To My Friends Without Children

carnegie colors

Dear Friends,

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.

bedtime chart
Figure 1. Inverse relationship between a child’s bedtime and wake up time. Notice the singularity at 2 a.m.

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.

We both work full-time, so weekends and evenings constitute the bulk of the precious hours necessary to implement our parental guidance.

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.

kid on tree trunk
“Seems relaxing to me”

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.

Yours Truly,

Dr. Curious


22 Replies to “To My Friends Without Children”

  1. As I am reading this at 4 am I am nodding in agreement. Minutes prior to this I just had to let my friend know that meeting for dinner just wasn’t going to work this month!

    1. Amazing how even 1 dinner a month sometimes doesn’t fit into the schedule!

      I am gracious and humbled that you take the time to visit my blog, but I do hope that happens less at the 4am hour for you.

      Dr. C

      1. Haha thanks, I hope so too! It’s better than at 2am and 4am (two times through the night) so I can’t complain. It’s amazing the lack of sleep that we become acclimatized to.

  2. So true. My near 4 year old and 7 month old are my best friends for the time being, and the wife of course. I don’t really worry about my kidless friends anymore than they worry about us when they are packing a single carryon for a week-long trip to Europe sans kids.

    On a related topic, I have accepted that choosing a career in medicine carries the need to get new friends very few years. We graduate college, med school, residency, fellowship, change first jobs, have kids etc. I have kept in touch with a few really close friends over these transitions, but the majority have just faded out. Fading relationships are of life anyway, medicine of not, so I’m over it.

    As a silver lining, I have found that some of the need for friends is filled by my virtual friends from starting a blog and posting on other blogs. This was probably the biggest reason for me to start a blog. My wife and I have no family within 800 miles, 2 kids and busy practices (wife is a PA). Fellow bloggers have filled that void of community that was lacking.

    What I’m trying to say Dr. C is… you complete me.

    1. You had me at hello, sir. You had me at hello.

      Our didn’t realize how our kids are almost exactly the same age. My son turns 4 next week, but I’m already calling him 4 instead of 3 and 11/12ths.

      I hear you about the fading relationships. It is part of most peoples lives, but amplified with medical training because of the many different stages to get to the finish line. Just hanging around people in the proverbial village, be it a classroom, place of work, your neighborhood, is the best way to foster those close friendships. Long-distance friendships have a way of fading.

      We need to hang out in person sometime. I think we are only a thousand or so miles apart 🙂

      Dr. C

      1. Hang out with friends in another state? Pipedreams…. at least until the youngest is about 3, which is one of the main reasons we are probably done…must satisfy wanderlust. Wife pushing for the vasectomy, I’ve held out, plus not much risk of new baby with all that’s going on. I mean, you have to actually try to have a baby and all ; )

        1. My urology friend offered do a vasectomy for free in his office last time I visited him. I passed. Best to keep business and pleasure separate.

  3. Hey, 10pm on the weekend is pretty good. I’m feeling spent when 9pm rolls around. Most good friends have kids, so we’re used to not hanging out much. But yes, they grow up fast. Little Random Guy just turned one, and that year both felt like forever and flew by very quickly. Kind of like residency.

    1. Hah, I have been known to fall asleep minutes after my children do!

      It’s cliche, but they do grow up in a flash. It’s great you have friends that are understanding of your time demands. If life is particularly busy, you can be M.I.A. for a month, and just pick up where you left off when you see them again. This is how our life tends to operate these days.

      Thanks for visiting,
      Dr. C

  4. Oh man. For us traveling has also decreased
    Talk about ruining routines. So we are more cognizant of our choices and often make them based on our sons needs and not our full desires.

    My wife said she needs a year of decent sleep before she considers having a second….

    1. When our oldest was first born, I REALLY fought to bend his schedule around what I wanted to do rather than the other way around. As he got older, and I added a second one, I realized a compromise was needed to maintain sanity for all of us.

      We could have been approaching a year of decent sleep if not for our daughters birth this summer. Some of my friends’ kids are rockstar sleepers and have been so their whole lives. I have heard apochryphal stories about needing to wake up 3-month-olds from 12 hour slumbers. It was not in the cards for us 🙁

      Take care, DDD!
      Dr. C

  5. As a child-free couple who is proudly going to remain child-free our entire lives, I must say it’s kind of shitty if people give you a hard time for being with your family. We have many friends who have kids, and we totally get it. I can’t tell if that’s what sparked this, but I really hope it wasn’t. To be honest though it wouldn’t really surprise me.

    I know that it’s demanding and obviously I’d expect your kids to come before us.

    Anyone who doesn’t realize that is being selfish.

    That being said, here’s a message from a child-free couple to people with kids: YOU need to help organize plans when you want to see us. We will invite you out and we will continue to do so because you’re our friends, but it can get frustrating when we try to plan something and we just get a “no, I’ve got swim practice” in response but no suggestions on how to make meeting up for lunch or dinner work. Enough ‘No’ responses with no alternatives offered, and eventually we will stop asking. Same goes for our child-free friends.

    I get that you guys are busy, I totally understand that. Things can, do, and SHOULD revolve around your kids. But it’s really frustrating when we child-free folks hear “you don’t get how busy and tired we are” and complain about not seeing us as well, but don’t take the initiative to plan something that works with YOU. Believe me, we are more than able and willing to modify our schedules. We just want to see our friends. And in the meantime, call, text, email, FB, whatever…we’re here and we don’t hate you because you have kids. 🙂

    (obviously not trying to imply you do this, but I’ve experienced it in my life before. The nice thing about being child-free is we’re flexible. Folks with kids generally aren’t as flexible. Therefore, it’d greatly help the friendship if the less-flexible people took the initiative to at LEAST give some open times they could make work. Otherwise, we’ll be around when your kids are self-sufficient.)

