Before having kids Gina had lots of opinions. She would watch parents mishandle nearly every situation involving their children, quite sure that if she were in charge those little ones would have better manners, eat everything they were served, and sleep soundly through the night.
Fast forward 6 years and add a 2 and 4-year-old, and Gina now feels she owes almost everyone she judged an apology and is actively searching for a t-shirt that reads hypocrite.
There often seems to be something about not having children that makes everyone a parenting expert. Many of us quietly have thought to ourselves, “I can’t believe they…”
- Let him watch TV that late! or,
- Sleep in their bed, or
- Scream in a store, or
- Wear THOSE clothes, or
- Eat nothing but mac-n-cheese and Cheerios
This list could go on and on.
What Gina found, as many of us do, is that in the reality of raising a child there is no handbook, (although sometimes negotiation 101 seems appropriate). Although there are certain non-negotiable parameters set with children – they all need boundaries – every decision made has some situational wiggle room. Before having kids we may think we would never, ever let a child sleep in our beds, but when there is a nightmare at 3 am and everyone is exhausted, you may choose to make an exception.
But what does this dichotomy between parents and not-parents do to relationships amongst friends? It can set up rather tricky landscape for a friendship to navigate, especially between those friends who have had children and those that have not. In this perilous environment there are a few things that all parties need to keep in mind.
When children enter your world you have to remember that friends that haven’t taken that step have no idea what you are feeling, whether it is frustration, joy, embarrassment, elation or just desperation not to scream. When they offer an opinion it is likely coming from a good spot. And, if your friend hopes to become a parent someday, or is having trouble in that regard, be kind. They may have preconceived ideas about what would work. You very likely did.
Friends of new or even tenured parents need to know that the parent you are close to is doing their best. They may get some things wrong (we all do), but if their child is happy, kind, healthy, and being taught to respect others, they are doing something right. Most parents, even at their best, worry that they are making mistakes with their children. Moments of complete confidence that they have done it all correctly are rare, and the landscape of child rearing is filled with unexpected obstacles. So, unless there is something glaring and/or dangerous be careful about judging too harshly. The saying about walking a mile in another person’s shoes holds a lot of water here.
As a parent it can be difficult when your friends are trying to offer advice or 'parent' your child. Generally they do this because they are close to you and likely want to feel included and important in your life and your child’s. Whenever possible it is important to take the opportunity to make sure friends, especially the ones who haven’t decided to have children yet, know the important role they play in your family’s life.
Friends need to recognize that the parent you know may be feeling removed from your life and world. Almost certainly whatever you are doing includes more freedom than he/she currently has. The responsibilities of parenting can be jarring for both men and women. Try including them (and possibly their child) in something you have going on. Even just coming over for a movie or to watch the game could help them feel included in your life. Also, a friendly check-in before issuing directions to their child is generally welcome – “Hey, do you want me to have her pick all these toys up?”
Parents need to remember that your friend was likely your friend before your child was born. That doesn’t mean they take precedence, but try not to forget them. Your new role as a dad or mom means that they may feel theirs has changed or is no longer important. Make sure you occasionally find time to let them know what they mean to you and that your life is better because they are in it.
Friends also need to keep in mind that those parents were your friends before they had a child. Their new role may distract them from the things you used to do, but it shouldn’t change the basics of the friendship. You can still ask their advice, offer yours and let them know that the time you spend together is important to you. Validation and feeling valued by a friend provides something that parenting can’t. This is equally true for both men and women, but shown in different ways. Men may need those reminders that they are still “one of the guys,” while women might be more in need of a confidant to share feelings with.
As silly and simple as it sounds, before we were parents, we weren’t. And although it isn’t listed in many places (if any), becoming a parent will make you almost instantly a hypocrite. When maintaining friendships across this new terrain, both parties would do well to remember that.