Can we be friends?

photo-154I 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?

30 thoughts on “Can we be friends?

  1. I think I tend to agree with the article you quote. Getting a sitter, getting the house clean, remembering that you have something you need to do, obtaining food, beverages etc. All of that takes time, mental effort, and money. It’s not going to happen much unless parents really like socializing beyond enforced play-dates and work.
    Also I don’t particularly want to spend my free time without my kids. (Also.. little kids go to bed at 7:30? HAHAHAHAHA. DC2 is currently painting her belly with a dry unused paint-brush next to me while listening to Pocoyo. Whenever I get out the phone, she demands to talk on it too, and we let her because it’s family.)
    Work out buddy = family. “a book club, a choir, or a volunteer group” Organized activities requiring regular commitment sound like more work. Right now kids are my main hobby, along with blogging and sweet quiet trashy novels.
    Now, my husband who works from home does need to get out and see people socially. He goes to after work happy hours for tech people who work from home and does a little volunteer work for DC1’s school. He didn’t need that when he was at the university. He also chats with his extended family on a regular basis (though his grandma with Alzheimer’s has stopped answering the phone in the past few weeks– he still tries.)
    I talk to more than enough adults at work, and most of my non-kid friends in town are people I see at work on a semi-regular basis. I talk with my friends from grad school and the broader profession via email and the phone at work about work things when we need advice on something work-related, and get in some gossip in between. College and high school friends (other than #2 on the blog who hopefully hasn’t died from the flu today) are more rare because most of them are on facebook these days and I’m not.
    My two closest friends don’t have kids. But they also don’t live in my town, so socializing is mostly electronic.
    Our parenting style is weird enough and our kids are different enough that we generally do not discuss them with other parents which makes discussions about potty training etc. awkward. Oddly, non-parents seem to find our parenting weirdnesses entertaining, probably because they have no skin in the game.

  2. I think I only socialize a fraction less than I used to, before kids. Now I’m just more selective because sometimes I have used up all of my words by 5:00 pm, and can’t possibly summon any more. And the cost of babysitters means we think a little longer before just saying “sure- we’d love to go to that concert”. (Because sometime in the last few years I discovered I don’t care much for concerts. When it came to plunk down the money for the sitter, a concert wasn’t worth it.) I think my introversion has dictated more socially than having kids.

    As far as making time for friends without kids- I think those are the easiest friends to have sometimes. It’s far easier to host an adult friend or two than another family and their kid(s). We’re in the five and under age bracket and so are most of our friends with kids, so…it just gets crazy quickly.

  3. Hmmm…I don’t socialize much with either! (But I think it’s more because of my personality).

    I do find the tone of what you’ve quoted (I didn’t read the full article) to be a little whiny and implies that non-parents have totally carefree days all the time.

    But that said, I kind of agree with the reflection that parenting comes with a lot of daily upheaval and exhaustion. Although I don’t usually complain about it out loud (when it sounds whiniest?), these thoughts are frequently running through my head.

    I am a parent to a 5- and 1-year old, and I have finally realized that it is very challenging to deal with these small, loud people, who need attention so often. It is only when I have time to myself at home that I realize how much I miss it and thrive on it. Just not having the constant noise, being able to be in my head, pushing through “lunchtime” a little so I can just wrap up this one last thing, etc.

    So, I like to spend free time by myself (rather than socializing), just concentrating fully on some project or task without being interrupted and without the constant background static.

    But this is why I enjoy reading your posts! Even if I don’t initially agree with your point – maybe especially so – it challenges my narrative and perspective. Especially because I know that you have the data to back up your claims (how people overestimate, etc). So, for example, if I feel the need to complain about how rare (yet awesome) time alone is, instead I should probably find a way to make it happen more often.

    1. @Christine – Excellent point! It is a much more productive narrative to tell ourselves “I do have time for what matters to me” and “I do have time to relax.” Then we start looking for this time, and figuring out how to optimize it. But if we just tell ourselves “I never have time for myself” then we don’t acknowledge it or figure out how best to enjoy it.

      1. This is definitely a huge part of it for me. As an introvert, with loud needy kids, I no longer get that alone quiet time I need in the mornings/evenings anymore. So while I do enjoy (and require) some amount of social interaction, its a lot less, because I get plenty of that stimulation at work AND at home.

        1. I think your point about making time for what matters to you and honoring the fact that you may need more quiet time than others is spot on. However, I think it’s also important to remember that when you come up with your list of priorities and decide that your non-parent friends aren’t on it, you can’t expect to go back to them a few years down the road when your kids are older and less needy and expect to resume a friendship with them. It just doesn’t work that way.

  4. I love my friends without kids– they keep me sane, give me someone to talk with about books, thrift stores, exciting travel, etc… my problem is that most of my local, convenient friends I have met because of my son, and so they have kids. Most of my child-free friends are scattered about the country and globe.

