#672 My friend will hire a babysitter to go on dates, but never to see her friends.

Hi Cap’n,

A very close friend of mine is starting to drive a bunch of us crazy, and we’re not sure we’re being irrational and bitchy about it. Our friend, J____, is a single mom with a job and does not have a ton of money for babysitters. Nevertheless, for the past 8 years, (since she became a mom) she always seems to find a babysitter to go on dates (usually about once a week) — but never to hang out with us gals. Now, we know it’s normal for gals to blow of gal friends for romance. And we know it’s super important to her to find a beaux. And she’s operating under some constraints that none of us can imagine. Still, it’s always on us to come visit her in her home if we want to see her. Not a problem 8 years ago when we were all in the same neighborhood. But it grows more inconvenient as we grow up and move out the suburbs and away from each other. Meanwhile, she feels lonely and sad when we can’t find the time – and will tell us so.

So – when might it be reasonable, if ever, to call J out on this? When/how can we ask her to get a babysitter just for us? Note – all of us have, fairly regularly, served as (free) babysitters for her so that she can go on dates.

Or is this just too bitchy and insensitive to even bring up?


Worth a Babysitter?

Dear Worth A Babysitter,

It’s great that you’ve all stayed connected all this time, and it’s great that you realized that taking the show to J____ and babysitting her child were key in helping her stay a part of your group all this time.

I think there are four ways you can approach all of this that don’t make you, ahem, “bitchy and insensitive. Those ways are:

1) Plan as much as possible in advance and invite her to everything you want her to be at. Then let her make her own decision about whether she can make it, realizing that sometimes the answer will be “Sorry, can’t this time.” Go and have your good time without her, invite her next time, and for every two or three “out by us” events you plan, plan one in her neck of the woods. Don’t make a big deal about how “we’ll miss youuuuuuuuuuuu” or “It’s not the same without youuuuuuuuuu” when she can’t come. You will, and it won’t, but stick with “We’d really like you to make it if you can, we understand if you can’t, let us know!

2) Since there’s a group of you and one of her, could you pool some money into a babysitting fund for some of your times together? You don’t have to make a big deal out of doing that or even let her know that you did it, and you don’t have to do it every single time, but when you’re planning something you really want her to be a part of, try giving her some advance notice and a sincere “I’d really like you to come to my birthday dinner, and I’ll happily pay for a babysitter if that will help you make it.” $10/person is one less drink for y’all, and maybe all the difference in the world for her. Also, you say you’ve all taken turns babysitting so she can go on dates. Have any you ever made the offer to do that so she can go out with y’all? “I’ll watch the Lego Movie again with the 8-year old, bring me back some of those dates wrapped in bacon.”

3) Use “I”, not “we” when and if you talk to her about this. Even if it’s true that you’ve all decided that you’d like her to make more of an effort to come to where you are, if you do talk to her about it, speak for yourself. “I love you, friend, and I want us to stay connected. You know I’m happy to babysit and come to you sometimes, but you’ve never even seen my house, and that hurts my feelings a little bit. What will it take to get you out here? Can we make a plan to meet near you half the time and near me half the time?” It’s tempting to appeal to the authority of the group vs. your own feelings, but that always backfires. It doesn’t make the case better and it makes the person automatically defensive. If she’s the only single person, if she’s the only parent, if she’s the only person who didn’t, ahem, ‘grow up’ and move to the suburbs, if she feels judged and left out by you sometimes, invoking the “we” in this case is going to bring all of the fault lines  in your friendship roaring to the surface like an episode of Totally Real, Definitely Not Staged Wealthy Married Ladies Who Competitively Hang Out Together In A City And Ugly Cry On Glamorous Outfits.

I feel like she tells you when she’s lonely or sad that you can’t come to the city, but none of you has necessarily directly expressed that you wish she would come to see you more, so she’s sort of sighing and you’re all sort of rolling your eyes at her, like, “can’t she see what the problem is?” The problem is not getting figured out by itself, she’s not going to intuit how annoyed you are. Next time she says she’s sad, you have an opening to say “I’m sad too. I haven’t known quite how to bring it up, since I know what you go through in finding & paying babysitters, and I want to figure this out without putting more pressure on you. The main thing is, I want to see you more, too, but I’m also limited in how often I can come to you. What do you think would help? Can we make a standing monthly Friend Date, and do half near me and half near you?”

4) Give it time. When something has built up for a bit of time, the way this conflict has in your friend group, remind yourself that while you’ve been annoyed about this for a while, but she only just found out how much. The clock restarts when you tell her it’s a problem. She may have dates already on the calendar that she doesn’t want to cancel, she may have to do a bit of juggling with schedule and funds to make things happen. If it’s still unbalanced in 3-6 months, speak up again, or accept that this friendship is drifting for a bit.

Don’t even mention her dates or her priorities about babysitting money. There’s no need to pass judgment on how she spends her time or her money. Ask your friend, sincerely, if she will meet you halfway on this, do what you can to make it possible for her, and see what happens.

169 thoughts on “#672 My friend will hire a babysitter to go on dates, but never to see her friends.

  1. Hi, LW!

    I know these feels, and the Captain has offered some awesome options, but it strikes me that one option’s been neglected:

    Can you, sometimes, do things that she can bring the kid to? I don’t mean you all have to go to Chuck E Cheese, but there are a surprising number of things that are fun for both adults and small children, or suitable for babes-in-arms (you don’t say how old the kid is) that can be done at times that won’t blow bedtime completely out of the water.

    One of my dearest friends and I do a huge part of our summer adult socialising in the two nearby parks which have enclosed playgrounds so that we can keep lose track of the kids but don’t have to be Right There. They’re lovely parks, too.

    Parent-and-kid friendly coffee-shops are, actually, often very nice coffee-shops in general.

    And so forth.

    1. Yes! My best friend is awesome about this- we take my kids out for icecream (in a grown-up-friendly spot) or for burgers or to the park, then we come back to my place and after munchkins go to bed we get to drink wine and do more grown-up talk. I know it doesn’t fix everything because it sounds like you guys go to her house already, but the ideas Marna Nightingale gives above are also good ways to be out with kids. Some other good places for both kids and a group of grownups: Farmer’s Markets, Neighborhood Yard Sales or Festivals, Botanical Gardens (Saint Louis has an awesome free Jazz fest on summer nights, is there anything like that in your area?), fun themed diners, Ren Fests, and most tourist-type areas (since you’re near a big city), the beach is there’s one near you, etc. I’m not sure how old the kiddo is- mine are still toddler/preschool and an older kid would open up even more options. 🙂

    2. Those are good ideas, but since LW already goes to visit her friend at her friend’s home, it sounds like all their social time is already with the kid there, so I am guessing that she would also like to spend at least some time sans kid, which this wouldn’t help with. Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines, and it’s really only about geography, but that’s what I took from it.

