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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m in my late 20s. Friends and acquaintances of mine have recently started to have kids. I am a former teacher and preschool teaching assistant, and while I chose to leave education as a profession, I still adore kids and am naturally talented at working with them. Unfortunately, I really, really don’t care for babies.
I don’t intend to have children of my own but once a friend has a baby, it’s hard for me to know how to support them and this new little person. I attend the showers, buy presents, and offer assistance, but I’m sure that I’m coming across as disengaged or uninterested once the baby has been around a few months. Understandably, all activities must revolve around the baby and include the baby, and there’s no space in my friends’ lives for me or anything we used to be or do.
I just have no idea how to relate to such an enormous, life-changing event (and new human!), given that I don’t consider myself interested in or talented with babies the way other people so often are. I’ve taken to just distancing myself from these friends, which I know is unfair and unkind. It’s hard to relate to someone who, I suspect, sees me as yet another person who “doesn’t get it.” How can I support my friends with babies?
—No Babies, No Thanks
I think it’s awesome that despite your personal disinterest in babies, you care so much about being supportive of friends who have them. As a mom who was among the first in my friend circle to give birth (by years), I can attest to how difficult it can be for new parents and childless homies to connect in ways that work for all parties, especially since conversations like the one you’ve sparked with your letter are all too rare.
There are so many ways that you can be helpful to your baby-addled buddies. Offer to come by and cook or help with home organization, both of which can be overwhelming tasks for new parents. Parental leave can be lonely as hell even though you aren’t actually alone; make yourself available, when you can, to come by and be some adult company. You can even go for a walk or out to lunch if your friend is up to some fresh air, which also makes the hangout less likely to be an occasion during which you just stare at the baby for an hour.
However, I want to push back on one of your comments: “There’s no space in my friends’ lives for me or anything we used to be or do.” Is that necessarily true? Can the mom of a 2-month-old run out to a bar at the drop of a dime? Probably not. Can she make time to chat with you by phone every so often, or to send a funny meme? Likely yes. And I’d wager that most of these friends crave, at least on occasion, an outing or conversation that isn’t “all about the baby.”
My friends stopped inviting me out as much when I had my daughter, and it took two years for us to get back on track. They often assumed I couldn’t join them anywhere (NOT true) and that I would feel bad about it, so not asking was a way of being sensitive to my feelings. Meanwhile, I felt sad about being left out. This could have been prevented if we were communicating with one another all along about our respective needs within the friendship.
There will be times where you’ll need to show up and do “baby stuff,” like birthday parties and other kid-friendly gatherings, but that doesn’t mean those are the only times you’ll be able to see one another. If you guys take the time to talk about what the “new normal” looks like, you can figure out the “both/and” that works best for you all.
One thing most new parents could use is a friend who checks in on them and wants to hear them talk about the things going on in their lives aside from the new baby. You can be that friend! The world assumes that we parents don’t have space for our other loved ones or the lives we used to lead, and while things have certainly changed drastically, most of us do not become wholly new people who are unable to maintain relationships or take time for ourselves. I’d say our generation in particular is committed to remaining true to who we were before parenthood, which includes our friendships. Those who truly love you back will continue to do so and make it known.