Post-baby, friend's behavior has been awful. How do I deal?
May 20, 2010 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Friend has changed significantly after having a baby. Is this normal? How can I continue to be supportive when she's difficult to be around?

A very close friend had a baby in October of last year. Since the birth, she has become increasingly bossy, demanding, and selfish, to the point where it's unpleasant to be around her. Examples of the behavior that's bothering me:

- Demanding that I carry something, bring her something, hold something, do something for her, etc. Never a please or thank you - just the demand.
- Even if it's just the 2 of us spending time together (or the 3 of us, counting baby), she thinks nothing of texting other friends or talking on her cell and ignoring me, sometimes for extended periods of time.
- Talking down to others, criticizing appearance, behavior, choices, etc. Making fun of others. Bringing up embarrassing things that have happened to other people in the past and making them the butt of jokes. Good-natured teasing wouldn't bother me so much, but sometimes she can be genuinely hurtful or cruel.
- If we're out in a group and there's a line, she gets in front of all of us. If we're riding in a car together, she always takes the front seat. If there's only one of something left, she'll take it. (This sounds excruciatingly petty, and perhaps it is - it's just that she consistently acts as though she deserves the "best" of whatever there is, regardless of others. Perhaps it's the inconsiderateness that's bothering me. Or maybe I'm just being petty.)

These are just a few examples of her self-centered behavior. My main concern is that, while she's always exhibited these traits to some degree, they've become increasingly amplified since she's had the baby. Is this "normal" or has anyone else seen this (or gone through it themselves)? Is this just a reaction to stress? She does have a full-time nanny who works 50 hours/week, plus family who typically watch the baby during part of the weekend, but I realize simply having a child, regardless of how much time you actually spend caring for it, can be extremely demanding and stressful.

We've been friends for years and I don't want to lose or damage this friendship if this is just a phase. How can I be supportive even though her behavior is driving me crazy?
posted by pecanpies to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It could be a bunch of things. She might just be tired. She might be kind of depressed. She might be a jerk. Any of these may or may not be attributable to the baby.

Maybe you could switch from the general viewpoint of 'she's acting like an asshole' to addressing specific things when they come up, either by mild joking like ("my lady, to the front of the line!" or whatever) or direct address ("I was going to eat that!")

I don't think the baby thing necessarily has to enter into the figuring.

As to is it normal -- no, I don't think so, but that doesn't make it abnormal either.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:33 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually...I can be pretty self-centered and probably got worse after having a baby. I know I was a jackal while pregnant. Baby's two now and my self-centeredness has settled at its mildly appalling pre-baby level.

I think that's a personal thing though -- about individuals -- not baby-making.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've seen it happen before. In my example having the kid somehow released the emergency break on her rampaging narcissism and hyperfocused self-centeredness. I decided that there was no point in supporting people like that so I just walked away.
You'll be fine. Just decide what you need to put up with and what you don't and make a choice. I don't see it as a phase, just an exposure of what lay underneath this whole time.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'd say that it's pretty normal that behavior changes in people who become parents for the first time. Certain traits that were always there might amplify, or they'll only talk about babies, they'll become more organized (because they have to) and so on.

However, some of the behavior you describe is a bad influence on her child, and a good friend would call it out. Especially criticizing other people. That kid will suck everything it sees around him up like a sponge, might develop their own issues due to hearing such things and/or turn into a brat as it follows that rolemodel.
posted by dabitch at 7:46 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: My wife gave birth in Jan. I haven't noticed any behavior like this but she was never like that in the first place.

It sounds like your friend is feeling unappreciated now that she has a baby. As you said having a child is extremely demanding. It sometimes feels like your sole purpose is to take care of the child. Your own identity can be pushed to the side. It sounds like this is what your friend is feeling and her amplified behavior is her trying to feel like herself again (you did say she already had many of these traits). Maybe she's being inconsiderate because she has to be so considerate with the baby all the time and it feels good for her to just not care for a while. Of course that is no excuse for her behavior but I think maybe you can deal with her better if you can see where she's coming from.

As for how to be supportive while she's acting like this, what about just not hanging out with her so much right now? Maybe just keep in touch with phone calls and emails and only see her once in a while for a few months.
posted by bingwah at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

This entry could pretty much be written about my sister. She became IMPOSSIBLE for me to be around after she had the baby. She seemed to think pretty damn highly of herself for creating a life (warranted or not, I don't know, but I know lots of people do it everyday, so...)

