Two Sense: Dealing with Friends with Kids
I just saw the movie Friends With Kids and I found it blazingly accurate. My friends have started popping out babies, and suddenly the entire world revolves around nap time, bedtime, feeding time, etc. Of course, I expected this to some extent, and I (and our other childless friends) try to accommodate, but it seems overblown. I can no longer have a five-minute phone conversation with my best friend; every time her kid interrupts, she puts me on hold. We can no longer do brunch; it's the middle of nap time. Nor can we linger over dinner past 9 p.m. I send birthday presents, but no longer get them. Don't get me wrong. I love kids, and I love my friends' kids, and I'm realistic enough to know that life changes once you have a family. But was it always this extreme? Didn't our parents sometimes just hire a babysitter and go out for the night? I remember my parents having a life outside of parenting. But it's like my friends have all become these hunkered-down people obsessed with their own offspring to the exclusion of everything else. What's the deal? Am I being selfish to wish they could come out of their parenting cave every so often and just be their adult selves?
He Said: I feel you. As a single guy, I find it disappointing when friends disappear into relationships and/or parenting, only to emerge a few years later demanding attention again. Of course it is always generous—and necessary—to give new parents space. For a single person, the demands of parenting are unimaginable, let alone when combined with the demands of work and relationship. But at the same time, your friends owe you some sense of continuity. They owe you open communication about how the change in family status will affect your friendship, from having less time to hang out one on one to finding new ways of enjoying each other's company. After all, healthy parents need adult social time more than anyone, and children really benefit from the stimulation of other adults (although I must confess that, for me at least, other people's young children are torture to be around). Don't apologize for your very real feelings of abandonment, but see if you can find a respectful or funny way of raising the topic.
She Said: As someone who doesn't have children, I'm perhaps not qualified to comment, though I have been in your shoes. All life transitions affect friendships—marriage, new jobs, buying a house—but especially the arrival of children. To be fair to your friends, they're probably just doing their best to keep afloat, and of course their first priority is keeping their kid fed, cleaned, and rested, and secondly, keeping their own sanity. But yes, I think we've all noticed that parenting has gone from being a basic function that most humans took on without much fanfare to a kind of career in itself, a higher calling, a Holy Grail, that many adults now feel is the primary purpose of their life. It begs a host of existential questions, which I'll avoid here, but suffice it to say some parents are obsessed with parenting, to the detriment of almost everything else, while some do maintain a level of social life, adult concerns, and pre-parenting identity. If your friends are falling into the former category, there's not much you can do except wait it out. Because, honestly, "Will you please stop obsessing over your kid and pay attention to me?" is not a statement that's bound to go over well. I'm assuming their kids are young. Maybe, instead of insisting they rejoin you on the Island of Childless Delights, you can try to temporarily join them in Parentropolis. Volunteer to babysit, throw dinner parties where the kids are welcome, hang out with your friend at the park while she pushes the kid on the swing. It's okay to say, "I miss our Sunday brunches and long talks. Maybe when Junior is older we can do more of that again." You have a right to your feelings too. But you need to be gracious and patient. Your consolation prize is that, as the Rolling Stones said: Time is on your side. (For some reason, the Stones are really good at setting perennial wisdom to 4/4 time.) Children grow up, and in time, you may become a parent as well, and then you'll understand both sides of the coin.
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