The good aunt and sticky friendships, revisited

Back in July, I wrote about the struggle women without children have in maintaining friendships with their friends who are moms. If you missed the first post or have forgotten it, you might want to read it and then come back to this post.

I’m revisiting the issue, because so much of what I hear in response to the good aunt series has to do with the difficulty of navigating friendships.

I want to say it again: good aunts want to be good friends to the moms in their life, but there’s sometimes a difficulty in knowing the best way to approach those friendships.

Those of us who aren’t moms know that the job of mom is a demanding, all-consuming, draining, not-always-fun-and-games life. Really, I promise you moms out there, we do know that, even if it’s only in an intellectual way instead of the empathic way your other mom friends can truly understand. And so we know to expect changes in friendships when babies are born. What we don’t always know, though, is how to maintain the friendship and develop a relationship with the new little one, or if that’s even something the new mom wants.

A friend of mine and I sat chatting over coffee yesterday, and the topic of friendships with new moms came up. My friend is in her early thirties, is not yet a mom, and is experiencing that so familiar boom of babies being born among her group of friends.

She voiced what I have felt, too, though I’m farther from the baby boom with my friends than she is: each time another friend becomes a mom for the first time, there’s an uncomfortable shift, as the questions begin:

  • What does the friend expect from me now that she has less time for herself and her friends?
  • If I’m the only one making an effort to connect, is it because the new mom doesn’t need/want me in her life any more? Or is it because she’s overwhelmed and needs me to come to her aid whether she asks for it or not?
  • Does she still value me as a friend, even though I don’t have children and can’t adequately talk through the latest nappies or sleepless night solutions and can’t offer her any knowledge about nannies, or juggling work and babies?

The questions that arise out of this natural separation in a friendship are not comfortable or easy. And each friendship will resolve the questions differently.

Some friendships will strengthen with the answering of these questions, even if the questions are never asked or answered out loud. Other friendships will fade because of different needs and expectations on either side of the friendship. And there doesn’t seem to be a recipe or computer program that will help you determine which friendships will survive and which won’t, no matter how much work you put into them.

So where do we go from here?
If a friendship mattered to you before a child was born (your own child or your friend’s child), then decide if the friendship is worth some extra effort now. The answer won’t always be “Yes,” and that’s okay.

But for the friendships that are worth it to you, the ones that you cannot imagine losing, take some time to make them work. And be honest with each other about what both of you want and need from this new way of being friends. Honest conversation may have to happen in snatches between crying fits and first smiles and diaper changes, but those conversations are the best way to keep a friendship going strong.

Have some great advice for how you and a friend have navigated friendship changes after one of you became a parent? Or a question about how to start that honest conversation? I’d love to hear from you.

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