      1. Then LW needs to, as CA said, be upfront about that want. Single parent friend may feel totally stretched by what she is managing now, but at least the matter would be on the table and not left to fester any longer.

      2. In a playground or indoor play-space, it’s often possible for a parent to let their kid run around and climb on the monkey bars or jump in the bouncy house or whatever, playing with the other children there, and then the parent can turn their attention to interacting with other grown-ups.

        This is in contrast with social events at home, where the kid is likely to see the parent as the most enticing thing in the building to play with. Especially if there are no other kids to play with (siblings don’t count). ESPECIALLY especially if the parent is conspicuously paying attention to another adult.

        1. Yes, yes, yes. Social time with the kids present, at some all-ages venue, is very different from social time with the kids present at home. If the visits have mostly been at J’s home, then just mixing it up by going to some kid-friendly (not necessarily kid-centric!) locations might prove to be fun and low-stress for [i]everyone[/i] involved.

          I am very, very fortunate in where I live: plenty of family-friendly coffee shops, restaurants, a science museum that has something for everyone, pedestrian areas where public art and outdoor music performances add cultural interest…what’s available in your area, LW, might differ, but if you haven’t already tried outings that include the kids, you might be pleasantly surprised by how many options there are and by how enjoyable it can be.

          (That said, of course it’s also fine to want some kid-free get-togethers, and to express that that’s what you want, and to take appropriate steps to making that happen. Just, realistically, sometimes J is going to not be able to do that, and it’s nice to have a range of alternatives between “J hires a babysitter so she can hang out with friend group” and “J does not hang out with friend group”.)

    3. I was going to suggest similar.
      LW, if all the rest of your friend group is out of the city, in a similar location to each other, does someone have a spare room? So you could have a lovely dinner at one of your houses, chill out with some wine and talking, send the kid to bed in the spare room?
      This way, it can still be adult-focussed, but its not a big drama for getting out for the mother. Even better if someone has a house big enough that the kid could have a sitter for the evening in a separate part of the house.

      1. I spent some pleasant evenings this way as a kid. It might have felt weird or lonely if I was always the only kid there; it’s not clear to me whether J is the only parent, or the only single parent. It probably didn’t start until I was around 8 or so — I don’t quite remember — but the usual deal was that everyone had dinner together, and then the kids went into the den to watch a movie or play some games (or, if it was just me, read a book). That way, whichever parent I was spending that weekend with didn’t have to sacrifice as much of our time together, but still had the chance to have some adults-only socializing. The other kid(s) weren’t usually my age, but were close enough that there were some movies or board games that we’d both/all enjoy. The personalities weren’t always the best fit, but it mostly worked.

  2. Is it possible to do some stuff that J’s kid can come along to? Like, if you all want to do dinner and a movie then maybe do it early-ish on the weekend and see a kid-friendly film. You might not want to see a Disney film EVERY time you hang out with J… but a lot of Disney films are pretty good, and finding stuff that is kid-friendly keeps there from being a “it’s us or the kid” ultimatum for when you hang out.

    1. I don’t think it says how many kids, though. It’s possible there’s more than one and eight is just the oldest.

  3. upvoting chipping in for a babysitter, and doing some kid-friendly stuff, as well as directly discussing the problem with her, individually. Single parenting is a super lonely gig at times, and babysitters aren’t cheap, and friends don’t have the same “keep separate from kid” requirement that (sensible) dating as a single parent does, and there’s only so much time away from kid you have/want if you work as well. Also, kid is now 8, if I am reading that right, and soon will be old enough for overnights with friends and such….hang in there with her….things will get better.

    1. Yeah, but what bothers me (and the LW) is that dates are apparently worth the hassle and expense and time away from the kid, while friends aren’t. If something has to go, it’s time with friends. I can sure understand why her friends are hurt by this.

      1. Theoretically, your close friends know your child and your child knows them. Not every single thing adult friends do together is kid-friendly, but the child and the friends, especially friends who have babysat since the child was very small, occupy some of the same social space.

        Not so with dates. Single parents often keep their dating life separate until they know that the person is cool and safe and someone they want in their lives. It really is a different thing.

        1. said far better than I did….every dating advise I have ever seen recommends very strongly that new people be kept very very separate from kids, which equals not occupying the same social space

      2. true, but babysitters are necessary for dates, and so using them to assess the worth of the event in friend’s mind may not be entirely fair, considering that taking your kid even to kid friendly places with a potential new partner is generally deemed poor judgement. I’m super tired, and so I may be missing something, but I really don’t think a direct equivalency should be drawn between “babysitter for date” and “babysitter for friends” in terms of what that means in priorities.

        1. D is right. I’ve been a single mom. For me, it wasn’t: “Dates are important enough for a babysitter and my friends aren’t,” it was “There are so many reasons my child should not be exposed to my sex life until it’s age-appropriate.”

      3. Exactly! I got that too. Though Jennifer noted, “Don’t even mention her dates or her priorities about babysitting money. There’s no need to pass judgment on how she spends her time or her money,” and it seems pretty good advice usually, something about that seems off to me. I think it’s because they are good friends–not just acquaintances or something. I would THINK that such friends can talk about their feelings with each other, right? Even if it seems selfish I think that certain friendships are about sharing your feelings about how the relationship is going and how it is prioritized, and at least getting some clarity on the way things are. Discussing her dates and her priorities about babysitting money as a symbol, even if irrational, of how the friendship is going, could be possible and totally within respect and reason.

        Because it IS hurtful when a best friend of yours whom you miss and want to see more of complains that you don’t spend time with each other, and yet they dole out money for boyfriends and one-time dates but can’t seem to make the effort for YOU. I TOTALLY understand why this is frustrating. Perhaps you could bring these feelings up in a nonjudgmental way? And also in a non-feelings-dump way, like in one of those moments where people humorously but very openly “gossip” and joke about their own thoughts and feelings while still communicating important stuff.