    So I try to visit them when possible– recently got to spend a day and night with one when I was in her city for a conference. One just came over to our house for dinner tonight while on a vacation in LA. really not a huge issue. Our house was a disaster, I figured that would make her more appreciative of her own life. we swam, ate dinner outside, my 4 year old was relatively charming, then I let him stay up late and watch a ton of tv while she and I had dessert and conversation. Not sure I see what the big deal is.

    I was a late mom (40), and so, having been that friend myself for a long time, I know that many women w/o kids mostly just want to feel included and are lots more flexible than this post (not your post, but the linked post) gives them credit for.

    My best friend had 3 kids and a demanding job as a doctor before I had my kid. Living across the country from each other, we’d mainly connect when I came to visit, stayed with them, enjoyed their family chaos, and caught up with my friend while we folded laundry late at night.

    Maybe this blogger’s assumption is that socializing with child-free people means concerts, ‘events’, and other non-kid friendly things?

    1. @liz – it is true, at a certain point, everyone starts being interested in more relaxed and low key things. Whether it’s because you have kids who get you up by 6 in the morning or a horrible commute that gets you up by 6 in the morning, the desire to stay out until 3 a.m. at a concert wanes by at least mid-30s. Kids or not. For most people. Unless you’re like actually a rock star. And even then, they may start to get tired, but it’s their job!

      1. so true! this stream of discourse must be from 20-something moms. I do remember noticing, when I was the kidless friend, that my mom friends would sort of emerge from their mom isolation when their youngest kid was 3. I noticed the same for myself.

  5. My children are grown, so I’m commenting as a grandparent. A friend of mine recently went on a trip to visit her two grown children and their assorted grandchildren, in different parts of the country. On her return she commented that she thought her adult kids spent far more time with their children than she ever did when she was a young mom. This has been my experience. It’s almost impossible to see either our children or our grandchildren separate from each other, unless a grandchild visits alone. There seems to be no such thing as “grown up time” anymore. I find this chronic togetherness cloying, and am grateful I was raised (like my friend) back in the “benign neglect” parenting culture when there was much less fear and protectiveness. The widespread fear of danger would make a great post, by the way, since it affects a parent’s time– it’s one of the reasons why parenting has become so hands-on (imo, oppressive) — parents fear for their children’s safety, even though the dangers are perceived, not real.

    1. @Louisa – I should do a round-up of my favorite Lenore Skenazy writing one of these days. She writes the Free Range Kids blog and is hilarious. She makes much of the point you are — that kids should learn independence, which also has the upside of giving parents some grown-up time.

    2. The idea that parents today spend more time with their children because of the “widespread fear of danger” just doesn’t resonate with me. In my admittedly limited experience, people are spending more with their kids because of factors like (1) increased focused on relationships; (2) that parenthood is a conscious choice for many; (3) shifting energy that may have previously gone into work, community, housework into your child; (4) thinking parents have control (and responsibility) over how their children turn out.

      1. That may or may not be true, but more and more studies indicate that the helicopter, intensive style of parenting is damaging for both children and parents. the parents(especially mothers) experience far more depression, and the kids are growing up to be anxious and unable to deal with adversity.

  6. When I read the HuffPo article, I thought, “I hope Laura Vanderkam responds to this.” It was just the defeatist tone you generally argue against, and I thank you for once again saying what I’m thinking! The scheduling/babysitting angle is better than the “we don’t have anything in common anymore” angle, but there are still major flaws, as you pointed out. Every major life change, not just parenting, requires a renegotiation of relationships. If both friends are willing to be flexible and understanding of each other, and creative with time, friendships can still hold strong. Emails and texts don’t need to be responded to instantly. Pictures are a great way to keep in touch. And any get-together, whether in person or on the phone, can be managed with advanced scheduling. If one friend isn’t willing to be flexible, or thinks her family situation gets the priority over the other person’s, then there will certainly be problems, but that signifies a deeper problem with the relationship, one that is brought to light by the new circumstances.

    1. I dunno, all of my friendships are ones in which people go in and out with no harm no foul. People get busy, lose touch, and when we reunite it’s like we never left off, even if it’s been 10 years. But I do know from reading the internet that there are people who take strong offense to other people losing touch with them (or not calling, or failing to answer a text right away etc. etc. etc.). Those people are far too dramatic (or, more positively, not laid back enough) to be my friends.
      So I assume the best of everybody we (temporarily) lose touch with and assume they’re assuming the same for me. If not, then no big loss. The only people in my life who get to act offended and have me take that seriously if I unintentionally ignore them are my husband and my kids (in theory also my mom or my sister, but they’re pretty chill so I can’t imagine that ever happening). I should not be important enough to anybody else’s well-being for me being busy to cause them to take personal offense. It’s not like this is middle school or like we’re living lives of socialites with nothing better to do but create drama.

