That is, besides the presence of new life in the world, in the form of a baby who sort of resembles a person you know. That part's a given. But, as a person whose friends haven't even started getting married yet, let alone spawning, I get confused around other people's kids, even a little nervous! I would like it not to be this way, though. It's just unfamiliar territory. For guidance on what I assume to be a thorny social issue for a lot of people, I lobbed a bunch of questions at my colleagues Mike Conklin and Kristin Iversen. As of publication date, both have managed to keep their children both alive and well-adjusted, all while maintaining normal adult social lives. Meaning, I trust their judgement on this. If I ever earnestly used the phrase "teachable moment," well, I would use it here.
So whoa, you're having a baby! First things first. Touching your stomach is never ok, right? Do you need me to yell at anybody who tries? People are monsters. Also, are there any questions I should absolutely never ask you about this whole thing?
Kristin: Oh my god, I better not be having another baby. What have you heard? Who have you been talking to? It’s all lies. But, when I was having a baby, no, it was NOT ok to have anyone touch my stomach. I hated that. Just because something sticks out a little, doesn’t mean it’s your right to go crazy touching it. Gross. But so, about asking any questions that pop into your mind. I think most pregnant women LOVE talking about their experiences. Maybe they even love talking about it a little too much? It’s like war stories. Most women are really into talking about their battle scars. And even showing them off. Which is not something I’d ever do, but I know other people who would. So be careful what you ask, because you might get a more revealing answer then you’re ready for.
Mike: When my wife was pregnant, one of the things we found ourselves talking about constantly was the degree to which pregnant women seem to make people feel justified in ignoring social norms when interacting with other people's bodies. Stomach-touching is the most obvious example. I would say if you're, like, committed, lifelong best friends or blood relatives, you can go ahead and ask permission, but anything shy of that, just leave it alone.
There's another thing, too, where people feel like they're allowed to talk about your body in ways they never, ever would if you weren't pregnant. Women who have had children previously are probably more guilty of this than anyone, so it's not totally relevant to your question, but it's never a good idea to talk about how much the pregnant woman is or is not "showing" based on how far along she is in her pregnancy. "Oh, you're only 5 months" is obviously shitty because you're straight-up calling her fat, but even "Oh wow, you don't look like you're 5 months!," which I know you mean as a compliment, is ill-advised because you run the risk of making her nervous that something's wrong.
As I understand it, growing a person inside you is stressful, so you're always better off saying as little as possible. "How do you feel? You look great!" is a safe bet.
Mike:Baby shoes are definitely a common gift, because it's objectively hilarious and adorable to see tiny versions of shoes adults might also wear. We received many pairs of tiny Converse All-Stars for our daughter, and we appreciated them all, especially since they were in a wide range of colors and shapes.
Kristin: I like hats with ears. I am a big fan of hats with ears. Anything that makes a child look more like a puppy, I think. It’s hard to think of a terrible gift, but I don’t really like baby shoes. At least not ones with laces or anything. And yet I love baby socks. Baby socks are the best. They’re so small!
Best (or worst) piece of advice you got? Preferably these are things I can lift and then re-use in my own social life to impress my other friends with kids.
Kristin: Oh, well. So I’m the kind of person who hates all kinds of advice because I’m an obnoxious dickhead who is pretty sure that I know what’s best for me at all times. But while, for most of my life, I’ve been able to just tune out annoying advice, when I was pregnant and then when I had a new baby, it was terrible. People would question my decisions to drink coffee, to cross my legs, to sleep on my right side instead of my left, what kind of birthing method I was choosing, whether or not I was using cloth or disposable diapers, etc. It was the worst. This is the time to just keep your mouth shut around your friends, lest they hate you forever.
Mike: One of the most important things I realized about this whole thing actually came as a result of receiving so much contradictory advice from other people. I remember being at the hospital in the days after my kid was born, and one nurse would come in and say something like, "You should never wake a sleeping baby!" Then when her shift would end, another nurse would come in and be like, "She has to eat every two hours! You definitely have to wake her up!" Everyone was always so adamant about everything, but there are so many vastly different opinions on basically every single parenting topic you can think of that I immediately came to the conclusion that almost nothing matters as much as you think it does and as long as you are not a total idiot, everything will probably just be fine.
Mike: I don't know if they're fun, exactly, but I know that it's way less shitty to get things like bibs and strollers and bouncy seats for free, as gifts, than it is to have to pay for them yourself.
Kristin: If your pregnant friend doesn’t have family throwing one, and it’s her first child, then yes, throw one. Get together a bunch of her other friends and have a big party. It will only be terrible if you are terrible and if you like terrible things, such as stupid baby shower party games. But you are not terrible, Virginia, so I’m sure you would throw an awesome baby shower. It should have lots of food and alcohol and so it will be great. Drink twice as much as you usually would in honor of your sober, pregnant friend.