        Like, “I know you’re super busy with a full-time job and a kid and I don’t have these same kinds of responsibilities, so I hope that I can try to be as empathetic/sympathetic as possible. But I have to say I was wondering if there was anything I could do to try to make it easier for us to hang out? I feel myself getting jealous** of your dates sometimes even, and I know it’s important to you to date, of course, but sometimes I feel like you prioritize dates over us gals. Am I correct or is this something you hadn’t even noticed? If I am correct then that’s fine, I can get used to that, but I would like to know so that I can figure out how best to work out spending time with you, and so I can stop being all jealous!** It’s kind of been bothering me for awhile and I know you have your own choices to make, but I guess I just wanted some clarity to move forward.”

        For the **jealousy parts, I think that could be said in an endearingly joking yet also kind of not way, like when you admit something you’re embarrassed to admit but feel comfortable enough around a fun friend of yours to STILL tell the truth. Also “jealous” might not be the exact feeling, but I hope I’m getting at least SOMETHING worthwhile across.

        I guess what I am trying to say is that while I appreciate and agree with the practical elements of the Captain’s advice, I feel that my own friendships are WAY more feelingsy! And I don’t think that’s in a dumping way, but that we just communicate moments of frustration and jealousy! “Lady, why are you ok to get a babysitter for your kid on an OKC throwaway date but not for MEEEE” is just whiny, but if you ask kindly and share that you’re a bit confused, frustrated, or even hurt, it could be a growing moment in the friendship.

        1. Ok I was trying to respond above to svthlivingincolor’s comment, “Yeah, but what bothers me (and the LW) is that dates are apparently worth the hassle and expense and time away from the kid, while friends aren’t. If something has to go, it’s time with friends. I can sure understand why her friends are hurt by this.” Oops!

        2. In my experience on both sides of things, explicitly questioning why you don’t seem to be a higher priority with someone and potentially giving the impression that you’re keeping score (with money no less) is a near-guaranteed way to widen any growing rift. Even if that’s what bothers the LW, I agree with the Captain that explicitly addressing that isn’t the way to go about it. The LW’s friend is already aware that there’s less contact, so following the scripts to provide options for greater contact will hopefully lead to an option being accepted, with all the more ease and potential gratitude for the LW having taken an approach that suggests solutions instead of guilt.

          Some friendships may be able to take a frank discussion about priorities, but IMHO many can’t. Especially not ones that are already feeling distanced.

          1. I guess so. Perhaps when the LW says she’s lonely and sad when they can’t hang out (“Meanwhile, she feels lonely and sad when we can’t find the time – and will tell us so”), the LW can simply say “Me, too. I feel lonely and sad when we can’t find the time.” Significant Silence. “What are your ideas for fixing this, if you would like this to be fixed? I have some ideas which are A, B, C.” But the important thing is that LW gets to say her feelings on it, too.

            I guess what I really want to emphasize is that if J___ gets to have her feelings heard (based on what LW said, J___ does express loneliness and sadness at not finding time), so does the LW. Maybe not in the way I listed above, for the reasons Paulina gave (and which honestly have come up in other questions that I can’t remember exact titles of… maybe that one about not being invited to a party?). But I think that Understanding Adults can still have and express feelings to their FRIENDS…. If not, I don’t really know what a Friend is!

            I guess some of this advice just seems so businesslike, when among friends some of this stuff has emotional value, not just logistical value (even though logistics affect all of this). Certainly, take the initiative and think of more ways for them all to hang out–whether at kid-friendly places or where the kid can go to bed early or pooling the cost of a drink for a babysitter or whatever everyone and the Captain have mentioned–but I think it’s fair to say, “Yes, this MAKES ME SAD, TOO. I know that you are a single mom and things have changed, and while I understand the reasoning behind that, sometimes it hurts, or I get mad, and I miss you, and I miss the way things used to be.” I think these kinds of conversations are normal among friends, family, lovers. And I imagine this could be even a bonding kind of conversation. And if there IS not bond that occurs, well, then THAT’S your answer.

            I guess I don’t buy the idea that feelings shouldn’t be expressed because frank discussions might lead to further rifts. I think clarity and expressiveness are worth potential rifts.

          2. addressing the difficulty in getting together is different to questioning the priorities of someone who you are seeing less of than you would like to see(I assume, although….). And very VERY different to discussing it with mutual friends and deciding that LW’s friend is the problem.

            Deciding that this is a priority issue is an assumption. The time spent together being less than pre-kid is a fact. It seems to me the discussion should avoid stating assumptions as facts, and come from a solutions-based angle, for best results. Either way, LW may have to accept the different lifestage she and her friend currently occupy.

          3. I’d consider it a good thing for the LW to let J know that J is missed, certainly, when the topic arises. Far better than not feeling missed! It’s going from “I miss you and wish I could see you more” to having an opinion about J’s priorities that is problematic, or expressing it in a way that can come across as a guilt trip given to one already sad about it. Knowing that she is missed, rather than just feeling on the outside herself, can encourage J to try to work on the connection. Getting feedback that her other priorities are blamed — especially when that includes her child — doesn’t seem like it would encourage J to try. It’s too negative a framing, with the potential for J to feel like she’s being told to blame herself for her sadness at being left out, and the expectation be put entirely on her for how to deal with it. Even though, given the description about what changed when, it’s quite possible that J would consider her friends’ moves to be responsible; they moved away from her, since apparently living close to her wasn’t enough of a priority for them (not that it should be, but once comment on others’ choices is opened up it can cut many ways).

            It’s also possible that if one of the discussed options enables J to come out with the friends again, she might enjoy it and do it more, without even thinking about “priorities”. It sounds like she hasn’t gone out with them for a while, so those sorts of activities aren’t really part of her life right now.

          4. I think you can discuss priorities in many friendships, but only in a one-way kind of thing.

            As in:
            – “Your friendship is important to me, we’ve been drifting apart a bit and I’d like for spending time together to be a bigger priority for both of us.” OK
            – “You say you don’t have the time/money to spend time with me, but you always seem to the have time/money for X. Why am I not as important to you as X?” NOT OK

            Ymmv, but I see a big difference between stating your need for attention in a clear way and judging how someone spends their (limited) attention.

          5. True. And I definitely get the LW’s frustration at not feeling like a similar priority as dating. But I have empathy for a single parent whose friends have all moved out of easy reach and who is looking for a partner of her own (also, girl, I’m single with no kids and my friends are scattered within a 5-50 mile radius, and I don’t see them multiple times a month, every month.). Because if you asked LW’s friend, her letter might read like “all of my community is moving away and they’re annoyed when I don’t/can’t see them in the suburbs and they’re criticizing me for spending so much time looking for love and a new community of my own.” I like the Captain’s scripts and how they emphasize affection and kindness.