      1. We could totally be friends then. My husband and I are the same – we have friends we don’t see or hear from very often, but when we do get together (y’know, when we manage to be in the same country for a change!) we just pick up where we left off. I consider those people – where there is no awkwardness just because we haven’t spoken for months/years my really good friends. And a big YES to your last paragraph.

  7. Your first paragraph is why I hate these mommy-focused social groups. I joined a “Mommy Book Club” once, just to meet other people who wanted to hang out at 8pm on weekdays and drink wine & chat. The conversation focused on BIRTH STORIES for god’s sake. I wanted to chat about books and restaurants, and running, and vacation plans…just about ANYTHING other than birth stories and potty training.
    For this reason, I kind of prefer my friends without young kids (no kids or much older kids), I feel like my husband and I spend enough time sweating the details of time out and sleep training and vegetable eating…I need a break from all of that when I go out with friends.
    I definitely socialize less now that I have kids. Because I like hanging out as a family, and when the kids are asleep, I like hanging out alone or with my husband. I like my (non-mommy) book club gals, but I hate that we meet mid-day on the weekends, so that I miss fun times with the kids. So…I guess socializing is not a top priority anymore for me.

  8. To clarify, I’m not totally opposed to kid-talk among friends. I’m sure if I met any of you we’d talk a bit about our kids. Its always nice to know others are in (or have been on) the same boat and some people really do have great advice. I specifically hate how in large groups it invariably becomes the misery olympics of birth trauma, terrible sleepers, tantrums, etc…

    1. “Misery Olympics” I love that term. My kids are grown but I used the term “competitive parenting” when my kids were younger and all anyone could talk about was how busy they were with kids activities, who was busiest, drama about which school they should send their kids too, etc etc.

  9. I have several different thoughts as I read these comments . . .

    I found that parenting created a natural culling of relationships that were requiring more energy from me than I had realized. When I was dealing with children who physically needed me to keep them alive (infants & toddlers), dealing with adults who “needed” me to build up their self-esteem or validate their lifestyle choices suddenly wasn’t a very appealing way to spend my free time. These relationships faded away. The long term friends were understanding when I was very absorbed with young children. Similarly when one of my friends had a very difficult year in her career that required her to withdraw from a lot of extraneous activities, I understood. Good friends do that for each other. It isn’t always children that require a reprioritizing of social activities. Jobs can do the same thing, but for some reason it is more socially acceptable to say “Sorry, I can’t make it because work has gotten crazy.” than it is to say, “Sorry, I can’t make it because family life is just too demanding at the moment.”

    I have three children who are homeschooled and obviously are a major part of my life and daily experiences. This is no reason to spend all my time with my friends discussing my family life. It is no different than talking to someone who only discusses their job. My world would be very narrow if my only interests were my own personal life, whether it is a paid job or parenting.

    My three long term friends all have no children. They live at a physical distance from me, but all take the time to drop by when they are in town, an effort I greatly appreciate. My kids love to see them, so we do spend a bit of time socializing together, but then my friend and I will go out for dinner or coffee and desert together and discuss common interests. We do touch on family and job, but we enjoy conversations about topics that are outside our day to day demands, in short, ideas that are different from the daily grind.

    I very much agree with Louisa’s comment that children are not often taught that there is a time for children to be part of a conversation and there are times when they are not welcome. I’ve discussed this with my kids on several occasions and put it in context for them . . . do they want me to hang out with them and their friends all the time on their next playdate? The answer is an emphatic “No!”. It is the same for me and my friends. There is nothing wrong for a child to learn that there are boundaries which they are not welcome to cross. Learning socially acceptable behaviour is part of growing up and becoming an adult.

  10. I love your first suggestion — why have I never thought of that?

    Most of my non-parent friends are also long-distance friends, so when we do see each other it’s during overnight visits. We move often (every 1-3 years), and my local friendships usually end up being neighbors or other parents, and while they’re nice people and good friends, the friendships rarely progress deeper than the “talk about our kids” level. It’d be nice, because sometimes I feel like I only intellectually connect with my non-parent friends, but then there’s a breakthrough conversation with a parent friend that’s NOT about our children, and I realize they were feeling just as mentally stifled as I was before. Anyway, moving often and being an introvert are not conducive to easily forming close friendships, but I should try harder.

    Whenever I do socialize with my non-parent friends, I end up apologizing the whole time for being distracted or only talking about my kids. It’s hard — my job isn’t generally interesting to talk about, although it’s interesting to me; even with close friends, my introversion makes it hard to warm up in conversation; I spend a lot of time with my kids, so they’re often on my mind. These are all things I want to overcome.

