I have not seen many of you in quite some time. It’s not because I don’t want to, or I don’t enjoy your company. I have two children.
If you had children too, you would fully understand, and nod your head with a grimace and a knowing smile. But you don’t, so I owe you an explanation.
I was like you not so long ago: an adult without dependents. Independent. I wondered why my friends with kids were so stressed. Why they were exhausted and mentally scattered. Why they didn’t simply bring their children along to our evening get-togethers.
Now, I know.
And I apologize to those friends whom I silently condemned, dissing and dismissing them in my mind for their conspicuous departure from the social scene after their children were born. I have followed in their absent footsteps now that I have my own brood.
Why, exactly, are children so detrimental to our adult social lives? Why are my wife and I asleep before 10pm on most weekends?
I can’t speak for all parents, but I will tell you how I feel.
I’m tired. So very tired. Fatigue is reasons number one, two, and three for lack of adult socializing. It’s hard to know how much exhaustion is due to me getting older versus me getting children, but my money is mostly on the children.
My older son was not a good sleeper. He woke up in the night regularly until around age three. Following a few months of blissful slumber after he turned three, my daughter was born. And we got to start all over again.
Parental fatigue is compounded by factors other than simple lack of sleep. Parents get sick, but not sick days (when it comes to childcare). And you will get sick from your precious little petri dish.
What about catching up on sleep during “down time?” Well, down time and free time have a way of evaporating with children around. Heck, the laundry alone is a part-time job.
Of course, we could hire a babysitter for the night and leave the kids at home. While it might sound lovely to arrive home at midnight with the kids snug in their beds, they inevitably stay up much later with the babysitter (at least in our house). Based on scientific research (fig. 1), a later bedtime means an earlier awakening in the morning. My children and/or dog simply do not get the memo to let me sleep in. I can’t remember the last time I awoke later than 7 a.m. It’s been years, if not a decade.
I care about my children more than I care about you. Sorry.
They are my flesh and blood, and they are extremely cute. Plus, my wife and I are responsible for corralling them away from trouble and toward a productive adulthood. Thus, we need to spend time with them and get to know them.
My children notice when I am gone. My 4-year-old’s joyous reaction when I see him after a period of absence both warms my heart and pains me to know that he missed me. My 5 month old increasingly recognizes mommy and daddy’s faces over those of strangers, and responds with a drooly smile. I want them to see on me as a regular presence in their lives, a reliable adult who is there to help them and—as they grow up—answer questions about the world.
You, my adult friends, may miss my company, but my absence will (hopefully) not have a lasting negative impact on your lives.
It’s a lot of work to take a child outside the home. In the years before I had children, I used to consider this excuse rather weak. I no longer do.
Like Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story—who had not had a hot meal for herself in 15 years—a dinner out is far from an exercise in pleasure and relaxation for us parents. The first order of business is to ensure big brother and little sister are eating, drinking, or otherwise occupied. After that, we might shovel some warm-ish food into our mouths—that is, until our son decides he wants to explore the restaurant kitchen or our daughter needs a diaper change.
We still take our children to dinner, and sometimes even enjoy ourselves. Teaching them expected behavior in public is important to us, and can’t be done at home. But a full-on relaxing night out is not in the cards when young children come along.
When kids get out of their routine, hell is unleashed. When children hit the magic years after age three or so, they develop a sense of agency, and exercise this previously undiscovered freedom of choice with regularity and vigor.
“You know, Mummy and Daddy, I do believe I would rather spend the evening scattering toys all over the downstairs living space in lieu of a quiet dinner out with your friends.”
Our older child loves the comfort of routine. Same foods, same games, same books. Breaking this routine can throw off the whole day.
The occasional novel experience can be fun for him, as it can for most children. We regularly encourage (force?) him to try new things. But too much “new” finds us a paying a price in the form of a cranky or overwhelmed kid later that day.
So rather than that trendy new restaurant, maybe you, friends, could join us for some takeout pizza on Friday night.
In the end, the reason is time. Children grow really freaking fast. My 4-year-old still needs help getting dressed sometimes, but his transition from toddler to kid has been astounding in its rapidity. He told me I was “not organized” the other day. I don’t want to miss too many of these moments.
I want to spend time with my children. I need to. And I only get one shot to do it.
I sincerely hope we can remain friends. It’s difficult to maintain a relationship with someone whose life and priorities are so foreign. More often than not, we find ourselves drawn to our parent-friends, with their nods and knowing grins. They understand and mind less when we cancel last minute, for no other reason that it’s Friday and everyone is tired.
I still hope to occasionally connect with some of you, my friends. In a few years, it will probably be easier. I may find more time as my children become more independent, or you may decide to join the parent club and frequent our meetings.
Don’t give up on me yet.