I went out for a “mom’s night” dinner this week, and observed this: we talked about the kids a lot. That’s to be expected, except part of mom’s night is getting away from the kids, right? But it’s a huge topic. It’s what we have in common. So that’s where the conversation goes.
I was thinking of this scene when I read Christine Skoutelas’s post at HuffPo called “Once We Become Parents We Don't Want to Hang Out With You Anymore (But Not for the Reasons You Think).” Actually, it’s just for the reasons you think. It’s hard to plan things quickly, kids can be a pain to bring along places and hinder the conversation, and honestly, there may not be as much in common to talk about anymore. My friends and I probably wouldn’t have talked about the kids as much if some non-parents had been involved in that dinner this week, but I’m guessing the people with kids the same age still would have drifted toward each other, and talked about things (like potty training) of absolutely no interest to anyone not going through them.
So it’s true that some forces work against parent/non-parent friendships. But the martyr tone of Skoutelas’s post gets old pretty fast. I’ll quote some here to spare you wading through all of it:
“Before the kids get up, we get ourselves ready for the day, empty the dishwasher, pack the lunches … When the kids nap, we clean the kitchen or the bathroom or fold the laundry. Once the kids go to sleep, we may or may not get to any of the items on our to-do list, bills, home improvement projects, workouts, or any of the other things normal people do on a day-to-day basis (that are virtually impossible to do while the children are awake), before we basically collapse in a useless heap on the couch. Yes, we know it's only 8:30 p.m. And, yes, we're TOAST. If we do see you outside of our typical schedule, particularly in the evening hours, take it as a huge compliment. We're still getting up at the ungodly hour we always do the next morning, and are unable to make up that extra energy we are expending for the next 18 years or so.”
Um, OK. No wonder people without kids don’t want to hang out with parents. We’re apparently a bunch of whiners who haven’t figured out how to unload a dishwasher with kids around. How did our grandmothers survive, with many more children, and dishes that had to be washed by hand??
The truth is, it is possible for people with kids and people without kids to be friends. When people totally stop hanging out with their non-kid friends, it’s usually because they’re going through the normal process of winnowing. Not all 20-something friendships are meant to last a lifetime. Here are some ways to keep the good ones going:
Parents can have non-parents over after the kids go to bed. Ask them to bring take-out and a bottle of wine, which they’ll be happy to do. At some point, they may think they’re being polite by offering to reciprocate and have you over, but you can just wave them off and make them think you’re doing them a favor. Once your kids are old enough that the after-they-go-to-bed thing isn’t an option, they’ll be old enough to be entertained by a movie or video games while you and the non-parents socialize. So it still works (and at that point, you could go to their house — because they have TVs too!)
Everyone can plan in advance. If a sitter is going to be involved, then the parents need to find a sitter. So everyone just needs to make plans far enough ahead of time that they’ll be able to find one.
Or, parents can get a regular weekend sitter. I know one woman who has a regular sitter every Friday and Saturday night. If you’re already paying for full-time childcare, it’s not a whole lot extra on the margins. But boy does it make a big difference in quality of life (she can go out with friends and her husband on the same weekend!) Yes, working parents want to spend time with the kids on weekends, but if your kids are little and go to bed at 7:30, you can have a sitter from 7:30-10:30 and be able to go out, not miss time with the kids, and still be rested for any early AM wake-ups.
Parents and non-parents can multi-task…in a good way. Skoutelas observes that “If we're going to fit in time to actually see another human being, it's usually someone who can give us the most bang for our buck,” and while she makes this sound somewhat like desperation, I frankly think it’s a great idea. Parents and non-parents can be work out buddies. They can join a book club, a choir, or a volunteer group together. Things that happen at regularly scheduled times, and involve something you do want to do, are easier to make happen than things that fit neither of those categories.
People can use the phone. If you’re just going to watch TV or surf the web for 2 hours after the kids go to bed (not an uncommon routine), why not use 30 minutes of this, twice a week, to talk to people who lift your spirits? I’m not talking obligation calls. I’m talking people you like to laugh with and chat with. Socializing makes people happier than TV.
If you are either a parent or not a parent, how do you make time for people on the opposite side of that line?