It's inevitable that having a family will change a person's interests, says Sandy Sheehy, the Galveston, TX-based author of Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship. "Of course you're going to find every step of your child's development fascinating, and that's what you'll want to talk about with friends," she says. But understandably, most people outside your immediate family won't be equally enthralled. In fact, she adds, connecting with pals who don't have kids is extremely important. "You need to be reminded that you're a person, not just a parent."
What You Want From Your Friendships
Maintaining friendships after you have children is tricky because what you want from your friends may change. At least that's what our female respondents told us. Before they had kids, 90% of the women depended on friends for having fun. But once they had a family, that number dropped to 50%. Most (56%) felt that having friends who are good listeners became more significant.
Having someone to open up to is crucial, considering how much emotional support new moms need, says Dr. Lerner. "Motherhood can be isolating and surrounded by false sentimentality," she explains. "If a mother can speak openly to a friend -- and not be judged -- that's the greatest gift a friend can give."
So does having kids alter men's lives the way it does women's? Not quite. Having fun was men's priority in friendship before and after they became dads. The explanation lies in the way men bond, says Goodman. "When men hang out, they're often shoulder to shoulder, engaged in an activity, whereas many women like to sit and talk," she notes. Peter Nardi, the Claremont, CA-based author of Men's Friendships, agrees. "Men and women want the same things from their friendships, but they tend to go about getting that intimacy differently," he explains.
Who You Look to for Support
Our most stunning results came when we asked parents to divulge who they turned to during hard times. Though most said they preferred to rely on their spouses, we found that women bypassed their husbands and brought their concerns to friends -- but the men didn't do the same. Nearly a third (32%) of women report that their friends better understand their stresses than their spouse does, while only 13% of men agreed. Additionally, 22% of women said they prefer to look to their friends for emotional support, versus a mere 8% of men.