I’ve written before about how a new baby changes a marriage, but in the seven months (today!) since having Jackson, I’m also experiencing the effects motherhood has on my friendships. I’ve been surprised to find that having a baby can have many positive effects on one’s social life, like a whole new circle of other mom friends. Being a new mom can also benefit old friendships, too, even with friends who don’t have children.
One of the best effects having Jackson has had on me as a friend is to make me much more flexible, patient, and understanding. Where I once was maybe a little too quick to feel offended when I felt friends weren’t putting enough of an effort into maintaining our connection, I now cut people a lot more slack. And it’s not just because I am not putting as much effort into maintaining connections. It’s true that my free time is much more limited and I don’t have as much of … well, myself to go around, but I think I still do a pretty good job of keeping up with people. I’d say the energy I give to friendships is as much as it ever was, but the time I’m able to carve out is different and the people I give it to have changed. For example, I can’t remember the last time I was able to gab on the phone with my best friend for an hour. Now, we exchange a lot more texts, emails, and much shorter phone conversations during baby naps and walks around the neighborhood.
Once, I would have gotten upset when a friend didn’t return a call or email or text in a timely manner. As recently as a year ago I remember getting my feelings hurt when I wanted to tell a few long-distance friends about my pregnancy over the phone and at least three of them took weeks to return my call. These days, I don’t fret if a friend doesn’t call me back. I’m much more understanding about how busy life can get and how returning a friend’s call gets pushed further and further down the list of priorities, especially when one or two or three months have gone by since the last call and now you have to carve out at least a half hour to play catch-up and when are you ever going to find a half hour of free time between work, errands, cooking dinner, doing laundry, caring for your spouse and family, going on dates, going to the gym, mending your socks, trimming your bangs, emptying the diaper pail, feeding the cats, washing your car, etc., etc.? I don’t like it, but I can better appreciate now that friendships often have to take a backseat to the details, both mundane and significant, of day-to-day life. I can appreciate it better because I have so many more daily details — both mundane (buying diapers) and significant (watching a new season of “Mad Men,” come on) to tend to. I don’t take an unreturned phone call personally anymore. I’m sad that some friendships don’t – and may never again — have the kind of intimacy they did when we were all childless and single (and lived close by!), but I no longer personalize what actually has very little to do with me as a person and much more to do with current circumstances.
And because current circumstances play a much bigger role in my friendships now, it’s a lot easier for me to maintain connections with people who live in my neighborhood. I no longer have time to make the nearly two-hour commute (roundtrip) to upper Manhattan and back or to hard-to-reach areas of Brooklyn very often, so, sadly, I don’t see my friends who live that far away too much anymore (and don’t get me started on how much harder it is to plan visits to Chicago where some of my best buds live). Instead, I’ve been focusing more of my energy on nurturing friendships closer to home, with people who live within blocks of me. It’s much easier to meet a few girlfriends for a couple drinks down the street after Jackson has gone to sleep than to spend an entire evening trekking across the city for the same kind of social interaction. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss my friends who live farther away, but when I’m trying to juggle so much in so little time … this is what happens. This is the choice I make.
I definitely feel guilty that I’ve chosen not to nurture some friendships as much as I used to. But I’m also fully aware that friendship is a two-way street and the same friends I don’t see as much aren’t making the same kind of effort to see me that they once did either. I don’t blame them. They have their own busy lives, too (that may or may not also revolve around babies and their sleep schedules and diaper-changings and music classes and so on). But where I once would have reached out and said something about our waning bond, I don’t now. I let it go. If friendships require equal effort from both friends, maybe I’m even relieved that the pressure is off me to contribute more than I’m comfortably capable of right now. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss those friends. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad and a little guilty that we aren’t as close as we once were. But my life has changed and my friendships, understandably, have changed along with it.
Sometimes, when I let myself think about how much motherhood and my new responsibilities — huge responsibilities — have affected every aspect of my life — my marriage, friendships, work, physical and emotional well-being, bank account, waistline, appearance, travel — it’s almost enough to break my heart. Every single aspect of my life has taken a hit, some more than others. But for every hit, there’s been an equal or greater reward. I will always be sad that I don’t have the time to nurture the friendships in my life in the same way I once could. But I would trade dozens of wine-soaked evenings with pals to hear the sound of my baby laughing just once.
The decision to have a baby opens the door to so many more choices that will have to be made. How and with whom to spend your significantly limited free time is just one of those sometimes bittersweet decisions. As is saying ‘no’ to your third cocktail of the night. But hangovers with a baby in the house is a topic for another day…