Just in the past few months 21 of our closest friends and family have announced a pregnancy. Twenty-one. It’s like my world went crazy and exploded with little babies.
With each birth announcement, I feel the distance grow a little more between us and our friends around us. Now, most of our conversations revolve around the fascination with their mini-me. We love our friends and their kids. But it’s hard. It’s a different world, one we aren’t currently a part of. As we learn to navigate this new transition stage, there are a 4 things I would really like to tell parents from those of us on “the other side”.
1. Talk about your kids. And other things.
We love a good kid story as much as the next guy. We love your kids so we’ll do our best to join in about their first steps, diaper habits, or sleep patterns. We want to be involved and are interested in what you’re experiencing. But we don’t have kids. I know it’s your whole world right now, but if you could also talk about other things it would mean a lot. Ask us about our world and touch on other subjects like work, marriage, faith, hobbies, interests, personal struggles…heck, we’ll even talk about the weather for a change. Finding a common ground to discuss makes a world of difference. And if we’re honest, the friendships that revolve around more than just the baby bump are the ones that will last. So try to maintain friends and conversation that don’t always revolve around your kids.
2. Take a break.
We understand that life with kids is hard. It’s exhausting and makes you feel “on” all day. Not to mention trying to find time and energy to do your job, laundry, dishes, and mowing the lawn. But stay at full speed for too long and the threat of burnout will be just around the corner. For your own sanity and those around you, take a break for goodness sake. Your kids will be ok without you for a couple hours or even a weekend. You will not get an extra cookie for being the 24/7 Mom who exerts herself to exhaustion.
Take some “me time”. Steal back moments of peace and quiet. Get up early before the kids or put the to-do list on hold during nap time. Do a kid swap with a friend each week – she watches your kids while you go shopping and vise versa. Follow up an errand with something fun like getting coffee after a doctor appointment. Include a time of quiet play into the day and do something for yourself while your kids are calm. Create some space for your head and heart to debrief. You will find yourself more in love with your kids and your spouse if you don’t neglect your own health and emotional well-being. Sometimes getting away from the crazy is what you need to reassess and see the bigger picture.
Go on a date. Hire a babysitter or ask a neighbor, friend, or family member. Do “kid swap” night with another couple. It will be worth the money and time in the long run. You and your spouse started this family and it will be just the two of you when it’s all said and done. Don’t let your relationship take a backseat during the parenting years or there might not be much of a marriage left in the end.
If you find yourself resisting the idea, ask yourself why. Do you struggle with feelings of false guilt? Do you work all day and feel like you can’t justify more time away? Do you believe the house would go crazy without you? Do you trust your spouse to take care of things? Are logistics a problem? Do you believe you don’t need a day off?
Keep in mind that taking a break helps you stay rested, calm, and mentally refreshed – all of which will positively influence your kids and your parenting. You can’t give out of an empty well. Taking better care of yourself and your marriage gives you the ability to better care for your family.
3. Make new friends and remember the old ones.
Like magnets, parents attract other parents. It’s as if once you have a baby, you now belong in the “couples with kids” club. Your schedules align, you share common experiences, and now social hour revolves around naps and bedtime. It’s a natural part of transition. But sometimes making new friends can cause you to forget or neglect the old ones. So remember the people who supported you and walked with you up until this point. We might not fit into your new schedule, routine, or parent group. And we might grieve a little at how our relationship with you has now changed. But we will always be there.
4. Be Aware. Be sensitive. Be empathetic.
As a parent, you may feel like you operate in one mode: survival. Parenting little ones can feel like you’re in the movie Groundhog Day: reliving the same day over and over while attempting different parenting tactics in an effort to regain your sanity. Family matters are your whole world and it may be hard to concentrate on much else.
But if you want others to be interested in your affairs, try remembering theirs too. Be aware of who’s around when you start in on your parenting woes. Did your sister just have a miscarriage? Do your friends long for a baby but can’t conceive? Be aware of those you’re talking to. It’s not fair, but like it or not, your blessing still reminds others that they’re suffering. Seeing things from their point of view can help create an environment of empathy and understanding between friends. Being sensitive to your friend’s struggle with a little compassion and a “how are things for you?” can really go a long way.
All in all, remember that parenting is a season. Kids are forever but they are only under your roof for a short time. Make every moment count, all the while being cautious not to become so kid-centric that you wind up overwhelmed, isolated, and disconnected from those around you.