’t want her to think just because I don’t have kids, I am not interested or supportive of hers.
After a month, it happened to also be Christmas time. So I texted her and said I had some gifts for the baby, would it be okay to come by and drop them off sometime in the next few weeks? She said it was fine. We made plans for me to stop by one day after work. She mentioned it had to be a specific day because she was taking the baby out of town that weekend to her mother-in-law’s. I thought nothing of it. I got to her house (an hour and a half drive) and she was sitting on the sofa with the baby on a big pillow on her lap. I come in and sit down, we start chatting… She does not acknowledge the GIANT gift bag, nor does she offer to let me hold the baby (who is now six weeks old). I ended up sitting with the cat on my lap instead.
An hour goes by, I say I need to get going, and ask her if she wants to open her gift. THIS IS WHERE IT GETS WEIRD. She says, “I have the baby, so why don’t you open it for me?” I said, “Why don’t you trade me and I’ll hold the baby for a few minutes?” She says, “Well, I know you don’t like kids… Maybe I’ll just put him on the sofa.” I said, “Obviously I will love YOUR kid! I’ve been dying to hold him since I got here!” She says, “Okay, maybe just for a minute.” And places the baby — pillow and all — on my lap. She opens the gift bag, looks over the little outfits I had selected with love and care, and mentions they may be too small. I wanted to point out that they were purchased before Snowflake was born and perhaps had I been able to come by sooner, it would not have been a wasted gift. Also, they were not Newborn size, they were 3-6mo. I did my best.
She then proceeds to tell me all about the very expensive and extravagant gifts her other friends gave her, making my little outfits and stuffed animals look like Walmart clearance bin items. I asked her what she had been up to and she started complaining about how she just wanted time alone with her baby and all these people keep dropping by. She said, “Don’t people understand, if I want you to come over, I’ll call you and invite you over?!” She said she had not invited anyone over to see the baby yet, and the only people who had seen him were people who’d invited themselves. I asked her how long she felt she wanted to have with the baby before having company, and she said she wanted him to be on a set schedule, and sleeping through the night before people started coming over. I asked how long that takes, and she said (without blinking) “up to 6 months.” So, I guess if I had not asked to come over, I was not going to hear from her for 6 months?? I drove home feeling like my best friend had been taken over by aliens. I guess we’re not friends anymore. She made it pretty clear that our 20 years of sleepovers, vacations, proms, spa days, and movie nights have been forgotten in the wake of this 7lb. meatloaf.
But really, is this normal? Will it pass, or is she just out of my life now? Is there really not enough room for both of us in her world? I don’t understand how having a baby is a get-out-of-jail-free card for turning your back on the people who have stood by you and loved you your whole life. And I’m sure if I say anything, I’ll get the ol’ ‘You need to understand I’m a MOTHER now.’ Or, ‘I have a BABY.’ I’m trying to be a supportive friend during this new chapter in her life, like I have been through everything else. Why would a baby be any different?? And WHY IS SHE ACTING SO CRAZY??”
When a couple has a baby, they tend to fall into one of two camps: Either they’re eager to introduce their little one to friends and family (and neighbors and coworkers too) within the first few weeks or they’re a bit standoffish for the first few months. There’s no magic formula, and the reasons for being standoffish can range from feeling paranoid about germs to being drained of energy and not knowing when to request that people come over. I have a feeling, based on your email, A., that your friend might be going through a bit of the latter. She doesn’t sound depressed or even especially overwhelmed, but her mentioning that she’d rather have her baby on a sleep schedule before having guests over suggests to me that she might be a type A personality, and having a baby has thrown her into a world of accelerated chaos. She can’t yet anticipate when the baby will cry, sleep, poop or eat (the four things babies are capable of doing), and it might be making her kind of nuts. Or maybe she’s enjoying figuring out this whole parenting thing, but she’d rather do it without anyone hovering around her. For parents of preemies, having friends over is a huge deal because it means the baby is healthy enough to be around people, which can take some time. In the case of your friend, A., it sounds like she’s the one getting used to the new adjustment. The baby is perfectly healthy, but your friend might be on edge and in need of some extended solo time. It’s ironic, because within a year, she’ll probably be posting things like this online:
That said, you’re a great friend for being so supportive and wanting to be there for her. You’ve shown an interest in meeting the baby, holding the baby and giving the baby gifts, and you were willing to drive over an hour each way just to do so. She and the baby are lucky to have you in their lives. But no matter how much you want to show her you’re interested, the way things will play out from here is (somewhat irritatingly) based more on her than it is on you. Here is my advice — pure and simple #RealTalk — based on my personal experiences with friends with babies, in the form of a handy list.
