Close friendships can spring up from all kinds of shared experiences. I had a 10-year best friendship with someone that began because our seventh grade teacher arranged her classroom alphabetically, so the two of us ended up sharing a desk. Having a last name that is late in the alphabet might not seem like the foundation of a decade of friendship, but it was enough to get us started.
Once we get older, friendships get both harder to come by and tougher to maintain. We no longer all share the typical school day schedule, and our lives often pull us in wildly different directions. Now you’ve got freelancers trying to schedule coffee dates with nine-to-fivers, and commuters trying to figure out how to remain close with their BFFs who have stayed downtown.
One of the hardest bridges to gap, however, can be the one between new parents and their childless friends. The former group is trying to figure out breastfeeding and co-sleeping and unwanted advice from strangers, while the latter group is doing… none of those things. And while there are definitely things that new parents need their kid-free friends to know, it’s also important to keep in mind what kid-free people need their new parent friends to know too.
As a kid-free person who counts parents among her friends, I’m here to share some of that wisdom.
1. We might still know a lot about babies
While I would never compare it with full-time parenting, I was 9 years old when my sister was born and I grew up taking care of her. Lots of kid-free people also have a lifetime of experience with babies via their own families or doing child care for others. That isn’t to say we will try to tell you about babies. But it does mean we’d be completely comfortable if you wanted to hand over your newborn and grab a long shower.
2. We might actually know nothing about babies
On the other hand, some of us have maybe never even held a baby and might be terrified to do so. We will probably still hold them when you have a shower, but might need some coaching first.
3. We might not want kids of our own
All of us have been guilty at some point of assuming everyone has the same goals and life plans, especially about something as societally expected as having kids. But many of your kid-free friends, even the ones with houses and spouses, might never plan to have children. So try to avoid “you will understand when you have kids” talk.
4. We might want kids of our own very much
The flip side of that is that you might have friends who have been struggling with conception or carrying a pregnancy to term. Not everyone talks about going through this, so even close friends might not have shared it with you, especially as you were celebrating your own pregnancy and birth. So try not to tell anyone they are “so lucky not to have kids,” and be prepared for a few of your friends who might distance themselves for a bit if being around babies is too painful. It’s not personal.
5. We have also done and are still doing a lot of very exhausting things
For sure, the sleep disruption that comes along with a new baby is exceptional. But if your friends are venting about pulling a two-day all-nighter to get a big report done or having to give up their vacation time to deal with a family crisis, please don’t tell them that they don’t actually understand what it means to be tired.
6. We might not know what our role in your life is right now
Even for a kid-free person who has been around babies a lot, it’s hard to know what our new parent friends need. Should we try to make plans to hang out with you or is it stressful to get those kinds of invites when you are adjusting to your new life? Should we comment on your posts about adjusting to having a baby or are you only looking to hear from fellow parents? Please feel free to let us know if you are not getting what you need from us.
7. We’ll all figure it out together
Even if you do reach out, there will still likely be an adjustment period while we all find the new normal. There might be a lot of steps to figuring out how to best support each other and stay on each other’s day-to-day radar, and some of those are going to be missteps. Let’s try not to feel too much doom and gloom if it takes us a few tries to settle in. We have the rest of our lives to get it right. What’s important is that we never stop trying.