Years ago, when I was still single, I noticed that something weird happened as my friends got married: An invisible wedge developed between us and our friendships were tested. The same thing happened when they began having children and I remained childless. I’ve heard other women share about similar experiences, so this seems to be common.
Now that I’m married and a parent, I’m fighting to keep my friendships with friends who are single and/or childless. Why is it so challenging to maintain good relationships with friends who are in different life stages and what are some strategies for maintaining these friendships?
The challenge of maintaining friendships across life stages
Though each friendship is unique, I think there are a number of common factors that cause strain.
- New priorities. As a wife, you likely have priorities like getting dinner on the table by a certain time, laundering your husband’s work clothes, and investing in your marriage. You weren’t concerned with these when you were single. Of course, motherhood ushers in dozens of additional priorities! These changes mean you may have less interest in activities that were once shared with friends.
- Less free time and room for spontaneity. The new priorities associated with marriage and parenthood take up a lot of time! It becomes especially difficult to take part in long-lasting activities and overnight excursions. Moreover, you’re often unable to hang out on the spur of the moment because you must first check with your husband and arrange for childcare.
- Need for new camaraderie. Though your old friends are wonderful and supportive, it’s sometimes nice to hang out with people who have firsthand knowledge of the joys and struggles that are unique to your season in life.
Tips for maintaining friendships across life stages
I don’t have all the answers, but here are some strategies I’ve seen help preserve relationships between friends once spouses and children entered the picture.
- Try to talk about a wide variety of topics. It’s easy for you to be preoccupied with menu planning, the disagreement you had last night with your husband, feeding schedules, and debates about sleep training. Your friends may be more than happy to listen to your thoughts and concerns regarding these topics, but they’d probably like to talk about other things, too! Ask about their jobs, their relationships, or whatever is on their minds.
- Adapt old routines. If you and a friend have a particular activity you did together routinely (getting coffee every Thursday, getting your nails done together each month, etc.), try to adapt this routine so you can keep it. Your weekly coffee date might need to happen only once a month. Your monthly visit to the nail salon may only be able to happen once each quarter. Figure out what works for both of you.
- Be willing to hang out at her house or a neutral location. If you have kids, it’s often easier to ask friends without kids to come to your place instead of going to their homes. Unfortunately, if a friend always has to come to your place, this can be a strain on her and make her feel as though her place and her way of life are inadequate. Even if it is inconvenient for you, make the effort to occasionally visit her at her home or hang out in a place you both enjoy (a café, a park, etc.).
- Don’t assume your friends can’t empathize or give sound advice. Just because a friend isn’t married or doesn’t have a child doesn’t mean she can’t be a good, empathetic listener or a wise advisor. Though she may not have personal experience with the situations you are facing, she can still support you and may even be able to give great advice because of her outside viewpoint.
Whatever strategies you use, be sure to persevere. After all, your friends will likely act as extended family members to your children. Additionally, your children will learn about friendship by watching you interact with your friends.
What things have you done to successfully maintain good relationships with friends who are in various life stages?