    At the end of the day balancing family with friendship can sometimes be tough, and it seems especially-so for new parents. Good friends will be understanding. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful perspective, Dave. We should hang out 🙂

      I hope this post didn’t come across as “our life is so busy and I’m so tired and you childless people will never understand!” That was almost the opposite of my intention. I WANT our friends to know that we still want to maintain friendships, as rare and fleeting as our in-person meetings may be.

      A couple of our friends withouth children have drifted away in the past few years. I feel guilty about it. Could we have made more of an effort? Could our friends have been more flexible? I suppose all parties are at fault to some degree or another. Part of the reason I wrote this post was to explore the reasons why it happened.

      Thanks for helping me sort through my own thoughts and feelings about this, and for the insight into how some of our friends may be feeling. You have inspired me to reach out to them (after I get some sleep).

      Thanks for visiting!
      Dr. C

    2. Unfortunately you don’t understand how busy parents are. Parents with young children (and particularly ones with demanding jobs) can’t easily plan. Day to day they are in survival mode, barely keeping all balls in the air, and are one virus away from total chaos. Each hour is stuffed with constant needs that have to be met, and each minute is keeping watchful eyes out for danger (that’s the kids to themselves. The house you can kid proof, the kid itself, you can’t). Plans with others is a distant afterthought because OUR basic needs aren’t being met on a chronic basis. Yes we’d love to see a friend, but we crave 2 hours of uninterrupted nap time more than seeing them. We’re not just busy, we’re exhausted. Even if we do muster up the energy to plan something for 3 weeks down the road, we have no way of knowing what the family/work landscape for a get together will look like then. Even when everyone is well when the plans are made, there’s so many unknowns. Can we find a babysitter, who hopefully won’t change her mind at the last minute, will everyone stay unsick, will I get more than 5 hours of sleep the night before, will work run on usual time. You would be surprised how much effort it takes to even have regular email contact with friends when your life is run by little people. One day you email a friend, the next thing you know a month has gone by. Poof. You may have heard the expression ‘the days are long’. The days are long, because there is not a moment to break or have to yourself. Each day is like two. With my youngest now at 2.5 years I’m starting to edge out a bit of time for myself and my friends. The light at the end of the tunnel is there, but not out of it yet.

      1. Well said! This post is so cathartic.

      2. I am right there with you in the trenches, YM of 3! It’s challenging to form a coherent thought let alone a plan when exhaustions sets in. Chronic sleep deprivation of parenthood is a game changer that I was not fully prepared for, even though I had experienced it for shorter periods of time in medical training.

        The light at the end of my tunnel is even more distant than yours—like the sun viewed from the outer reaches of the solar system—but I still see it. However, I have better luck and sanity when I strive to focus on the present with my kids rather than worry how long my sleep deprivation experiment will continue.

        Thanks for reading, and good luck to you and your family!
        Dr. C

  6. I feel you! We had baby #1 in medical school, baby #2 in residency, and baby #3 in fellowship. Husband is still in training. I said, “Sorry friends, I will see you in 5 years, hopefully.”

    P.S. While I’m on this topic, I should apologize to my parents, too.

    1. I didn’t have my first until age 35, three years after I started my attending job, and my second at age 38. On the plus side, we had fun, traveled, and did the DINK thing for a few years before adding children. But our younger will not be off to college until we are 56 (and hopefully retired!).

      Some of our friends had children in medical school and residency, and I could see how challenging it was, but now they are in their late 30s and their children in the 8-10 years range, and life seems much more manageable. My point is that there is no BEST time to have children; you just have to decide when it’s the right time for you to do it.

      Thanks for reading!
      Dr. C

  7. Great post! I totally get you. My kids are older and more self-sufficient, but they have so many activities now. Between tutoring, music lessons, sports practices, play dates, and birthdays, I’m a part time personal Uber driver. We have a regular guys night out every one to two months; half have kids and half are child-free. We put up a Google doc calendar and everyone puts in days that are OUT. We end up with one or two days and we all make it sacred. The guys w/o kids hear us talking about our crazy lives w/ kids and they vow to remain child-free.

    1. Oh man, we have about 6-7 (I lost count) color coded Google calendars to keep track of our lives, but I will have to consider adding a “beer with friends” calendar now 🙂

      I agonize a bit over the whole extracurricular activity blitz on he horizon for my kids. It’s almost inevitable, but I really want to preserve that free time to be silly or frankly bored and exercise their creative muscles. On the other hand, I don’t want to disadvantage them on their resumes when they eventually apply to college. Parenting is hard!

  8. Nodding along throughout. Well put.

    Our boys are now 7 & 9, and I have amazing news. It gets better! Believe it or not, you’ll eventually get to a point where no one needs a nap, they eat normal food without half of it hitting the floor or ending up in their hair, and they can walk everywhere without running out of steam.

    We’re enjoying this window between total dependency and mopey teenager. It’s fantastic.


    1. Whew! I mean, I love my children, they are the light of my life, yada yada yada, etc. But it is good to hear that my attention to their physical needs and bodily functions will diminish at some point in the future. I’ve heard ~5-13 is the sweet spot?

      Thanks PoF,
      Dr. C

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