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How To Set Boundaries With Friends When You’re Also Juggling Kids

Because you need them now more than ever — even if you have less time than before.

There are plenty of obviously tough things about becoming a parent: losing sleep on a daily basis, stressing over your child constantly, and having to spend most of your money on diapers and toys. But it’s not often that people talk about how having children can affect your friendships. When your priorities and schedule suddenly change, it can be hard to adjust the other relationships in your life. Oftentimes, maintaining friendships means learning how to set boundaries with friends so that your two worlds can mesh nicely instead of clashing.

I remember this so much from when my daughter was first born. Before she arrived, I was adamant about not changing anything about my friendships and social schedule, but once she was in the world, I knew everything was going to be different. Learning how to juggle friends and my daughter, while also trying to find myself in motherhood, wasn’t easy. Whether it was close friends giving unsolicited advice that only annoyed me, or childless friends not quite understanding my new priorities, it felt like I was constantly disappointing someone.

I know that I’m not the only parent who has ever felt that way — and, again, this is why setting boundaries is so important. To learn how to make things work for everyone so that no precious friendships get lost, I spoke to therapists for insight.

Use “I” Statements When You Disagree About Something

It’s not unusual to be friends with someone who believes in a different parenting style than you do, and you’ll quickly learn that, when it comes to parenting, some people have no problem telling you they think you’re doing something wrong. This is especially true for close friends, who feel like they have the right to speak up or tease you about your parenting style precisely because you guys are so close.

This kind of disagreement can lead to tension, and boundaries need to be set quickly. Licensed clinical social worker Danica Copp tells Romper that in this case, using “I” statements is a good idea. “Use ‘I’ statements and talk about your own feelings instead of the ‘you’ statements, which cause defensiveness,” she says. When a friend says something that is bothering you, she recommends saying something like, “I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful with your advice and I know you care about me. I am struggling with our parenting differences and would prefer to stick to more neutral topics like activities we share or enjoy.”

Make Time For Them Without Compromising Yourself

One of the hardest things about maintaining friendships as a parent is actually being able to make time for your friends. Friends with children and without can quickly start to feel neglected and frustrated if you’re never around, even if it’s because of the valid excuse that you need to make your child your first priority. It’s important to be honest, firm, and understanding.

If you notice that you’re missing out on a lot of plans and they seem to be getting annoyed, have a frank discussion with your friends. Just explain that you can’t hang with them like you used to, and express that things may need to change a bit. You can even try setting up regular date nights if that helps, and let them know what kind of plans would work better for you, like bringing the children or picking a day/time when it’s easy for you to make it happen, rather than a 10 p.m. Saturday hangout.

Avoid Placing Blame When Something Is Wrong

When something negative is going on in the friendship, it’s tempting to sweep it under the rug, act like it’s not happening, and wait for it to pass. But this isn’t going to help anyone. Instead, confronting your friend is the way to go, and you can do that without starting an argument.

You should try to avoid placing blame, even if you feel very strongly that the negativity is your friend’s fault. Just acknowledge that the situation feels not great, and ask your friend how you could help right things without compromising either of your feelings.

Suggest Outside Help When Things Are Getting Too Tough

I was once in a friendship where I was treated like my friend’s therapist. They never asked about me, or if they did, they barely listened to my responses before telling me about their own problems for hours on end. It was emotionally exhausting, and even though I wanted to be there for them, I couldn’t continue to be in such a one-sided relationship — especially when I was already in charge of a child!

When this happens, Copp recommends being totally honest. First, validate their feelings and struggles so they don’t feel dismissed. “Suggest that you are worried about this friend and want them to have the support and encouragement that they need from a professional,” she says. “I also think with a good friend, be honest that you are struggling with your own adjustment to parenting.” She suggests saying something like, “I appreciate your friendship and value you. Right now I can’t be available to you in the way you seem to need.”

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Clearly Communicate Your Expectations Through Words And Actions

Making new friends is a great part of being a mom. But what if they want to become best friends who see each other every single day, and you’re just not ready? When I first had my daughter, a new mom friend of mine spent months asking me to take a walk every day, and I jut didn’t have the time or emotional bandwidth. When something like this happens, you need to make the relationship clear from the start.

Try to keep the conversation neutral. You can be friendly without feeling like you’re giving away too much of yourself. Take time to respond, do what feels right to you, and if things continue to progress in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or out of your element, you can let them know that you just don’t have the bandwidth right now. If you’d like to keep the friendship going though, suggest something else. Like instead of a daily walk, maybe you can schedule a weekly walk together.

Agree To Disagree Sometimes

Whether you and your friend strongly disagree on politics, religion, or how children should be raised, it can be something that causes arguments. While it’s important to stand up for your beliefs, sometimes, in a friendship, the best thing to do is to agree to disagree.

At the end of the day, setting boundaries with your friends is about being honest and open to communication. It’s also about saying no respectfully and kindly while also making an effort to make time for friends when you can. And remember that this can take time. “Setting boundaries is a learning process,” Copp says. “If you have never been good at it, it takes practice.” Give yourself time and keep it up to notice a change.


Licensed clinical social worker Danica Copp, MSW, LCSW (VA)/LiCSW (MA)