  4. If your friend is a working, single mom you should expect some lopsided-ness and take that (without resentment) as a new condition of friendship. The best friends a mom has are the ones who make it a point to do kid-friendly things with the mom friend and her kid(s). Dating obviously has to be structured differently so don’t compare yourself to her dates.
    A mom who works full time has a finite amount of time to spend with her kid(s) in any given week. No, I don’t want to hire a babysitter on the evening or weekend to hang with gal pals instead of being with my young child. Nope. On weeknights my childless friends might join me and my kid for dinner at my house or at a local kid-friendly restaurant. And we eat at 6:30PM. On a weekend they might join me for an afternoon walk to the playground or a jaunt to the zoo. Those are the friendships that will endure.

    1. That’s another thing to think of- can you suggest having the sitter come over once kiddo is already going to bed so that your friend doesn’t miss any time with him. My spouse does that a lot- comes home from work for a couple of hours before the kids go to bed, then heads out after they’re asleep so he isn’t missing any quality time.

      1. Sorry- I didn’t mean “you” as in Buttermilk, but saw speaking to the letter writer. Just realized that it could have looked like I was trying to advise Buttermilk instead!

    2. I realize this isn’t what the letter was specifically about, but I really loved that your comment comes from assuming that, given that people are willing to include kids, friendships between parents and childless adults *can* endure. I have some anxiety over that, but reading these comments about all the ways people are optimistic about it happening is actually making me feel really good about it. I’m reading this going, “That stuff sounds like fun. I eat dinner at 6:30 anyway! I’d be happy to call in a pizza and play with the kid until bedtime.”
      So although I’m not the target, I feel like I’ve just gotten some super comforting advice. Thanks 🙂

      1. Oh hell yes! Childless and fancy-free here, with several parents as friends, and the odd heavily-involved grandparent/aunt/uncle too. If you are up for treating children as intelligent humans who are valid and whose time and attention is worthy of respect then being friends with their parents is totally sustainable (or at least no more pressured than any other friendship.)

      2. As a person with a child, I can say that I have many friendships with childless people that are really strong – mostly the people who are ok with understanding the requirements of having a child (no, a 10pm BBQ across the city on a weeknight is not an option – we’re not being THAT unreasonable…)

        The people who insist on seeing my kid as completely joy-sucking, who roll eyes when I ask if I can bring her to a dinner party (a potluck, sit-and-eat-on-the-floor-we-don’t-own-a-table, at-least-6-people-will-show-up-without-specific-invitations kind of dinner party, not a formal dinner party, to be clear!), who seem to ONLY be available late on weeknights for things I’d need a babysitter for, who make comments about how it must suck to always be around a baby… those are the friendships that are fading away.

        ’cause, despite everything I like about those people, if they treat the person I love like crazy like a huge massive inconvenience, I don’t really feel like going out of my way to hang out with them.

      3. Oh yes. As stated elsewhere I have kind of drifted from some friends, but certainly not all of them by a long shot. My best friend is happily child-free (probably for life) and adores being an “Auntie”. 🙂 These friendships can totally work.

      4. I’m a parent, and in some ways, I actually have an easier time getting together with and hanging out with my child-free friends than I do with some of my dear friends who are also parents. You don’t have the awkwardness when your parenting styles clash…or your kids don’t get along as well as the parents do, etc.

    3. Totally. I am a single mom who works full time and people often act as what I probably want more than anything else in the world is TIME AWAY FROM MY KID. I don’t. My time with my kid is already limited enough by things I *have* to do (work). Time with my kid is my favourite thing. Part of my definition of “fun times” is “with my kid” and people who view “fun times” as kid-friendly times get tons more of my time than people who don’t.

      (it’s fine, btw, for people not to share this view of what constitutes the best sort of fun — but it’s not just *me* making a choice about priorities there; it’s them, too. The LW might want to consider this).

      I don’t date in part because of this (but I am older and dated a lot before I had a kid — I can imagine trying to date if I were younger and hadn’t gotten to date much before having a kid or kids and so felt like I was missing out). For the LW’s friend, dating might feel like a work-like obligation, in a way — not like “fun times”. By that I mean, she might be dating in order to get the life she wants someday and so is making a sacrifice (paying for a babysitter) to get that future life. IT doesn’t mean friends are lower priority — it means that friends fit into the category of “time already fun and pleasurable” not “time sacrificed in hope of future fun and pleasure”.

    4. My mother’s best friend would give me three dollars (it was the seventies/eighties, I was ten, and that was an ASTRONOMICAL amount of money) to polish silver or rake leaves so they could speak grown-up and have a glass of wine out of earshot. Sometimes Comet and a toothbrush make an AMAZING babysitter.

  5. I think the Captain has some good advice.

    I would include activities she could bring her child/children to. If she has transport and can get to your home, invite her and her children. Find places that are kid-friendly (or see if she has suggestions). If there are things in your area her kids may enjoy (such as parks, lakes, a children’s museum, etc.) suggest she bring them over, go there, and then go to your house or a kid-friendly venue for lunch/dinner.

    Just some thoughts.

  6. Having been a single mom myself, I want to echo all of the comments asking to invite her to kid friendly activities. I don’t typically hire a babysitter ever because I can’t afford it and my family is only willing to watch my daughter so often, but I do get every other weekend free when my kid is with her father. I have friends who are fully understanding of this and will work with me to schedule outings if they want it kid free, and I have friends who are willing to do kid-friendly things like trips to the zoo, parks, etc.

    I also wonder how much advance notice you give her for outings. Since I know that I only have so much time without my kid, I typically plan my weekends without her well in advance. I’m now engaged, so my fiance can and does offer to watch her sometimes, but there was a time where I had my weekends without her planned as far as two months in advance. I tried to make even time between dates and friends, but I had many issues with both dates and friends who didn’t understand my lack of finances for a babysitter or who wanted to make impromptu plans that I just couldn’t do. I also had a couple of friends who seemed to forget I had a kid or that said kid needed constant supervision and would try to invite me on long term non-kid-friendly vacations. Not giving enough notice can also make it difficult for her to FIND a babysitter as they aren’t always available or she didn’t budget for it because she wasn’t expecting an invitation. I can’t tell from your post if the child’s father is in the picture at all, so if he’s not paying any support, finances could also be a reason she is not able to go out with you. She may budget for her dates if she plans them in advance or she may have arrangements with her dates where they pay for all or the majority of the outing.