  11. My closest friend has no kids and we get along so great. Not too often she asks questions about parenting,sometimes you have to educate them when they tell you how come you can’t save enough money?one friend of mine told her,having kids means having extra expenses (from diapers,daycare,clothes ,etc )and when we have big get-together it is expected we don’t talk too much about kids.

  12. 2 of my closest friends (locally) don’t have kids and 1 has a teenager. I noticed that I haven’t found as much time to spend with these friends since having kids, but I also don’t spend much time with mom-friends either. I need alone time and time to exercise! Overall though, I find it refreshing not to talk about the kids w/ non-parent friends and I save the parenting talk for other parents.

  13. This is an awfully pessimistic article, and assumes singletons are running around doing fun things at night. Everyone has chores and things that are have-tos. But anyway, it’s totally possible to stay friends with people who have children if you acknowledge that they have kids–and include the kids. I’ve often gone for dinner to a friend’s house and brought food, or helped cook (incidentally training the kids along the way). I’ve gone with friends and kids out to a restaurant (also excellent training opportunities), museums, parks, etc. I’ve helped out at birthday parties. Now, would I do that for every friend? No, and that’s fair. But if you want to stay friends with someone, why wouldn’t you want to get to know their family?

    And for the friends that prefer to leave their kids behind and have some adult fun, we plan in advance, but remain flexible. I have a friend who loves a movie night with an adult. But if a kid gets sick, if I have an unexpected work emergency, then we reschedule for ASAP. And you also understand that you won’t be joined at the hip like you were in college–which hopefully makes you treasure the time you have together more.

    If you’re not willing to make it work, then it’s probably time to winnow. And if one party makes it all about them–the parent or the non-parent–well, that was probably the case before marriage and family, too, and that’s probably an excellent opportunity to move on.

  14. I’ve always been an introvert and didn’t have much interest in loud parties, crowds, or staying out until 3 am even when I was in my 20’s. My best friends are people I meet at work and/or through hobbies, or they are old friends from high school and college. They might or might not have kids. I went through a phase where I talked about my kids and about parenting to other parents more than I do now, and I found that it made me anxious, so I decided to do less of it. That was a good decision for me. It helped me concentrate on my own family’s issues and meeting them where they are at.

  15. I don’t know. I think DH and I are kinda boring in general, and especially when compared with our married but childless friends. They do more travel, meet more people, read more books. (We watch more TV and movies. And are fatter! 🙂 We are not particularly interesting people because a lot of our time is spent on work and family, and we don’t mind. We don’t have close friends here, we try to keep in touch with the remote ones as best as we can.

    There is one childless couple that we hang out with occasionally, we have them over for dinner. They are much harder to get a hold of and schedule anything than we are, as they travel a lot.

    As for going out, the price of babysitter+dinner+show can be quite staggering. I am not sure how much people here earn, but that’s hundreds of dollars per outing and not something we want to do or are able to afford every week, perhaps once a month if that. About that couple mentioned by someone upthread who have a standing babysitter for 2 weeks per night — how much disposable income do they have?

    What DH and I do a lot, since our eldest kid is 14, is that we go to 9:30 or 10 pm shows (comedy, rock concerts), after we put the little kids to bed and the teen stays up to babysit (so no dinner or babysitter expense). Our friends without kids don’t want to go out that late as they have an “early to bed, early to rise” regiment that they don’t want to mess with.

    I don’t think the issue is that people don’t have kids per se, it’s only an issue when they are used to being in full control of their time and their schedule and they don’t want to adjust either types of activities or times of activities to those of their friends with kids. Not all people are like that, but a good many are. It’s not good or bad, it is what it is.

    We have two couples with kids that we occasionally see, with one we go out (two babysitters) another always come to our place (theirs is really small). It helps that the kids can entertain each other.

    As N&M say, the good friendships endure periods of cooling down. I have a few friends from childhood all over the world, with them it’s like we never separated. Others come and go. C’est la vie.

    1. Along the same lines, we recently visited a good friend of mine from grad school, who is married without kids. They are quite affluent, travel a lot, have dogs etc. We hadn’t seen them in literally 10 years, and our whole family was visiting the city where they live. We were there at 6:30 for dinner (they bought takeout, we brought booze and ice cream) and by 8:30 they were giving us unambiguous hints that it’s time we left because they wanted to turn in.
      Maybe because I am from Europe, but I will never understand this need to go to bed with the chickens; or maybe they just wanted us out of the house for whatever reason. I was really disappointed as I thought we’d have more time to catch up, but I guess not. That’s one friendship I won’t be pursuing.

    2. @xykademiqz- sorry your comment was in the moderation queue (hence the delay in posting). It shouldn’t happen again! Thanks for posting!

      Yes, sitting can get expensive — one reason I look forward to being in your situation and having an oldest kid who’s old enough to stay with the younger ones. Only 6-7 years to go! Although I’m not sure my daughter will consent to being told that her oldest brother is in charge of her…

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