One of the most significant shifts in the dynamics of a close female friendship can be one party’s decision to marry or have a child while the other remains single. Gone are the days when you can just call your girl and paint the town red on a moment’s notice. Gone are the 2am phone calls, the showing up unannounced with a half-gallon of ice cream to mark the end of a bad relationship, and the weekend getaways or the seven-day cruises. As the good friend of a new wife or mother, it can be difficult not to feel like a third wheel or an odd woman out, when the girl you’re used to seeing rock four-inch Manolos with a cocktail in her hand is now languishing in a suburb wearing milk-soiled sweats and tube socks.
Even when she seems unrecognizable, the woman you knew better than anyone else is still in there, somewhere. Her life may be changing in ways to which you can’t readily relate, but it doesn’t mean she’s kicking you to the curb in favor of her drooling, smushy little person. What’s more likely is that she’s struggling just as much as you are to recalibrate her life so that it once again resembles–however slightly–the one you both remember.
Here are a few ways to keep your friendship intact, even as your priorities start to diverge:
1. Don’t be quick to back off.
There’s something about the announcement of an engagement or pregnancy that makes a single friend a bit too quick to the draw. Some of us immediately start bracing ourselves for the loss of a friend and subsequently allow communication to fall off before even exploring the possibility of preserving closeness. In Erica Kennedy’s Feminista, her protagonist, Sydney, was described as having lost enough friends to family-starting that she trained herself to see marriage as terminal illness and pregnancy as death. Once her friends started families, she never bothered trying to talk to them again; it was easier to pretend they were no longer among the living. A drastic measure, to be sure. But many women see things similarly.
Since every friendship, every family, and every marriage is different, it’s impossible to know for sure that you’re losing a friend, rather than gaining extended family. Don’t back off before the kid’s even born. Just wait it out. Maybe your girlfriend will take to motherhood so quickly, she’ll be back in the girls night rotation before you know it.
2. With kids, fake it till you make it.
It’s a common stereotype that childless women don’t “like kids” and some genuinely don’t. Before I had one of my own, I never had much occasion to be around children and never knew quite how to behave with them. Even so, when friends and relatives to whom I was close decided to have babies, I knew that if I cared about and wanted to remain close to those people, I had to get in there and pick up, twirl around, and play pretend with their kids, regardless of how awkward I felt. Investing in your friends’ kids is a way to show your support for their decisions and a way to remain close to them (which is not to say that you should use the kid to stay close to the mom. Rather, genuine connection to and investment in someone’s child should result in a healthy and inclusive connection to the parent).
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
If at any point, you feel like you’re losing your best friend, tell her. Don’t hold it in and then wonder why she doesn’t notice that you aren’t calling as much or inviting her out. Even if before the birth of her child, your friend seemed to have ESP and could anticipate your every discomfort or need without it being spoken, things are a bit different now. She’s otherwise occupied. For new moms, it’s important to be very clear about how your hopes and expectations for getting together or talking on the phone or retaining your closeness. She probably wants the same things, but has less and less time to devote to making it happen. If you let her know that you’re willing to pick up some of the slack in planning, finding a sitter, or otherwise helping to alleviate some of her stress or distraction, it’s likely she’ll reciprocate by being more attentive and allaying your worries about falling out of touch.
4. Give and take cues.
Sometimes, new families really do need space. If you’re coming on too strong or she’s actively screening your calls, take note. While it’s probably just temporary, it’s important to pay attention to the signs on both sides. When your friend is rushing off the phone or loudly yelling at her toddler or having some cyclical conversation with her first grader while you’re trying to tell her about the coworker who’s scheming on stealing your promotion, there’s a hint being dropped and it’s best to take it. When she calls back, be sure to tell her that you were disappointed with her inattentiveness to what was going on in your life. She’ll want to know that and it’s probable she’ll recognize and correct herself when she’s doing the same in the future.
5. Be willing to let go.
Everyone wants to believe their once-inseparable friendship will never end. But on occasion, these endings can’t be prevented, no matter how patience and space-giving and communicative you are. Maybe your friend has decided that she only wants mom friends or married friends with whom she can have long, engrossing discussions about Bjorns and potty training and keeping the spice in the relationship. It may seem unfair and unacceptable, but the quicker you process that loss, the quicker you can move on to mingling with people whose interests and values still reflect your own. The split can even be amicable or temporary, but it’s best to recognize and accept its necessity as soon as possible. Trying to hang out to a dying friendship is always more painful than a clean, clear break.
6. Venture parenting advice carefully.
Understand that the boundaries of your friendship may change when a kid comes into play. Where you used to be able to voice any opinion without concern for misunderstanding, you might now find yourself on shaky ground, once you’ve made too many “You’re doing it wrong” assertions about your friend’s mothering. A good rule of thumb is: only speak up when you feel like something your friend is doing may harm her child. Otherwise, give her the time and space to find her footing without a running commentary.
Would you add or amend any of these suggestions? Have you ever lost a friend or adjusted your expectations of a friendship after your friend became a mom?