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Help! Raising a Baby and Maintaining Friends Is Stressing Me the Hell Out.

A new dad asks The Goodfather if he can put his friends on hold while he settles in with the new baby.

fatherly logo Ask the Goodfather

Goodfather,

I have a three-month-old and life is pretty great. My husband and I love our little guy. We’re totally obsessed with him, our marriage is flourishing, we’re really good at this nurturing thing, and our baby is healthy and cute. I’ve never been happier. 

My friends, however, think there’s something missing in my life. Namely, them. A number of my friends have emailed, texted, called, and commented on Facebook that they want to see me more. But it’s so much effort and now’s not the time. You’ve got to tidy up, work around nap schedules, feed the friends and the baby, and clean up after them (friends make messes, no way around it). Also, my life is so damned perfect, I want to be a little selfish and just enjoy it. 

Am I so wrong?

Solitary in San Diego

On the surface, it would seem like you have the ideal situation: Your child has devoted parents and you have devoted friends. There is a veritable cornucopia of devotion overflowing onto the table of your life. That said, it seems like you might be bogarting the devotion glut. Your friends are getting left out and from both an emotional and tactical standpoint that’s just not going to go well for you in the long run. You need to bring your friends closer. Why? Because you look like a selfish and ungrateful ass. But also, because keeping friends at arm’s length could possibly alienate you in the future when you need their support more than ever.

It’s important to say that what you feel is completely natural. Of course, you want to spend this time with your kid and your husband. You want to cocoon yourself against an otherwise cold and indifferent world and just exist in the warm glow of nurturing love and the wonder of your new baby. Honestly, you can find a great deal of fulfillment in the lovely parenting world that you’ve created. And in no way do I want to ruin the good vibes for you, but if you don’t hear it from me now, you’ll be gutted when you discover it for yourself: Things change, including your kid, your relationship with your kid and even your marriage.

That change isn’t always bad, of course. In fact, many times the change is a product of personal growth. That doesn’t make it any less difficult. And believe me when I tell you that while your world may look like a soft-focus diaper commercial now, those diapers do eventually get filled with shit. And when you hit those inevitable rough patches. You’re going to want to have friends. And if you keep on your current course? Well, they ain’t gonna be there, kid.   

Yeah, it’s been three months. If you considered that time like we consider parental leave in the United States, that’s a pretty decent amount of time to chill with your baby. But at what point will you decide to break the spell? Five months? Six? A year? How long are your friends going to keep asking you to hang?  

You are in grave danger of making parenting the totality of your identity. If that happens, at some point you will suffer a distinct and painful identity crisis, because you’re going to eventually lose those precious moments in your life that you once found so much pleasure in. That’s why you need your friends. You need them both as a kind of social DMZ, offering you a place to develop an identity separate from your identity as a parent, and you need them as a support group when things go sideways. 

I don’t want you to abandon the parenting awesomeness that you’ve found. That would be silly. In fact, I’d encourage you hang on to it as long as you can. I just want you to also find a way to invite your friends inside the circle of warmth that you’ve cultivated.

I totally hear you when you say that friends can be disruptive to family life. But, look, there’s going to be a lot of disruptions to family life whether you like it or not. Friends, at least, will be a voluntary and pleasurable disruption. 

Of course, there are different levels of disruption. Texts are less disruptive than phone calls are less disruptive than getting face to face. And that’s what your friends want — they want to SEE you. You can, and should, allow that to happen. But importantly, that does not mean throwing a dinner party. It doesn’t mean handing the kid over to your husband and going out to get freakin’ hammered. You can get face to face with your friends while in ways that are not going to derail your family life. 

Here’s something I know: your friends who are devoted to you and craving your presence are also going to be pretty dang stoked about your kid, who is, after all, a part of you. Let them know that you’d like to see them too, but that you’ll need their help with logistics. They may have to visit, quietly, during naptime. You might request that they come and help you make dinner and stick around for a meal. You might offer that they join you and your kid on a neighborhood walk or a jaunt to the park. The idea is not to change your life to fit their desires, but to incorporate your friends into your life as best you can. The trick is to make them feel like part of the family, and as a defacto auntie or uncle to develop a sense of personal investment in your family outcomes. 

But for this to work, when friends do visit, make sure you a bit curious about their lives too. This isn’t about bringing them in so you can brag about how much more beautiful your nurturing family life is compared to the squalor of their kidless life. You’re introducing your friends to your new life because you want to show them the ways in which they can productively engage with you and your family. This is about building a community. And people, as a rule, like being a part of a community. 

And believe me when I tell you that you’re going to want to have that community sooner than later. A friend that you’ve frozen out for five months is probably not going to be particularly motivated to come watch your kid for a couple of hours so you can go to an appointment. A friend that you’ve kept at bay isn’t going to be ready to drop everything when you need to meet up for drinks to decompress after a bad day of parenting.  

Look. You have enough devotion to go around. And honestly, meeting your friend halfway does not have to be a chore. They are your friends because you like them and they like you. Having a baby hasn’t changed that … unless you let it. So get your friends on board. You’re gonna need them someday.