Your friend just had a baby/is the parent of a young child. You’re child-free (or maybe just a sometimes-socially inept fellow mom like me) and supportive as hell, but you’re having a tough time knowing what to say sometimes. You want to be helpful, empathetic, and kind, but it’s hard to relate. If you’re honest with yourself, you don’t really know what her life is like. I mean, you get that she’s got a kid now, but what exactly (really) does that mean? Why does it feel like the two of you, who could maybe formerly have whole conversations comprised entirely of half-spoken inside jokes and references, are now struggling to connect?
Well, probably a million reasons. Not the least of which is that it’s a huge adjustment to have conversations in 5-second increments amid seemingly ceaseless interruptions. There is also the fact that you just witnessed her daughter make a totally indecipherable slobbery Nell-esque sound to which your pal responded “I know you want to eat crackers and go down the slide naked, but right now we’re having coffee with Mama’s friend!” And, real talk, there’s also the fact that your friend is probably a little sensitive right now. She’s learning how to do a really hard, new thing, and she’s pretty much on her own with it. Because culture makes such a farty stink about motherhood being a competitive public bloodsport, she’s always on defense, which can make your innocent inquiry about her parenting choices feel (to her) like she’s been called to the stand by the prosecution.
I certainly don’t purport to have all the answers to ensure smooth communication with mom types, but I’ve got five go-to moves that have proven very popular (read: well-received and virtually miscommunication proof) when trying to communicate your love and support to your mom-friend.
1. “It really is as hard as you think.” Just saying “wow, that must be so hard/your life is so hard” is nice in spirit, but can sometimes make parents feel even more isolated and alone. “It really is as hard as you think” lets your friend know that she’s not alone — that parenting is universally hard. It has the added benefit of reassuring her that her assessment of the bonkers situation of keeping someone who can’t even be in charge of which way their head is pointed alive is right on the money. Who doesn’t love a double whammy of empathy and confirmation of sanity? Nobody, that’s who.
2. Start inquiries into parenting choices with an observational compliment. I’m all for asking your friend about her parenting choices in a supportive way. I bet she’s excited to talk about it because the topic has been on her mind a lot. But it’s easy for your pal to misunderstand the spirit behind your curious query (see above re. sensitive/public bloodsport). See, she’s getting questions from all manner of concerned idiots, some of which aren’t so nice, and so is naturally prickly on the subject. But I can almost guarantee that if you kick off the convo with something great that you’ve noticed about your friend’s parenting style (and not phrasing it in a “it’s so good that you DON’T do __________ horrible thing like so-and-so”), she’ll be jazzed to talk. This goes for asking about the kid’s development, too. Plus, you wanted to be kind anyway, right? Well here’s a built in platform for delivering those compliments she’s probably starved for (see above re. concerned idiots).
3. Help, but not in a concerned way. If I’m going to be hanging out for an hour or two with a baby mama friend, I like to start the hang sesh off with something like, “I’d love to help you in any way I can. I’d be happy to hold insertbaby’snamehere, your bag, help you with the stroller, whatever, but I also know that you do this by yourself, like, all the livelong day and you probably don’t NEED my help.” This, as opposed to seeing your friend trying to slide her kid into a carrier (which can often appear as though the mother is dangling the baby by an ankle behind her back), sucking air through your teeth, and with a tone of “um, is your baby probably going to die because of this?” saying desperately, “LET ME HOLD THE BABY FOR YOU!” Perfect help feels like an easy bonus, not a judgmental time out.
4. If you’re not a kid person, be a your-friend’s-kid person. I get it. To be honest with you, I’m not much of a kid person either. But if you want to maintain your friendship, you’ve got to find a way to connect with the kid. Your relationship doesn’t need to be adorably cuddly, or full of fanciful made up games, but you need to be kind to the kid, just like you would with any other un-expendable person in your friend’s life. Never ever under any circumstances want to have your own kid(s)? Cool! But maybe don’t use your pal’s baby’s antics as a springboard for that conversation. Just like you wouldn’t hang out with her and her husband and constantly make comments about how being around a couple just reminds you how much you never want to be in a couple… But you’re probably not an asshole, so we probably don’t need to have this conversation.
5. Carry on with the invitations, and make sure you clearly communicate when just your friend is invited, or when it’s a mom+baby scene. Don’t assume that your friend doesn’t want to do certain things (i.e. bar night? This mom says yes, please!). Also, don’t assume that she wants to keep doing whatever thing you’ve been doing forever. Invite, express understanding and no pressure, and honor her response. Just like a normal human. It might be tough to find the right ways to spend time together for a while, but you’ll figure it out.
You’ll figure it out. It might take a little finesse, and a little time, but you’ll find a way to connect with your friend. And she’ll be forever grateful that you made the effort to support her through one of life’s most upending transitions.