Dear Carolyn:

Hi. I am 26, and a new mother. My husband works full time, and I stay home with my son. I am very happy that I have the opportunity to do so, that my husband makes such a great salary, etc. However, sometimes I feel rather isolated. Most of my friends, including the bridesmaids at my wedding, are nowhere near marriage, much less having babies. My husband seems to fulfill most of his social cravings at the office, but I would really like to make some friends who are in my situation! Any suggestions on how to go about doing so?

--New Mama

Since the analogous crisis in our home is resolved with a trip to the dog park, I called an actual stay-at-home mom, my sister Debby, for a "consult" (read: "to answer your question"). It's not that meeting other parents is hard; churches, hospitals and community centers offer all kinds of play groups and parents' groups, if none have sprung up among neighbors. These contacts can also steer you to other relief--say, a gym with day care.

With feelings of isolation, though, there's usually more going on. In your case, from what Debby says, it's pure and simple terror.

Stay with us here. (And pardon the Cleaveresque sex roles, please; typing the more P.C. "stay-at-home parent" and "parent who works" well over 20 times is only marginally less annoying than having to read them.)

Absolutely, it's depressing to care for Little Man all week while your husband works, then all weekend while your husband does man things. You don't need a better reason than that to shift primary Little Man watch to Dad for at least one weekend day.

But according to Debby, there are better reasons to grab a couple of hours with your old friends (which I urge you to do, by the way, whenever you can). First, it'll give your husband confidence in his parenting skills, because he'll practice them "without Mom standing over him telling him he's doing everything wrong." The full-timer always thinks she knows more than the part-, and she probably does--but she needs to back off.

Second, this one-on-one fatherhood will--theoretically--give your husband a real appreciation for what you've been doing all this time, week in, week out, on your own. (A certain capacity for enlightenment is assumed here.) In turn, he might agree that you need to be sprung more often from the world of gurgles and "Goodnight Moon" and crusty things. Regularly, even--for a weeknight class or book group or nudist bowling league or a really, really long walk.

Third: While you're off introducing yourself to sanity, Dad will be home growing closer to his son. Great for all of you.

The fourth is the big one. You'll learn that if you're not around, the Little Man will be okay. This is the terror that one stay-home mom spotted instantly in another, one you might not even realize you have: that his world will collapse if you're gone.

If you let go of the terror, if you learn to trust the father more, you'll be more game to venture beyond the four walls. Whether you follow through or not, you'll know you chose to stay home instead of being stranded there. Perception, after all, can be the only difference between "solitude" and "isolation."

And now, a view from the other side. Just as you miss having friends in the same "situation," your friends wonder whether your "situation" ate your brain. I'm guessing, of course; you may be the same old you. But in an extended engagement as Childless Person Who Watches Everyone Else Have Children, I've learned a few people do change, to the point where they are Mothers Only, not actual people. Obviously, the kid comes first, and friends have to respect that. But if you take that to mean that the kid comes everywhere, to parties to dinner to distraction, and that his every diaper drama is just as fascinating to everyone as it is to you and his grandma, then expect some friendships to drift.

Carolyn:

I am in my mid-twenties and live with two roommates. We all got on fine for half a year and then I got a boyfriend. Now all they do is make snide comments about how my life is so easy because I have a boyfriend, and they don't invite me out because they are looking for men and I don't need one. It is not like we did everything together before, but I am now spending no time with them. How do I approach the topic without making them angry?

--D.C.

Why do you care?

If you insist on being nice to them, the kindest thing you could do is point out that they're just the kind of male-centered harpies that men cross the street to avoid.

If you'd prefer a more productive use of your energy, consider moving out or making new friends.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at 8 p.m. tomorrow or at noon Friday at washingtonpost.com/ liveonline.