[Ed note: I would never force anyone to play a party game, let alone someone preparing to give birth to a child. Despicable.]
Will you think I'm an idiot if I compare this whole thing to having a pet?
Kristin: I will if you compare it to having a cat. And I will if you compare it to having a dog, although I will think you’re a little bit less of an idiot. It’s not the same. Having a pet is a huge responsibility and, if you are a decent person, you will love your pet a lot. It’s still not the same thing at all.
Congratulations, you had your baby! Now that you're not pregnant (or holding off from drinking in solidarity? is that much of a thing?), can you start going out again? Do you want to?
Kristin: Well, you know, I never really stopped going out. Even while pregnant. Unless by “going out” you mean drinking a ton and doing all the drugs, in which case, yes, I did stop doing that. This totally varies person to person, but I think the main thing that prevents new parents from going out is getting a babysitter and, also, the fact that they’re probably extremely, bone-crushingly tired. But usually people will still want to go out as much as they ever did. Maybe more if their kid’s a shithead. Which, probably their kid is not. But you never know. Some kids are.
Mike: I sense that with this particular friend, you may have to redefine going out. For a good few months at least, she probably won't be interested in marathon drinking sessions or squeezing into some crowded bar. Starting at around six weeks or so, I'd just say, "Hey, let me know if you wanna leave [the kid] with [its father] and go get lunch or dinner or even just a cup of coffee." It will be appreciated, even if she doesn't take you up on it.
Mike: I think it depends how old the kid is. Babies, the totally helpless tiny kind, anyway, are sort of hard to ditch, and I think you either have to accept their presence as a given for a few months or just stick to texts and phone calls, which is also perfectly acceptable.
Kristin: Why don’t you want to hang out with my kid? What the fuck? Yes, Virginia, it is totally reasonable for you to want to hang out with me and not my kid. Probably night is best because they’re sleeping. I would say daytime, when they’re in school, but that’s when I’m working, Virginia. Working! That said, my kids are totally perfect and you should feel lucky that they want to hang out with you.
Fine fine, babysitters are expensive, you guys are all invited over to my place. Not having seen it, would you assume it's a death trap in any key ways I should know about? More importantly, is there any way to make it not a death trap in the 5 minutes or less I spend preparing for your visit?
Mike: Naw, that's our problem. We'll deal with it when we get there. But for your sake, you should know that there's a very good chance any books or magazines you leave lying around will be sucked on and then torn to shreds.
Kristin: I never really believed in baby-proofing my own apartment (and we only had ONE trip to the emergency room due to falling face first onto the edge of our coffee table, thankyouverymuch) so I wouldn’t expect you to do anything that I wouldn't do. Maybe put lighters on a high shelf? Put away the rat poison? I don’t know. That’s about it.
Mike: It's a bummer, I know, but you can't. Unless the kid's fucking with one of your pets, in which case you're allowed to be like, "Oh, hey kid, the cat doesn't like it when you grab his tail, and he's probably going to bite you and I probably won't blame him."
Kristin: No. You can’t. Not if I’m around anyway. Which, I would hope that would never, ever be the case because I try and be on top of my kid’s jerkiness. But most parents will absolutely lose it if you say something to their kid about shitty behavior. It’s not worth it. I recommend you keep it to yourself and just silently judge the terrible state of modern parenting. And if they’re your friends, make new friends.
Alternately! You're yelling at your kid, which is normal, but I still find it super uncomfortable. Where do I look, what face do I make right now, aaaaah! Mainly, will it make things worse (or seem like I'm insulting you/your kid) if I try to commiserate, or if I pretend it didn't happen? Please just tell me how to handle this.
Kristin: You should totally ignore it. And silently judge. And make a mental note to make an appointment to get an IUD.
Mike: I guess maybe the same way you'd handle it if one of your friends was fighting with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Look away for a minute, read one of the magazines you just narrowly saved from being destroyed.
Kristin: Well, I don’t really treat drunk people—or tiny people—any differently than I treat anyone else. And my whole thing with other people’s kids is just that I high-five them a lot. And I don’t like high-fiving drunk people. So I guess I do treat the two groups differently.
Let's assume you let me babysit for the day. Are there any activities (drinking, smoking of any kind), swear words, topics of conversation you'd prefer they stay shielded from? If they're babies, does it even matter, or if they're old enough, will they sort of know this stuff already?
Mike: Virginia. Are you asking if you can smoke weed in front of my kid? Please don't smoke weed in front of my kid. [Ed note: I was not!]
Kristin: I mean, I’d certainly prefer if you didn’t blow smoke in my children’s faces, but I don’t really believe in shielding kids from adult behavior. I’d be a little skeeved if you decided to give them a sex talk or something. Or tried to rope them into your big 420 plans. But barring that, just be yourself, I’d say. That’s a safe thing to say, isn’t it? I hope it is. I’m sure it is.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.