    I’m not sure how far apart you live now, but if you want her to come to you more often, then making it kid friendly would likely add to her ability/willingness to go. I know that when I was invited to an outing that was far away, I would many times decline because I wouldn’t want to face a long drive back(with traffic!) to my kid in the event of an emergency. That may be why she would rather you come to her so that she’s more local in case her kid needs her. That may also be why she’s more willing to get a babysitter for dates than for friends because the dates probably happen locally, where she can go out for dinner/drinks and only be gone a few hours, but still within a few minutes of home.

    Just some things to consider. As the Captain said, if after some time, things don’t change, it may be that you are just going in different directions. One of my best friends and I started drifting after I had a kid and I think a lot of it has to do with our priorities changing. I miss her and wish we could hang out more, but I’ve accepted that it’s probably not going to be the same until either she has children or my child grows up a bit more.

    1. That was something I was wondering as well. I’m the only person in my friend group with a kid, and it has given me a whole different perspective on what qualifies as ‘last minute’. And I have a spouse, so childcare isn’t just on me–but even so, there’s just a lot more logistical planning that comes into play, and I think it’s easy not to realize that if you don’t have kids yourself. Especially, as you say, if they live far away–dates are likely to be more local, and the prospect of being hours away if something happens can be scary.

  7. These are all wonderful suggestions. I wish all the people I know were as sensitive about my circumstances as LW and you all. Some of the members of my friend group were accommodating after my divorce; others I’ve grown estranged from because events they plan are aggressively adult-only and if I can’t come because of lack of childcare, well, sucks to be me.

  8. Letter Writer doesn’t mention if this “growing up and moving to the burbs” the other gals have done includes having kids, too. It could be that the LW and group still want to do single gal/party gal types of activities (staying out all night, lots of alcohol, wild dancing, etc) and maybe Single Mom is using the babysitter excuse because she’s just not into the same lifestyle anymore or doesn’t care to spend her money that way anymore.

    There’s not enough detail in the original letter to tell for certain but I just got visions of the LW and the Gals out partying and drinking all night while Single Mom would much rather just meet for coffee and chit chat. This is what happened to my best gal pal – our idea of “fun” changed at some point, so much so, that we drifted apart. It sucked, but we’re both happier with new circles of friends that match our lifestyle choices.

    Not that I’m say drop Single Mom like a hot potato, but maybe what LW is experiencing is the start of a drift? Which is sad, of course. But not bad. And sometimes is something that you can’t force back the opposite way.

    1. I get the impression that the friend group is still fairly young (maybe mid-20s) so I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. And that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with drinking and partying, or that it’s “immature,” just that it’s a form of entertainment that’s not compatible with getting up at 7 am the next morning to make breakfast or take your kid to their soccer game. Anyway, it sounds like a drift in the making to me too – maybe they can salvage some level of “once in a while” friendship, or maybe they’ll drift back together in a few years when circumstances change, but it might just be one of those life things that happen.

      1. Absolutely. I’ve drifted from quite a few friends since I had kids. Some of it is that I moved, but often we simply don’t have the same interests/priorities right now. There’s nothing wrong with them or me… we’re just not in the same place right now. So we try to catch up a couple of times a year, and maybe someday we WILL be in the same place again. No hard feelings on either side (or so our mutual friends tell me- I suppose that they could be silently hurt by it and just not telling me).

  9. This one struck a nerve with me because it is really frustrating to spend years bending over backwards to accommodate someone else’s difficult schedule without the occasional attempt on their part to reciprocate. And some moms seem to think it’s totally OK to act as though someone without a child is someone whose time has no value.

    I have now cheerfully accepted cancelled plans six times in a row, and as much as I try to be understanding, it feels shitty to rearrange my plans over and over and get blown off every time. My desire to reschedule is just about nil, especially if I have to be the one to suggest it again.

    My favorite part of the Captain’s advice is that it puts some of the responsibiility on the single mom friend to do some of the work involved in keeping her friendships alive over the years.

    LW, I feel your pain, and it is not unreasonable of you to expect that the effort doesn’t only ever flow one way.

    1. And I’m guessing you don’t have children. Sometimes it takes being in parenting shoes to see why plans would get cancelled on short notice, or why how a mom “acts” is still not a reason to decide what the factors really ARE in terms of why she seems to value her own time more than yours. I think if your plans are being “blown off” by someone with big life/time pressures you don’t share, it’s possible that a) your lives are growing apart or (and I think more likely) b) the plans you are offering are not parent-friendly, or not taking into account some of the difficulties of attending plans made by non-parents (or as someone else mentioned, non-single-parents). I’m sure your friend appreciates that you consider her, and invite her….but before you assume all the pain is on your side of the situation, CA’s suggestion of asking for suggestions may help. You may not realise just how much effort is already being expended or how upset your friend may be at having to continually cancel, and for all you know, if you haven’t discussed it, she may be feeling very grateful that you aren’t making a fuss about her having to cancel….if it’s all more than you want to deal with, then the kinder thing to do is to back off without judgement, after a quick conversation about options.

      1. D, you’re right, I have no children. That doesn’t mean I’m an idiot or have no empathy for my friend. Our plans are 95% of the time to hang out at her home. Because she has a kid. And she cancels a lot, and I love her anyway, but I am allowed to find six times in a row to be a bit much and to be annoyed with my friend.

        I know she feels grateful that I don’t make a fuss when this, that or the other thing comes up, because she has told me so, and I know she can’t help it when her kid gets sick. I did not ask for advice, or need to be condescended to about the many calls on parents’ time. I’ve noticed!

        People without children also have lives and time committments, even “big” ones.

        1. Sorry, I see how it could be taken that way. I”m not being condescending…I’m being tired. Also, you added considerable extra context in your reply that wasn’t in your initial comment. Cancelling plans due to child illness isn’t “blowing you off”, which is how you phrased it in the first comment. Nor does it suggest that she thinks your time has no value. It does suggest that she prioritises her child, which frankly isn’t a bad character trait in a parent.