I have no easy solution for you, except to tell you that based on my experiences with her, this shift in attitude appears to be normal. My sister finally started to chill out about it when the baby got to be around 2.5. She's never completely gone back to pre-baby attitude though.
posted by sickinthehead at 8:02 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

she's always exhibited these traits to some degree, they've become increasingly amplified since she's had the baby

There is always a chance that these two things are more corollary than causal.

I know the ugliest parts of my personality gain power while I'm stressed/depressed/tired. As you say she was always this way, now just more so. She could simply be acting poorly because of bigger life pressures, now that's shitty and maybe you want to not be around her so much. But it's not necessarily a new mom thing.

datapoint: I knew two people who had babies at the same time, one i despised, one i cherished. The Despised relative became a really nice balance guy. The Cherished family friend became someone I cannot tolerate.
posted by French Fry at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

the ugliest parts of my personality gain power while I'm stressed/depressed/tired.

I think this is exactly it. And, moreover, it's clear that you have a pretty healthy appreciation for the new level of stress and changes she's experiencing right now, so I wonder if you're holding back when you should be speaking up--like, if she's on her cell phone and ignoring you, you could say say, "I'm going to go now, let's get together at a time that's more convenient for you," and leave, or if she says something cruel, you could say, "Wow, that's a really ugly thing to say about a friend." Being a mom isn't a pass to be mean to people and still keep them around as friends. You don't owe it to her to passively accept her rude behavior, baby or not.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:18 AM on May 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It may be helpful to remember that your friend is coming out of a ~1.25-year stretch where selfish behavior like this was likely either expected or actively promoted by those around her. During pregnancy and early-momhood, everyone tells you, "You're carrying a baby/just had a baby-- your needs come first! Take care of yourself!" People offer you the last seat on the train, the last cupcake on the platter, etc. If those around you aren't going out of their way to help you, then you're supposed to make no bones about enlisting their help-- and there's nothing wrong with that, because you're understood to be in an extreme situation, deserving of special accommodations from others.

Especially if your friend was naturally inclined this way to begin with, she may be having trouble letting go of her erstwhile role as universal centre of attention and deserving recipient of others' solicitude and help. I wouldn't assume that this is permanent; just go ahead and set boundaries for her, feel free to take that last cupcake if you really want it, and she may snap out of it over time.
posted by Bardolph at 8:23 AM on May 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of things you said sounded to me like she might be insecure about her parenting/being a parent, and overcompensating by exerting control/dominance in other areas of her life.

As for the "taking the best of everything," people are generally AWESOME to you when you're pregnant or have a tiny infant and leap to for the chance to hold a door, give you the most comfortable seat, carry something for you, etc. I sort-of missed that as my baby grew out of infancy and I was back to being just normal me. It was nice to be without the restrictions of pregnancy and early infancy, but at the same time I sort-of missed how much I got to see the AWESOME side of everybody, and how special everyone made me feel. (My coping strategy: Realize I am not actually the center of the universe, and focus on showing others in need MY awesome side so they can also have the awesomeness.) I really, honestly felt like I saw a whole depth of everyday compassion and kindness and generalized awesomeness in the rest of humanity that I'd never seen before when I was pregnant/with infant, and it made my heart happy. For me, that's been something I've carried forward and tried to remember and share and notice (it's there! if you look!), but I know some women, often a little more self-centered than average, for whom the solution is to get pregnant repeatedly because they like how they're treated when pregnant!

I don't have any good ideas for you about how to fix it if it's either of those things, though.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

On non-preview, what Bardolph said. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 AM on May 20, 2010

the ugliest parts of my personality gain power while I'm stressed/depressed/tired.

A thirding of this.

Also, it may be a good idea to keep in mind that even the most clinical/dispassionate observations are subject to personal bias. She ignores you to text friends. Can you say for certain that she always does this? Didn't do it before? Does it more now? Are there other reasons she may do it more now than before? Did one thing tip you off, and now you are looking for more instances of selfishness than "before"? When does this "before" start, is it exactly related to giving birth? A common logical fallacy to call on is a recollection of a "past" being better than the "present" (eg, "this country used to be so great, but now X is ruining everything") It is something that may intuitively seem true, but does not always stand to logical analysis.

It's possible that your own perceptions/biases are in play here, which is fine and well, we are talking about your friendships after all. If she has been a good friend to you, it may be worth reconsidering your conclusions before making any choices with lasting consequences.
posted by fontophilic at 8:49 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that the best thing you can do as her friend is to nip this in the bud, ASAP. React when she does it. Don't let it fester until you need to have a Talk.

