5 ways to save your bestie friendships from the 'parent trap'
Female friendship is tough stuff. Think of the time you sat up all night with your best friend bitching about her waste-of-space boyfriend, only to see them tearfully reunited the next day; the time at your debs when she held your hair back after you’d had too many Tequilas; or the evening you lent her your brand new, ridiculously expensive shoes and she also ‘borrowed’ your boyfriend. The bond of friendship can withstand almost anything – until one of you falls into the parent trap.
“Common ground is a big factor in friendship,” explains psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick. “People can be drawn together by a shared path in life, shared interests, or the fact that they’re a similar age and at the same life stage.
When one friend’s life changes because she’s become a parent, obviously, the child comes first and priorities change. A mother can find she’s not as interested in the things that she once was, and that changes the friendship.” But Niamh is also convinced that, with an honest approach, friendships can survive and even flourish.
Here are five ways to make sure you and your bestie stay friends:
1 Remember why you’re friends in the first place
Don’t be tempted to give up on your best friend, even when your lives suddenly seem poles apart.
“One of you might want to talk about shoes while the other is more interested in how many poos the baby’s made that day,” says Niamh. “That’s all normal.” At times like this, the advice is to think about the value of the friendship.
“Female friendships really tune in to each other, they really listen and they really get it. When you have a good female friend, you really feel that you are heard and listened to and supported.
“You don’t always get that from a husband or partner. A man’s perspective is different. They often come wading in with solutions to a problem, when all a woman wants is get something off her chest. A female friend knows when someone needs to vent and just let it out. When women are close friends, they understand what’s important to the other person and they’re very tuned in to that.”
2 Recognise that things have changed
“When one friend becomes a mother for the first time, it’s really important to address the elephant in the room,” Niamh says. “There’s no point in going home to your partner complaining that your friend has turned into a baby bore. It’s better for two friends to sit down and chat about how things have changed. For example, if you’re the one without children, you could tell your friend how happy you are for her and make sure that you enjoy the baby with her. It’s also important that you both talk about making time for the friendship and set aside some time each week when you meet up and do something together.
“Eventually, if both friends become mothers, you’ll be able to share the experience and that really deepens the friendship.”
3 Be sensitive
There is the scenario where one friend becomes pregnant while the other is struggling with fertility issues and wishing that she could too. In that case, sensitivity on both sides is a must.
“It’s not an uncommon situation,” Niamh explains. “The friend who’s pregnant may be so excited she doesn’t want to talk about anything else, while the other friend might be struggling to handle the news. If you’re the one who’s pregnant, or who has just become a mother, it’s really important to be sensitive. You could start by acknowledging how hard the situation must be for your friend and then reassure her that you’re there whenever she needs support.
“On the other hand, if you’re the one who’s struggling to conceive, you might need to sit down and tell your friend what you’re going through. Reassure your friend that you’re happy for her, but explain how difficult it can be to listen, because you’d love to have what she has.”
4 Avoid resentment
Leaving things unsaid might sometimes seem like the best option, but Niamh warns that resentment is toxic for friendship.
“The worst thing you can do is ignore the change that pregnancy and parenthood bring to the friendship. That just builds resentment.”
But there are situations where one friend might have to withdraw – if even just for a short while.
“I would always try to find a solution and to talk to a friend first,” says Niamh. “Having said that, especially in a situation where you’re the one struggling with a fertility issue, you might have to step away slightly from the friendship – just for a while. That’s perfectly okay and you can give yourself permission to do that. When you’re in a better place yourself, you can reconnect. Otherwise, you could wreck the friendship through resentment.”
5 Rebuild the bond
If openness hasn’t helped and you have stepped away from a friendship, you might be scratching your head as to how to reconnect. Niamh’s advice is to avoid high pressure catch-ups and to dive into a new, shared experience.
“Don’t go straight for the big chat-fest,” she advises. “Find something new that you can both do together. Sharing something new allows you to reconnect without too much pressure. It’s a much gentler, easier approach.
“You could suggest trying a new restaurant or even doing a mini-marathon. You might be training two nights a week, so you’re chatting and catching up, but not necessarily face-to-face. That way, too, you can find out what you still have in common and get back to what brought you together as friends in the first place.”