          People without children have the relative luxury of making plans and expecting that those plans will happen, and the ability to fit in big time commitments and the like knowing that pretty much everyone else will “get it” if they say “hey no, ain’t gonna be home til 9pm tonight, because of Big Event”. Try that with the average 8 yr old, and things get rather more squirrelly.

          I”m not saying childless people have no lives (fk no….quite the relative opposite, all things being equal, at least socially, vs the average single parent). I’m certainly not saying they don’t have time commitments…I’m just suggesting that adding a kid into the mix makes all things less predictable.

          That said, if it’s not working for you the way things are going, you need to have something change in the dynamic.

          1. And I still left out a lot of context, because I wasn’t looking to dissect my friend’s behavior.

            My point about understanding when her kid gets sick is that I do understand that parents have unexpected illnesses and other good reasons to bail on plans they have made (just like non-parents sometimes do). Kiddo was not sick most of those occasions – I would not feel blown off if all the excuses were for emergencies or if my friend was making an effort to reschedule.

            It is not beyond a parent’s ability to remain a considerate friend. I know plenty of parents, even single parents, who would have been absolutely mortified after about the second or third cancellation and who would have made a point of rescheduling/following through.

          2. And I still left out a lot of context, because I am not looking to dissect my friend’s behavior. Kiddo was not sick for most of those occasions – I would not be feeling blown off if all the excuses were emergencies or if my friend was making an effort to reschedule.

            It is not beyond a parent’s ability to remain a considerate friend. I know plenty of parents who would have been absolutely mortified several cancellations ago and would have made a major effort to not let it happen again.

      2. “…it is not unreasonable of you to expect that the effort doesn’t only ever flow one way.”

        I think this is the main point of Julia’s post. I strongly believe that you can’t maintain a friendship with someone who cannot or will not expend some effort in your direction. It’s more than a little condescending to tell someone without children that they shouldn’t be upset about this because they can’t understand what it’s like to parent.

        1. Again, condescension wasn’t my intent. I was hoping to be pointing out that plans change for people with kids, especially if they are the sole adult. And I don’t think I said she shouldn’t be upset about it (scrolls back…) nope, I definitely didn’t say not to be upset. I said check with friend so that everyone knows where each party is at. I said consider that maybe your lives don’t mesh anymore. I said consider whether or not the plans are taking into account the parent-specific issues…but I definitely didn’t say “don’t be upset” or “you can’t possibly understand”.

          That said, I think there are some stressors about parenting life that really don’t resonate very well until you’re in the thick of it. Things I thought would be straightforward choices turned out to be twisty windy goat trails with villagers and pointy sticks, and things that looked fraught with hectic hair-pulling angst turned out to be simple. It’s like anything. I have no idea what it’s really like to be a bus conductor, even if I think I understand the job description fairly well. I’d have to talk to a commercial baker about their work to get a good sense of what for bakers and for that baker in particular were the tricky bits of the job.

          Assuming you, as a childless person, DO know what parenting is like is also pretty condescending, if we get right down to it.

          1. I always wince when I see non-parents get offended when parents say “parenting changes your perceptions and life in ways you really can’t imagine.”

            Dude, it’s like the first (and only, thank God and Goddess!) time someone shot at me. I’m bright, well-read, empathetic, and almost excessively creative. But until that moment, I just didn’t KNOW.

            Same with partnered sex and really violent motion sickness (which I didn’t get until my twenties, for some reason).

            And there are things I can see that I will not “get” on a gut level until I go through them, if at all. Skydiving. Getting a tattoo. Tripping on acid. Losing a parent to death, dementia, or both.

            On the other hand, I can see my brave, brilliant, and responsible child-free-by-choice friends get this tossed at them, as if having a child is like Ethiopian cuisine and you should definitely try it. (“Broadening your horizons” is totally a valid reason for bringing a human being into this world even if you’re pretty sure you aren’t up for it, right?) So I do— kind of, it’s not something I’ve been through— get how it could be incredibly frustrating, especially when you see someone you love slipping away as a result of it.

    2. She’s not cancelling plans out of some sort of rudeness. She’s cancelling plans because she doesn’t have the financial resources to reciprocate. This is literally the privileged looking down at those without privilege and going “huh, wonder why she acts that way?”

      You have to meet people where they are, or they can’t remain friends with you. And part of the responsibility is having that talk about your stress.

      1. This comment makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me like you’re assuming a lot of things that I didn’t see in Julia’s comment, particularly regarding her friend’s financial situation (and her own!) – where are you getting that from? I also really don’t think that having children vs. being childless is a clearcut case of privilege, for a lot of reasons; the situations are different, but things can be different without privilege automatically being attached to them.

        Yes, you have to meet people where they are – but it’s also reasonable to be bothered if you’re frequently canceled on, whatever the reason is and however justifiable it is. The reason being kids (as opposed to a job, health, other family responsibilities, distance, whatever) doesn’t eliminate that frustration, and people shouldn’t be shamed for feeling it.

        1. A severe disparity in income is privilege, Zillah, whether you can see it or not. Often those with a higher, 2 income family just can’t see it from a single mother’s perspective.

          We also don’t have the info about the type of jobs they’re working (maybe their husbands pull in a larger salary and they do too, widening the gap) or maybe she’s on disability…. who knows? But even if they make equal salaries, that’s a 50% hit.

          Income is privilege and it contributes to class status. We like to pretend in America that this doesn’t exist, but it totally does. Income inequality is at equal levels to the Great Depression, when class status was very much an issue.

          1. Ugh, my response to this ended up in the wrong place. It’s the reply to Guava just under this.

    3. I would say that if your friend has cancelled six times…don’t be the one to initiate the reschedule. That way, if your friend is the type to beat herself up for flaking out on you, you’re no longer being perceived as pressuring her in any way. If she’s cancelled six times, it’s on her to make the effort next time.

      I don’t know your friend’s situation, so no judgment here either way. I have parent-friends who will cancel plans if their kid has a sniffle, and others who will cheerfully host while their child has lice (no thank you! let’s reschedule!)

      1. I agree with this advice not to re initiate, especially as it sounds as if it is becoming a bit of a chore. I still think a conversation is reasonable and probably a good idea, just to be sure assumptions are clarified and no one is left feeling like the “Bad Guy” about either side of it, if possible. However, apparently advice wasn’t called for, and so take it or leave it, Julia, as it suits your situation.

        As Guava says, parents aren’t homogeneous either, and for me having a friend call repeatedly to set up plans that I had to continuously cancel would be stressful. For others, having friends NOT call with plans would be more stressful. Hard to know without talking to each other.

