Losing friends to fatherhood seems inevitable. Even before the baby comes, a shift is underway. You’re going to appointments, building a nursery, taking classes. Your time, energy, and money is now going towards this as yet unseen, possibly unnamed person.
“The birth of a child is an inflection point,” says Daniel Singley, a San Diego psychologist..
It’s the line between pre- and post-baby life, in which nothing will be the same, one being your relationships. It goes for your partner, parents, siblings, and particularly your friends. You’ll get closer to some friends. Others will fade away, a natural byproduct of having a child.
Yes, you’ll be overwhelmed, scared, excited, and “psychotically exhausted,” as Singley says, and it’s easy to think your friends who are still single and don’t have children will have little interest. It might be, but it’s not a given. And you don’t have to add to your anxiety and sense of isolation by doing unnecessary things to push these caring, well-intentioned people out of your life —
Things have to look different, but they don’t have to completely disappear. Friends are a crucial commodity and, if you can help it, one to preserve as best as you can. Doing so requires a willingness to get out in front of some stuff and be willing to accept the change. It sounds a touch overwhelming, but the overhaul on your life is already in process.
1. Dive Into the Action
One underlying problem that affects getting personal time is a parenting imbalance. Guys often hang back and let their partners take the lead. It starts before the baby arrives, putting dad in a hole of his making. “You feel bad you don’t do more, but you don’t know how to do more,” says Julian Redwood, a San Francisco licensed psychotherapist.
The answer? There isn’t one, but, in general, be involved. Go to appointments, classes, and shopping trips. But also be fully there. Ask questions. Write down information. Read crib reviews. It all helps you bond with the baby and build your confidence, and then there’s no pushback to, “You’re going out with your buddy?,” because you’ve established that the two of you are a team, he says.
2. Ask for a Hand
From a young age, guys are encouraged to figure stuff out and not ask for help. That leads to staying isolated when you keep new baby hours. “Fathers tend to father in isolation,” says John C. Carr, a Boston psychotherapist and author of Becoming a Dad. When your friends offer, “Let me know what I can do,” you need to forget about “bothering them,” by keeping a simple truth in mind: They may know nothing about parenting, but they care about you, Singley says
Ask them to keep checking in even when there’s no reply and to keep inviting you to stuff, even though you never can make it but want to. It’s asking for them to have a little faith that things will change. It’s saying, I might be underwater, but don’t give up on me.
3. Mark It Down
You can feel like there’s no time for anything besides the baby, but there is. You just have to treat it like naps and feeding and put it on a schedule. Singley says to fill in a calendar with all the must-dos, one of them being one hour per week of self-care.
When you become a parent, you have to become more intentional with everything, or stuff like friends will be treated as a luxury. Plus, when you make things predictable, stress goes down. You know that Thursday is your night. Your friends do as well.
But there’s another bonus. When you help your partner get out as well, you get alone time with the baby. It might be scary at first, but as you figure things out, your confidence grows even more, as does that parenting balance, making it even easier to go out, Redwood says.
4. Bring Your Friends In
It’s easy to convince yourself that your non-kid friends won’t care about the baby. You might even push them away. They might surprise you, but be judicious, because even parents don’t want to see 50 pictures. Pick one and tie it to your history. The kid’s in a Dolphins shirt crying, and your caption is: Tradition continues.
Or just text out, “Baby’s been up all night. I’m exhausted and not doing okay.” The message isn’t hard to decipher, whether the receiver is a parent or not. “You’ve given a window about what it’s like for you,” Singley says. “A friend will care about that.”
5. Be Flexible
Two holdover attitudes from childhood muck up the way you think about friends. One is that friendships only revolve around goals, teams or activities, and if they’re gone so is the relationship. The other is the belief that if you can’t play 36 holes or run 10 miles at a time, there’s no point, Singley says. But with a baby, flexibility is a must. You need to re-imagine how and where to see friends, like just grabbing coffee or taking a walk.
It means that it’ll look different, and it means asking for something new. The fear of rejection is always a possibility, but you need to push through that initial worry, because the alternative is never getting together. “You need to have the friendship,” he says. “You can’t be passive about it.”
6. Take Advantage of Your New Emotional State
One upside of parenthood is that it makes you more courageous. Being exhausted also helps lower your inhibitions. You just want to get to the point because you have bigger priorities and less time to waste. Use that when you get together with your friends. It doesn’t mean every conversation needs to be serious but it does mean it has to be worthwhile. Maybe show some vulnerability, then ask how your buddy is doing. Some might balk, but some will jump right in and the friendship will take on added dimension. “You can have a drink and cut to the chase,” Redwood says. Your reward will be deeper relationships.
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