What are some ways that new offbeat aunties and uncles can help out their friends who are having kids? I am very excited about being an auntie and helping out, but not having any kids myself and no younger siblings, I’m a little at a loss at what to do. My fiance and I do not have to strong urge to have our own kids, at least not for a while, but we both believe very strongly in being a support network for the parents and kids in our lives. However, I’m worried about saying something wrong, doing something wrong, or just in general being a clueless friend.
Great question! We’re going to do another she said/she said response, so that both Stephanie and Ariel can take a crack at this one…
Invite your baby-making friends out
I think one of the first things we noticed is that our friends no longer knew if they could invite us to places — they did for a while after we had Jasper, but slowly, and then suddenly, the invitations stopped coming in. It wasn’t that we were turning them all down — it was a combination of us not going to some events or get-togethers, or bringing Jasper with us when we did go.
I know nothing kills a party mood like a baby being around, because then you have to worry about smoking or the music being too loud, but it did start to suck to simply be dropped from any and all events that occurred. Since Jasper has gotten older, and since we started making it obvious that we’re still able to do things, this has slowly died out. So, I guess my first bit of advice would be this — as tedious as it feels to always invite people who you’re 90% sure aren’t going to make it (read: someone with a newborn), invite them anyway! Even if they can’t come, it will make them feel really nice to still be included in the loop, however far removed.
Listen to stories about their kid
If you’re really going to be there for your friend or relative, it’s probably wise to accept that at some point, their kid is going to come up. Luckily, most of our friends are incredibly supportive and love Jasper to pieces, and also understand that our relationship with him is a gigantic part of our lives now. So, in a similar way that I tell stories about what Sean does, I also tell stories about what Jasper does. Do I sit there and regale my friends with stories about Jasper’s poop? No, because seriously? That shit (pun!) is gross. I think that having friends who are happy to hear about the latest tooth that’s come in or what words Jasper is trying to say has helped me AVOID talking about things that no one else besides Sean wants to hear about. Also, you might pick up a few valuable baby tips for when you do decide to have kids.
Remind them that they were people before they were parents
I have a few very close friends who have done an awesome job of reconciling Stephanie the Parent with Stephanie the non-Parent, and it’s been amazing for me. I don’t even know if they have done it consciously — just make sure you still talk to your friends with babies the same way you did BEFORE they had kids.
If Offbeat Mama can accomplish only ONE thing, I hope it helps support parents and non-parents maintaining their relationships. Aunties and Uncles of the non-bio sort are so critically important for kids … and I think it’s a win for everyone: non-parents get a little dose of kiddie wonderment in their lives, kids get an ongoing lesson that “grown up” isn’t the same as “parent” and that they can be friends with people of all ages, and parents get to enjoy a diversity of relationships … keeping in touch with the “non parent” parts of their brains. This is all to say: good on you for wanting to support and keep in touch with your parent friends!
I’m going to focus on how you can help in the first few months, when your parent friends are dealing with a newborn:
Bring over food
Figuring out how to juggle a family and getting food on the table is always a challenge, but especially so for new parents. In the first six months after a baby is born, I don’t think there’s a single new parent who would EVER turn down an offer to bring over food. Sometimes they may be too tired to do much visiting, but parents will ALWAYS appreciate a smiling face at the door with arms full of take-out or home-cooked deliciousness.
Help around the house
Make the offer to come over and help with a little housework. Parents of newborns are in total shell-shock and need all the help they can get. Let them take a shower or vegetate on the couch while you sweep the kitchen or change the kitty litter. Don’t expect a social visit — just get in, do a little tidying, and let yourself out the backdoor. Your shell-shocked friends will appreciate it more than they know how to say.
Your parent friends may be sleep deprived, disoriented, crabby, confused, and generally unpleasant to be around sometimes. Their endearing foibles and flaws might get a bit more extreme and less endearing. You may wonder why you ever liked these people. The best gift you can give your parent friends is patience and understanding. Not that some people don’t because insufferable assholes once they have kids (because they do!) but the transition is definitely rocky. Give your new parent friends a year or so to get their heads back on straight.
And later: accept that you will have to be the social instigator
As a parent, I’m constantly wrestling with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and unfortunately “organizing social outings” is pretty low on the priority list. I love getting together with people, but I don’t always have the energy to get the ball rolling with, say, a group outing to a pumpkin patch or a big Sunday afternoon brunch outing. I used to love organizing group social outings … so it’s extra triple appreciated when a kidless friend organizes something that I can go to. I worry that my friends may be put off by my lack of time to organize … so it always means a lot when a friend organizes something family-friendly where I get to see all my peeps AND bring the baby.
Stephanie and I both focused mostly on tips for dealing with parents of babies and toddlers…I’d love to hear from some of you Offbeat Mamas who’ve got older kids about how offbeat aunties and uncles can get involved. I know that as a kid, some of my very favorite people in the world were my parents’ childfree friends. How can aunties & uncles (bio and non) cultivate meaningful relationships with their friends’ kids?