You don't have to be a jerk about it, of course. I'd start out with "hey, what's with the bossy thing?" and move pretty quickly to "whoa, are you okay, or is stress and stuff getting to you? Because that was kind of seriously bitchy-sounding and not like you."
posted by desuetude at 9:09 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who responded for the insight provided - the comments were very helpful and several of them really made me think.

I do think a big part of it might be that, now that she's actually had the baby, she's not getting quite as much attention as she used to and people aren't going out of their way quite as much to do things for her. She had a very difficult delivery and was actually in the hospital for about a week, then was quite weak for about a month afterwards, so had (and needed) people waiting on her hand and foot for awhile. I'm sure she enjoyed the extra attention & the feeling of being spoiled (as would I!). I don't doubt that it's hard to go back to normal (or the new, post-baby "normal") after that!

Thanks also for the perspective. I'm sure my own bias is affecting this in some way, I'm just not sure yet to what extent. I do not have children, so I'm not able to truly sympathize.

I'll definitely start speaking up when she acts this way. Not sure I'd be able to do that right now without snapping, so I think I'm also going to take bingwah's advice and see her a little less often until I'm sure I myself can behave and not bite her head off.

Again, thanks for the replies. She's only the second close friend to have a baby, and the first didn't act this way at all, so this is a learning experience for me!
posted by pecanpies at 9:57 AM on May 20, 2010

She had a very difficult delivery and was actually in the hospital for about a week, then was quite weak for about a month afterwards, so had (and needed) people waiting on her hand and foot for awhile. I'm sure she enjoyed the extra attention & the feeling of being spoiled (as would I!). I don't doubt that it's hard to go back to normal (or the new, post-baby "normal") after that!

It occurs to me that this might be a little bit backwards. If I could play armchair psychologist for a moment/put myself in her shoes:

Being waited on because you're literally too weak to take care of yourself after having a baby, while your body and mind are pushing brand-new versions of maternal concern buttons hard, could be really, really frustrating.

Especially since well-meaning friends and relatives inevitably try to lighten the mood by say things like "oh, at least you're being waited on hand and foot" while you're thinking "GRAR THIS TEAR AIN'T LUXURY, BITCHES." So maybe now she'd like to get that alleged spoiling she got immediately post-baby.

When people lash out at their friends, it's very frequently due to insecurity, in my opinion. Maybe she's being really hard on herself and taking it out on her others, and the the best thing for her is a little straight talk from her friends.
posted by desuetude at 10:33 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if there's a father involved or not, but keep in mind that this behavior can happen on the father side of things as well, which may be encouraging her bad behavior.

Just decide what you need to put up with and what you don't and make a choice.

This sounds like a good idea. Some corrective statements might be in order, but keep in mind that it may be a temporary state that will wear off in couple of years.
posted by thefinderkeeper at 10:46 AM on May 20, 2010

After reading about her hard delivery I just wanted to drop in for a bit.

I had a really hard time after my first child was born, I 'bled too much' (hemoragged, but nobody told me until much later) and had to spend some extra time in the hospital. In the following weeks I had a hard time with mastitis (milk duct infection) and problems breastfeeding. I was so out of it that I hardly remember the first few months of her life. By the time she was six months old I'd been diagnosed with severe Postpartum Depression. The only reason I was diagnosed is that my husband recognized the signs from his mother's struggle and insisted that I see a doctor. The thing that finally clued me in was when I realized that I was trying to figure out how to crash my car so that I would survive but be injured enough that I could go back to the hospital so that somebody could take care of me again.

If you think this is just a facet of her personality that she's stopped reigning in, then by all means ignore it or call her out on it. But if this is a serious personality switch for her, maybe you should look a little deeper. Can you talk to the father of the baby? If he's noticed things are off too, maybe he can get her to talk to a doctor.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good point, desuetude. I'm sure she would much rather have been healthy and capable of doing things for herself than be unhealthy, weak, and waited-on.

TooFewShoes, I don't think it's a drastic personality change - she's always had these traits to some degree - we certainly all have flaws - but they've been remarkably amplified lately. I have noticed that it's caught the attention of her husband (the father), because he's actually called her out on the bossiness, texting in front of others, etc. He's never done that before (or, at least, never done it in front of me). So, that's significant. I will definitely begin to speak up and if I do notice any dramatic changes, I'd feel comfortable speaking to her husband.

Thanks again for the perspective!
posted by pecanpies at 3:07 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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