      2. Income is privilege. I’m not disputing that. I was disputing the idea that not having children is privilege – if that wasn’t your intention, great.

        However, the LW didn’t give us any details about what activities the friend isn’t coming to or about her own financial resources. I also don’t see any mention of whether or not the LW is married at all, let alone whether she’s married to a man. So, to say with absolutely certainty that:

        She’s cancelling plans because she doesn’t have the financial resources to reciprocate. This is literally the privileged looking down at those without privilege and going “huh, wonder why she acts that way?”

        doesn’t seem fair to me. You don’t know that, unless the LW has chimed in with many more details that I haven’t seen.

    4. My friends’ difficult schedules include; shift work, PHDs, long distance friendships, disability and, yes, parenting. In all these cases, maintaining a friendship has required organisation, patience and understanding when things crop up at the last minute. Sometimes these are short term and sometimes they will be permanent.

      Of course, there are lousy people who really do not value other people’s time! Your friend might indeed be one of them! But I think that it is easy to frame this as a ‘parent’ issue when really it is a ‘how are we going to organise our lives to fit each other in’ issue. And sometimes, it really is a ‘I can’t’ not a ‘I don’t care’. Of course it is not unreasonable to expect the effort to flow both ways but it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that everyone’s ‘effort’ looks the same or that it will stay the same over their live.

      To reuse a popular analogy it is like playing a computer game on easy, medium and hard. For my life over the last five years:

      Mission: Dinner with Friends
      Easy – able bodied, financially secure and living in an area with good infrastructure
      Medium – add a calm and civilized toddler
      Very Hard – add responsibility for a chronically ill parent

      1. “but it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that everyone’s ‘effort’ looks the same or that it will stay the same over their live. ”

        I love this, because it recognises that our life stressors and struggles change over time. After school, life really does become a game filled with wildcards, and believing that everyone in your social circle will be at the same hurdle or challenge or milestone at the same time becomes quite unreasonable. I think that we’re part of a culture that really does like its patterns, and being even a little “out of step” can create quite a wide rift in the ease of travelling through life in a group.

        I also love that this point of view honours that effort won’t look the same even if it takes up as much of the relative resources as other different effort for another person. This can be super hard to accept or understand because our own internal normals are for a certain level of energy or time, and we really don’t know the inner machinations of another’s life, especially if it’s taking a different path than we expected or have experience with.

        And the difficulty level analogy is so very very apt. Add in a health/energy bar, and take away all the extra lives, and you’ve got it. 🙂

        1. Oooh! I have never actually commented before and just did a little happy dance of Internet Validation. 🙂

    5. Wow, you really got jumped on for this. =\

      I get what you’re saying, though. I’ve definitely had friends who assumed that because they were parents their time was automatically more valuable than mine, and they were universally rude about it. I have plenty of friends with kids who aren’t like that, but those folks certainly exist. I categorize them in the same place in my mind as the parents who proudly proclaim that you can’t possibly know real love until you’ve had a child. Yeah, whatever. *eye roll*

      In your specific case here, though, that may not be what’s going on. You’re accommodating your friend by acting like it’s okay when she continuously cancels plans, when in fact it’s NOT okay; it’s making you upset. I’d say your solution is to Use Your Words and stop cheerfully accepting those cancellations. Tell your friend up front that you understand she may not be able to help needing to cancel, but you’re not going to rearrange stuff on her behalf anymore. If she wants to get together, it’s on her to initiate that. It might well be that she can’t and you don’t get to see her again for a while. But once you know that, you can start arranging your time more appropriately, and stop acting like you’re okay with a situation when you’re not.

      1. Yeah, I sure did get jumped on.

        I think you’re quite correct that it is the cheerful acceptance of changed plans that has led my friend to think that it is OK to keep on doing it. She has sometimes even told me in the past that she’s put me off in favor of people who are more demanding.

        With this latest streak of bad scheduling luck, It really was fine with me the first few times, but I guess I have a limit and we’ve reached it.

        1. And it’s perfectly okay to have a limit! I’ve definitely hit the point in the past where it’s just like “Look, this clearly isn’t going to happen. Why don’t you call me when you CAN commit to something.” Saying it made me feel both terrible and relieved. I hope things work out for you.

        2. I think that’s what hurts the most, as another childfree person who has had similar experiences. When your friends who are also parents blow you off or change the plan on you to accommodate OTHER people who are more demanding, it sucks. It really sucks. I’ve read enough Captain Awkward to know that people aren’t mentally tallying all of the accommodations you’ve made for them so that they can be sure to repay you in kind. What they actually do is proceed along established patterns. They’re used to you not being demanding, and so they don’t ever think about it that way.

          Also, I don’t like the way you got jumped on. Just know that there’s at least one other person who identifies with what you said. The feelings of hurt and frustration you shared are valid, and they don’t automatically make the feelings of parents less valid.

        3. Yeah, I think people project a lot when they read comments like this. Your friend may be like them (& thus they know exactly why you should give her a break), or she may not. You’re probably the better judge of what she’s like since you actually know her and know the context beyond 500 words in a comment box.

          The rescheduling-over-and-over is something that can also come up without kids, and I’ve been there. My friend had a more demanding job than me, it’s true, but what got me was the pattern that I was *always* the one to re-initiate after her cancellations. There was also a general pattern of telling me she liked me and wanted to hang out with me and I was one of her best friends, and then clearly prioritizing other people (some of whom she criticized to me in private) at get-togethers. I started to feel that she was actually more ambivalent about me than she wanted to admit. In the end that turned out to be true, though not for the reason I thought.

          I resolved it for myself by ceasing to throw wasted energy into trying to become what I picture as “good friends,” and accepting that being one of her best friends looks way different from being one of mine. (I don’t think she was lying about that part. I think she has issues about being friends with women. Nother story.) She knows my phone number. She’s busier than ever now and so am I (kids added since then for both of us), but I’m sure someday when we get a breather we’ll get together one-on-one again sometime.

          And I think, depending on how you feel about the friendship, the “Hey, you know my number if you want to get together” approach may be a good idea for you too. I’m all for making genuine accommodations for genuine difficulties, where she says “Well, it’s hard because I don’t know when the kid will be napping, can I call you when he wakes up? It should be somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00” and you say “Sure.” But that’s very different from her always cancelling and you always being the one to re-initiate.

