If you have friends who recently became parents, you know that the experience has thrown them into a totally different universe. The responsibilities are sudden, relentless, and ultimately perpetual. After all, the life of a tiny, helpless human has been placed in their very inexperienced hands, and it’s terrifying. Three years ago, when I became a new mom, I remember thinking: Wait, the nurses aren’t coming home with us?
And even if you really do get it, it’s impossible to fully empathize with the situation until you’re also blindly lost in the same weeds, engrossed in the same experience.
And — surprise, surprise — pop culture’s depiction of parenthood really doesn’t come close to accurate. As my friend Elizabeth points out: “You see TV characters who are cooking and walking around and being independent people all day and you’re thinking, ‘Where the @#$& is her baby?’ Meredith Grey, for example, is supposed to have three kids, but in the scenes when she’s at home they’re never around. They’re never interrupting her conversations. Are we to believe that they always just play quietly? ALL THE TIME?”
So, in an effort to make the realities of parenthood more accessible, I asked more than 50 parents of small children what they wish their non-parent friends knew. Here is what they said.
1. Your friendship is still really important to me — so please, don’t fall off the face of the earth.
This was the overwhelming response — with nearly half of the replies emphasizing the importance of pre-baby friendships. It was clear that the early stages can get pretty lonely for new parents (it’s real — I’ve been there). And while your instincts might be to just not bother your new parenting friends because they’re immersed in baby world, that might not necessarily be the best route. As Steph shares, “Even if we will probably say ‘no’ to going out on Fridays or Saturdays, it’s still nice to be asked.”
Pro-tip for sustaining friendships with new parents: plan a little bit more in advance, because babysitters.
2. Our brain is totally rewiring… and it’s exhausting.
Parenthood is all-consuming. Even after we start getting enough sleep (which, depending on the baby, can be a year-long battle), we’re constantly learning new things every moment our child is awake. As Steve explains, “I’m not the same guy I once was — and won’t be again.”
And because of these paradigm shifts, sleep has become even more important. As Alyssa shares, “No matter how little sleep I get, I have tiny humans who will wake me up at the crack of dawn.”
”We might not want to go out until midnight anymore,” Rebecca adds, inviting non-parent friends “not to be upset about that.
3. Come on over and just hang.
Yes, we like to be invited to go out, but honestly, it’s sometimes easier if you just come over. Depending on the situation, leaving the house can become a tactical nightmare — between packing diapers, outfits, bottles, toys, strollers, etc.
“I look back at myself and know I didn’t realize these things until parenthood happened to me,” one parent explains. “I used to think getting my parent friends out of the house would be great! But now, I’d much rather have friends come over and maybe drink some wine.
4. If you really want to babysit, please set a date.
Okay, so maybe your offer to babysit is genuine — and that’s fantastic. But every other person and their mother has offered us some vague offer of “I’ll totally babysit for you sometime!” and it’s hard (and often sometimes kind of awkward) to cash in the offer because we don’t know the level of your seriousness.
So, if you truly do want to babysit, give us hard dates and times you’re available — and we’ll plan our much needed childless outing around you.
5. We really love your patience — not so much the advice.
We’re constantly told we’re doing parenting wrong. Advice abounds — from the grumpy lady at the grocery store to the condescending troll on Facebook. Heck, even our pediatricians don’t exactly agree on certain things.
So while you might have heard that there’s a new way to treat my kid’s allergies — maybe pick a different topic. Or bring it up in a judgment-free, sensitive sort of way. And when it comes to discipline, remember that we know our kid best. So, please, maybe pause and think about what you’re going to say before you go into the latest trending parenting manifesto you heard on a podcast once.
6. Your experience as a dog parent does not make you an actual parent.
“Please don’t tell me that you understand what being a parent is like because you have a dog,” explains Cara. And she wasn’t the only respondent who made this point.
Nothing against your cute dog (and in fact, dogs can be a great way to prepare for a kid — stretching your responsibility muscles, etc.), but parents really are sick of the, “Oh! I’m a parent, too,” from dog owners. Honestly, comparing your dog to my child is a lot like comparing your dog to your neighbor’s cactus collection. The responsibilities are just next-level.
7. All my extra income was just eaten by baby costs.
Remember that one time we splurged on impromptu road trips, fancy dinners, and crazy bar tabs? Well, we’re really cutting back on that. If it’s not exorbitant daycare costs (which can cost more than college tuition), it could be a shift in an employment situation — not to mention the extra mouth to feed (formula can cost $400 a month!), increased insurance costs, more clothes, etc.
So if your new-parent friend suggests coffee instead of a full-on brunch, maybe just go with it — and maybe suggest going for a jog in the park instead of a pricey cyclebar class.
8. Remind me: What’s going on in the world?
Especially in the early baby years, many parents confess that they totally lose track of those “extra” things, like which movies are out or what new restaurants opened. As one dad shares, “If it’s not on Netflix, I’m probably not going to see it.” Another mom explains, “I don’t want a gamble when I eat out! I want to know it’s good — so I am much more cautious to try something new!”
Thus, we rely on you, our dear friends, for recommendations on what’s really worth our time. Please share your opinions — and don’t hesitate to be descriptive. Those Instagram photos are best paired with detailed reviews!
9. Yes, things like naptime and schedules and choking hazards are legit priorities.
So it might seem anal-retentive that we cut our child’s blueberries, but bear with us. “When you’re in charge of a baby, suddenly everything seems hazardous,” explains one new father.
Furthermore, naptime is absolutely precious. “If we’re meeting up, please be on time!” explains Nina. “Chances are, I planned a nap around this outing — my 6-month-old sleeps every two hours!” And, trust us, no one wants to hang with a baby when they’re sleep deprived.
10. You are now a role model for my kid.
Maybe babies aren’t in your future — and that’s fine. But the fact is, if you’re around my kid, you inevitably become some kind of a role model, as kids love to imitate anyone they’re around (especially as they become a little bit verbal.) “So seriously, please refrain from things like the F-bomb,” shares Megan. “My child repeats everything!”
No, this doesn’t mean our adult conversations have to forever come to an end — in fact, they’re more needed than ever — but please, let’s save certain topics for after bedtime!