When babies come between friends

Even strong friendships can be challenged by a new baby

Mary Walker and Susan White had been best friends since they were six years old. Even after they married, they got together frequently despite living more than an hour apart. Then Walker’s baby daughter was born.

“Your priorities change when you have a baby,” says Walker. “Our friendship began to fall apart when Cori was about a month old. We invited Susan and her husband for dinner, and they arrived super late. I was trying to keep the baby awake so they could see her, so she was fussy and cranky by the time they arrived. Their lateness wouldn’t have mattered before Cori was born, but now it did matter, and I was really annoyed by the time they got there. Then all she wanted to talk about was going to bars and partying, and that just wasn’t my lifestyle anymore.”

Your friendship has survived fights over boys, disagreements about who should have won Survivor, and the day you (accidentally) dyed her hair green. It’s been nurtured on shopping trips and long conversations. But now there’s a baby added to the mix, and your friendship is facing its biggest challenge yet.

So how can you maintain a cherished friendship when your baby seems to come between you? Your newborn may consume your thoughts and time right now, but as he grows you may want to reconnect with those friends. A little honest discussion might help — maybe she’ll agree to, say, 15 minutes of baby talk from you, while she smiles and nods, and then you promise to listen to your friend rant about her boss.

Even if both you and your friend have babies, disagreements about how to take care of your children can become a formidable barrier.

When she was pregnant with her first baby, Cathy Hall had moved to Peterborough, Ont., and was delighted to meet another expectant mother at the church they joined. “We got on really well and had great times together,” Hall says. That all changed once both women gave birth.

“I was doing attachment parenting — breastfeeding, co-sleeping, carrying Tyler everywhere,” Hall says. “But she had her baby on a strict schedule and was disciplining him early on — she’d slap his hands if he tried to reach for the spoon when she was feeding him cereal. When she came to visit, she’d put him in another room and he’d wail and wail, and she just continued chatting to me and ignoring him. It was hard for me to see how they could be such lovely, caring parents and yet be doing things so differently from the way I was doing things.”

What makes these situations especially hard, Hall adds, is that “as a new mother, you don’t have a lot of confidence. When you have a friend who is parenting very differently, you begin to doubt yourself. Now that I’m more experienced, it’s easier to let go and say I can do what’s right for me, and they can do what’s right for them.” Still, she says, their friendship is not as strong as it was in the pre-baby days.

Because parenting a new baby takes up so much time, parents often find friendships end simply because they are pickier about the friends they make time for. “I have found that I am no longer tolerant of friendships that are unkind or not respectful,” says mom Claire Chang.* “There is one former friend, in particular, that I can’t stand being around anymore. Everything she says irks me; I feel judged by her all the time. So I just avoid her now.”

On the other hand, Hall says, “I realized that if I drop my friends every time they do something differently from the way I do things, eventually I won’t have any more friends. So I make the effort to maintain friendships on whatever level I can.”

Looking back, Mary Walker wishes she’d made more effort and not let her friendship with Susan fade away. “I can see now that I was too hard on Susan. People who don’t have babies just can’t understand how your life changes when a baby arrives. So how could she know that it would be a big deal that she showed up late for dinner? It never had been in the past.”

What these strained friendships need is some give-and-take on both sides, as you find a new way to relate. Maybe fancy dinner parties are out, but you can meet for lunch. And maybe you don’t agree about breastfeeding, co-sleeping or cloth diapers, but you both enjoy baby swim classes together or talking about sports.

As Chang says: “Good friends stay good friends, even through these milestones and trials. My real friends still love me and are willing to forgive me when I need it, and I try to be equally generous in extending forgiveness to them.”

* Name changed by request.