How to deal with old friends who have new babies (especially if you don’t have kids yourself):
1. Get the baby a gift. Do not expect the parent(s) to notice or take extra appreciation of the fact that you bought the baby the expensive shit. Unfortunately, parents only notice when you get the baby cheap shit (because the baby’s skin is sensitive or the toy is made of cheap plastic, etc.). I’m not saying parents won’t notice that the super-trendy socks you got their infant cost as much as a week’s worth of groceries, but they will likely not say anything about it. I, too, buy pricey baby gifts for my friends and have learned that it’s not worth asking myself if I should’ve just bought a single onesie from Target versus the 900 other items I purchased. I can only assume the gift will be appreciated, even if I’m never made aware of it. Some parents will handwrite thank you cards. Some will take pictures of their baby wearing the expensive socks you bought. Others will never mention your gifts again and you just have to live with that.
Regarding when to give the gift: Always try to pass along the gift before the baby is born. After that, things get hectic, as you’ve learned, A., when trying to negotiate a time to come by. Pre-baby gifts are cherished and cause excitement. Post-baby gifts are cherished and cause some excitement, but not nearly as much excitement as parents feel when staring into the eyes of their young, perfect progeny. (Barf.) So try to get your gift in early. Also, when in doubt, size up. Newborn onesies last, like, 48 hours according to most new parents, so starting at 3 to 6 months for clothing size is smart. I have no idea why your friend said your 3- to 6-month options might be too big. In my mind, there’s no way they’re too big, so maybe she was just throwing a defensive remark your way out of resentment for having a visitor. That’s pretty uncool, but since she’s a hormonal new mom, you’re supposed to forgive her. (Barf x 2) [P.S.: You don’t have to forgive her if you don’t feel like it.]
2. Speaking of hormones, postpartum depression can be harder for new moms to discuss than they let on. I have a large handful of friends who occasionally comment on the first year of parenthood as being shockingly depressing or hormonally difficult, but they certainly weren’t acting that way (in person or online) during that first year because they weren’t ready to admit it. If your friend experiences emotional ups and downs or seems to be pushing you away or ignoring you, it’s always a possibility that she’s feeling blue. It’s also possible that you’re feeling blue for your own reasons and need her for emotional support too. If that happens, just tell her so. You’ll feel better. If she seems sad or irrationally angry, ask her about it.
3. Be prepared for your friend to find new-mom friends with whom she can take classes, schedule playdates and commiserate. You and your friend have shared history, including prom, sleepovers, first boyfriends, etc., and no one can take that away from you, but this baby stuff isn’t the same. You can still be best friends, but your friend will inevitably form a posse of parents on whom she can rely for parenting-specific issues and/or babysitting trade-offs. It doesn’t mean you’re any less important to her; try to think of it more like someone who’s in law school and now spends most of her time with classmates studying. Parents are only up their own asses and the asses of their children for the first few years or so. If your friendship has sustained 20 years already, you still have many more years of friendship to come down the line.
4. We should probably all accept that some parents are willing to have friends over to meet the baby sooner than others. Our expectations should be reduced to essentially nothing. Is this annoying? Hell, yes, it’s annoying. You can’t rely on people with newborn babies as much as you can rely people who don’t have newborn babies — this is a fact, and it can be frustrating. But it’s also reality, so try not to take a friend’s disappearing act too personally. She might even be jealous of you getting regular eight-hour intervals of sleep and not dealing with milk-filled boobs or wiping a baby’s ass half a dozen times a day. Of course, she’d never say this. She’d rather talk about how much she loves being a mom or imply that motherhood is superior to being childless. But the truth is, the amount of love that’s gained by having a baby is in direct proportion to the amount of sleep that’s lost. That inverse relationship is one you don’t have to contend with, A., and I say savor and enjoy it. Besides, it might be worth celebrating that your friend isn’t the type to post those obnoxious “visitation rules” signs on Facebook. Those people are the worst, and you can rest easier knowing your friend registers several notches above that.
5. Finally, to address the real heart of your question — “Why do some parents act so CRAZY after the baby is born??” — all I can say is that some people pop out a kid and think the world should suddenly revolve around them, and some people don’t. None of us can fully prepare for the changes our friends will go through when they become parents because it’s hard to predict. I’ve had some friends turn into near-strangers. Others morphed into uptight, preachy jerks seemingly overnight, and now all they do is whine on Facebook about daylight savings time. I’ve also watched as some friends become more relaxed, more able to enjoy life and maybe even make more room in their lives for friends and family (kids or not!), which has been a delightful surprise.
Hopefully, your friend will tell you how much she appreciates your gifts and the time it took for you to get them to her, A. If she doesn’t, it’ll be disappointing, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your friendship. Some people just need time to adjust to parenthood and get back to their old selves again, while others keep changing until they’re practically unrecognizable… and you won’t want to be friends with them anymore anyway.
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