You and your friends booked vacations together and stood up for each other at your weddings. But add kids to the mix, sprinkle in some suburban moves and, suddenly, meeting up with friends is on par with scheduling a dental cleaning. Something you know you should do, but that falls to last on your list of priorities.
That’s why it’s so important to make time for friends and go the extra mile to schedule things with people — even if you’re exhausted. This is especially true if you’re a new, or newish, parent, when you can feel isolated as your identity shifts to “mom,” or “dad,” and you’re learning to juggle the responsibility of parenthood with all the other demands in your life.
Whether you’re looking to cement a friendship with a parent in the neighborhood, or just make time for your tried and true friends who’ve been with you since you were in braces, these out of the box strategies can make it happen.
Because here’s something I wish someone had told me when my daughter, now three, was born: Parenthood does change friendships. I had friends who promised to regularly babysit drop entirely off my radar. I also found myself with more opportunities to make friends than I had had since college. While I always considered myself friendly, I never went out of my way to say hello to a stranger — but that all changed when I had a newborn in tow. All of a sudden, anyone else with another infant was someone to potentially befriend.
Now that my daughter is three, I’m happy with my social life, and happy I’ve made the extra effort to connect with other people in my life. Here are some tips to try.
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If you’re a new parent:
Join a Facebook parent group
I don’t care if you “don’t do social media.” Online groups are lifesavers. Chances are, your local community has a few Facebook parent groups. Just search. At one point, before a mom friend gave me a sit-down intervention, I was a member of 34 parent Facebook groups. Some are local, some are national, some are exclusive to how to install car seats correctly, and all provide an incredible wealth of information.
Local Facebook parent groups also provide great ways to meet new parents IRL. And the drama that plays out on these groups, especially when it comes to topics like sleep training, best daycares in the area, and sprinkler safety (it’s amazing what people care about when you become a parent!) can be great topics of conversation among your new acquaintances.
Go to a new parent meetup
Depending on where you live, formal or informal new parent meetups might be happening near you, perhaps through a local hospital, neighborhood association, or even prenatal yoga centers. Asking around (or asking the parent Facebook group you joined) is a great way to meet new friends.
As for me, I met a lot of my first parent friends in a birthing class we all took. The class was eh, but it inspired us all to stay in touch — and those early meetings were lifesavers when my daughter was a newborn.
See a parent with another newborn in a stroller or carrier? This is something huge you both have in common. In parent life, the barrier to becoming friends is very, very low, especially when both of your infants are tiny. So say hi. She (or he) might be thrilled to be invited to chat with an actual adult, and will probably say hi back. In the early days of my daughter’s life, I made a ton of tangential acquaintances in my neighborhood. Did they all become friends? No. But I still see them and give a friendly smile.
Join a baby class
Here’s a truth I wish I had known. Baby classes, which can begin for infants as young as several weeks, aren’t for your baby at all. They’re for you, to give your day some structure and provide you both with something to do.
When my daughter was six weeks old, we went to Baby Yoga for the first time. I had assumed baby yoga meant that parents did yoga while the babies lay around, which is often the case. But nope. In this Baby Yoga class, the babies themselves did the yoga, with the parents moving their arms and legs in different directions while singing songs. It was a unique concept, but trust me, after I showed my brother some of the moves we did at Baby Yoga, he said he could see how I became such tight friends with the other moms I had met in the class. In other words, the more unique the class concept, the better the bond.
Have a standing date with friends
Throughout my daughter’s first year, a group of moms (and some dads) I had met in the neighborhood decided that every Thursday evening we were going to have a standing playdate from 4pm to about 8pm in the common room of a high-rise building in the neighborhood.
The meetup was posted online and in the building, and parents were welcome to bring a snack and/or a bottle of wine. The timing was perfect. Both stay-at-home and working parents could attend at least part of it, and since the babies were so little, bedtime wasn’t such a big deal.
Now that my daughter is 3 and the weather is warm, we’re picking up the casual playdate again, this time in the communal backyard of the high rise building I live in.
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If you want to stay friends with non-parents:
Let them be involved (if you want them to be!)
Some people who don’t have kids or don’t plan on having children love hanging out with babies. Some don’t. This is a “know your people” situation. I have one friend who was happy to come over to play with my daughter, loved going on trips to the pumpkin patch, and would offer to watch her. Even though she was happy to help, I always made sure to acknowledge that she was doing me a favor.
On the other hand, I have other friends who weren’t baby people — and I didn’t want to make our friendship dependent on them hanging out with my daughter.
I think sometimes people assume that people who don’t have kids don’t want to hang out with kids, so gauge interest and make sure that they know the door is open.
I have one friend who was incredibly hurt when I didn’t invite her to my daughter’s first birthday. I had assumed she had better things to do on a Saturday then hang out with kids, she resented my assumption. Lesson learned.
I get it — babysitters are expensive, and in a life that’s already crazy busy, spending money on a babysitter to go to a party or gathering or girl’s night out just doesn’t sound appealing. But making the extra effort is so, so worth it.
Just do it. And if you can’t? Send flowers. Ask to see pictures. Remember that their life is just as big and rich as yours, and the extra effort is absolutely appreciated.
Set a tradition
Whether it’s meeting at the gym, grabbing a coffee, or even just watching The Bachelor and texting in real time, a casual tradition can sometimes make staying connected a lot easier than trying to figure out a plan for dinner in the future. I’ve learned that what connects me most to my non-parent friends is sharing in the day-to-day. If I go too long without seeing a friend, I feel like we end up out of the loop and misunderstanding each other.
Talk about the hard stuff
This is something I really wish I’d heard when I became a new parent. I felt resentful of some of my friends, who seemed to have so much more freedom than I did when I was at home most days with a newborn. I wished I could dress up, go to an office, and have plans without worrying about childcare. I didn’t realize that some of my friends were feeling wistful about wanting a child. By actually talking about our feelings, we became a lot closer.
Remember: You’re still people! You still care about each other. It might feel icky or weird to discuss this, but I think — at least in my experience — it can make you a lot closer.
Initiating a night out with old friends can be tough when you have a ton of responsibility on your plate, but doing so can help your friends realize just how much you still value them. And when you go out — and I speak from experience here — don’t denigrate yourself by saying that “you’re not the fun one,” or “now that I’m a parent, I can’t stay out late!” You can! These excuses can be weirdly hurtful — at least they were when I was a non-parent because it made my friends seem different. They’re not! The more you focus on differences, the more the differences will define your friendship. Trust me on that.
Make time for friends
Friends who have kids, friends who don’t … it doesn’t matter. The baby and preschool years can be super intense, and the best way to make sure that you and your partner survive them is to have people you can commiserate with, people who remember the “old” you, and people who can converse about things beyond playground drama.
Sure, friendships may not include multi-day island getaways, but a 10-minute iced coffee can seriously be what sees you through — so make plans, show up, and enjoy.
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Anna Davies is an editor at Haven Life. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Refinery29, Glamour, Elle, and others, and has published 13 young adult novels. She lives in Jersey City, NJ, with her family and loves traveling, running, and trying to find the best cold brew coffee in town.