Raising a child is an incredible, life-changing experience. And, as all parents know, a reliable support system is critical to feeling like you’ve got parenting (at least somewhat!) under control. While family members make a great support system, a strong network of friends who can encourage you to better yourself is irreplaceable. Those friends can offer firsthand advice, give you constructive, real-time feedback, and, most importantly, offer a built-in system of friends for your kiddos. What’s better than second-generation BFFs? Nothing!
Everyone has heard the jokes about childless friends ditching new parents. And, while you can obviously remain close with your pre-baby friends, you’ll certainly find that buddies who have kids of their own will be more understanding about needing to cancel three times because your baby is sick — or being 45 minutes late because of an epic toddler meltdown.
Here are some important traits to look for as you build your tribe of parent friends:
1. Friends who don’t push you past your boundaries
Being a friend means being a support system, and people who support you shouldn’t tear you down or be overly critical. Friends who don’t push your boundaries won’t expect you to be perfect: They’ll remind you that you’re being the best parent you can, and they’ll share their experiences dealing with similar challenges. Not pushing past your boundaries also means not criticizing how you choose to raise your child (as long as you’re not causing harm) or giving less-than-constructive criticism. It’s crucial for your friends to push you to be better, but not to judge or overwhelm you.
Here’s an example: When my son was a few months old, he rolled off the couch. I was terrified that he’d suffered some kind of lifelong injury on my watch, despite my husband and my pediatrician assuring me otherwise. I called two friends to share the story, almost sobbing. The first told me about the time he dropped an iPad on his newborn daughter’s face. The second told me about her daughter falling off the washing machine. Both assured me he was fine and told me to stop worrying about it. These are the invaluable friends you need in your life!
2. Friends who plan things with your children
Once you have children, they become your life. Naturally, a friend who wants to be involved in your life should want to be involved in your child’s life as well. This means making time to do things with your child. It’s important for children to have people they can go to and look up to, and as part of your support system, your friends should be part of your child’s support system, too.
The best friends won’t mind making special accommodations for your child, either. My son has a rare, life-threatening food allergy called FPIES that makes it stressful to eat out. My friends know that, so when we do multi-family hangouts, we choose places like the zoo or a trampoline park, where eating isn’t the “main event” activity. The most supportive friends don’t view these kinds of things as sacrifices; instead, they see them as fun adventures that allow two (or more) families to hang out.
3. Friends who will keep an eye out for your child
As they say, sometimes it takes a village to raise a child. Recently, a friend of mine kept reminding me to set up a 529 college savings account for my son. I kept putting it off until, finally, he sent a generous check with instructions for exactly how to set it up. The thought of somebody looking out for my child’s education, future, and well-being, besides my well-being and my husband’s, was huge. Plus, it’s helpful to have parent friends who push you to do those important things you might otherwise put off.
4. Friends who will help you be self-aware
Let’s face it, parenting is hard. Without a doubt, it’s the hardest and most rewarding thing many of us ever experience. It’s challenging to be perfect because nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes and have moments we regret. You’re going to have some moments when you fall into a rut, and you will not be doing your best parenting. When you’re overwhelmed or distracted, it’s hard to hit on all cylinders.
During these moments, it can be difficult for a friend to pull you aside, calm you down, and be honest about how you handled a situation. Open and honest — but not demeaning — conversations can be a healthy learning experience, especially because our friends can offer a different perspective. If they’ve built up trust with us, we know they’re doing it for our benefit, not their own.
5. Friends who don’t judge when you’re proud of your child
As a parent, we’re always proud of our children. Sometimes, it might seem like a small accomplishment we’re elated about, but constantly showing your child that you love and support him is so crucial as a parent. Friends who are a beneficial part of your support system are proud of your children, too; they should also want to see them grow and do well.
These are the friends who don’t mind your Facebook or Instagram “kid spam.” Instead of rolling their eyes, they share or comment on your videos of Junior mastering the art of walking backward, spinning in circles, or finally figuring out how to snap along to the beat of the music. They know that exact feeling of gratitude and awe, and they want to give you your moment to soak it all in.
While there are many other indispensable qualities that are essential to creating a great support system while parenting your child, the importance of these five cannot be overstated. Parenting can be overwhelming at times, but good friends will help you feel like together, you’ve got it under control.