    6. I do think there’s a difference between your situation and the LW’s though, because it doesn’t seem like the mom in question here is repeatedly cancelling plans so much as just not making plans in the first place, if that makes sense…like, repeatedly blowing someone off is shitty unless you have a pretty good reason to, whereas not being able/willing to pay for a babysitter and therefore not making plans that require one is not necessarily shitty.

    7. Thank you for this, and sorry you were rather jumped on. Reciprocity is so, so important for a friendship to survive. Extenuating circs happen, but six times in a row is a lot to accommodate. I’m sorry your friend is being this way.

  10. A thought:

    In a couple years, the kid may be ready to be left at home alone for a few hours. Obviously, this depends on the kid and J’s situation — maybe the kid’s father is a shit who will call CPS on her, maybe J is a worrier — but I was regularly left home alone for short periods of time starting when I was quite young, and I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous, especially if J isn’t that far and has a cell phone. (When I was a kid, my parents didn’t even have those.)

    Chances are this will sort itself out in a few years, is what I’m saying. That’s a long time to wait, but if things don’t improve and you continue to drift apart, you may have more success being friends when the kid is a little bit older.

    1. I second this. While people were a bit less protective towards kids in my day, I started being paid to babysit a nine month old when I was twelve years old. Eight is still a bit young to be left home alone, but a few years of development can make a huge difference in a child. So, by all means try to fix things now, because a few years is still a significant length of time, but this really is likely to get easier with time if the childcare is the key aspect that is causing difficulty getting together.

      1. A “mother’s helper” type role might be a great option. I did that when I was 12, for a pair of twins that lived across the street. Mom was home, but generally in another room or outside or whatever, and I did a lot of the primary child care taking. She was a frequently-single parent as the other parent was a commercial pilot and gone for extended stretches of time. When I got older I graduated to “normal” babysitting.

        It was great – I really loved the kids, I learned a lot about taking care of kids, I got to watch them learn stuff like “how to take off all my clothes! Oo, this is exciting, let’s run around the house!” And I made some cash.

  11. LW writes, “it grows more inconvenient as we grow up and move out the suburbs and away from each other.” I think there’s a lot right there in that sentence. Pardon me, but J____, a woman with an 8-year-old child, is a grown-up. Maybe J____ has sensed some judging from LW and the other friends in the group (who evidently have been discussing this together, without her around), making J____ feel a little reluctant to spend her limited time and money on hanging with these particular friends.

    And not to mommyjack the discussion, but I think a lot of LW’s trouble with the situation right now kind of boils down to LW not understanding because she’s not a parent. And not just not a parent, but not a single mom. If J____’s experience is anything like mine, she really does need to schedule her love life in a way that balances her own physical and emotional needs with the concerns she must have for her kid’s safety and well-being. That takes a lot of time, energy, and babysitting cash. Maybe J____ feels that she doesn’t need to expend as many resources to maintain her relationship with LW and the rest of that group. It’s not fair, and it’s probably a good way to begin the end of the friendships. But a lot of relationships end up being casualties of parenthood.

    . . . especially when any kind of discussion might be brought up to the parent in terms that sound like, “You have to choose between them and me” or “We were all talking about this behind your back and decided such and such.” Since J____ has limited time and cash, then LW’s concerns really could come across to her as, “You have to choose between getting laid and seeing this group of friends,” because “We were all talking about how you’re not managing your time with us and we all agree you’re being a selfish jerk.” This is not exactly what LW is saying in the letter here, but seriously it’s how J____ could interpret the conversation if it’s not brought up carefully. I’m not saying LW should walk on eggshells. But J____’s time-money-energy-meringue pie is only so big, and she may decide to quit reserving any slices at all for LW once this conversation happens.

    Finally, re the suburbs: It could be there’s a pretty concrete, practical reason why J____ doesn’t travel to you? I know that here in my town (Philadelphia PA) the expressways can be jammed with traffic at unexpected hours. So if I’m using a carshare or I’ve hired a babysitter, a 20-minute trip to the inner suburbs can take me an hour and a half to return home from. Traffic delays are inconvenient to car owners without kids, but they can cost me some real dollars in carshare penalty charges, or a babysitter who will no longer work for me.

    1. agree again. When a single parent chooses other things to do with their time, there is no one else around to, oh, I dunno…get groceries, or do laundry, or go the library, or watch the kid(s). It’s a huge juggling act of priorities, guilt, and exhaustion. I think those simple things that two adult or no kid households kind of take for granted are a bigger piece of the time-money-energy-meringue pie when it’s you and a minor.

      There is a sense of immaturity in the sentence (which Jenn noted too) suggesting that the friends that “grew up” are the ones who aren’t juggling all the usual pies AND the single parent tarts as well.

      I think Tincture of Time will resolve this, and I hope single friend has a set of friends who are kid-friendly to tide her over this group’s woes. The best friends are the ones that weather these sorts of lifeline mismatches, and the rest fade…I”m just hoping it happens either way without a lot of fanfare or angst.

    2. This woman has a lot less resources than you. She also doesn’t have a partner who’s looking out for her, as you do. She’s trying to protect her child and is being a good parent by not leaving her child alone, so if you want to see her more often, it really is on you to chip in to see her more. The Captain’s suggestions are great. Babysitting and childcare are expensive.

      It sounds as though you can’t see her perspective, but you really should try, as her place in life is so much harder than yours. If you want to keep her friendship, try seeing things from her place. The comment above mine is very insightful.

    3. I see what you are saying, but I think you are forgetting that the LW and the friend group have been babysitting for J for free. For these dates. It’s not like they are totally oblivious to her needs in the childcare department.

      1. Yup, they are babysitting for her.. and they’re also apparently holding grudges about it and talking behind her back for doing it. How kind.

        It would be kinder to simply address the issue or else move on rather than being passive aggressive.

        1. Yes. I’d also like to point out that the various friends in the group *may* have at least started off offering to sit for free (I have no way of knowing, but it’s possible), and then the Letter Writer never told their friend when the free sitting wore out it’s proverbial welcome. My best friend offered to sit for us for free when we first move here. I insisted on paying her because 1) we can afford it and she could use the extra cash so it’s only fair and 2) I wanted her to keep volunteering to sit for us. Since the LW specifically put in the term free, that seems to be bugging them to at least some degree. Sounds idea to talk about expectations. They may not want to ask for money because being a single mum is hard on the finances, but maybe next time their friend asks them to sit they can suggest an exchange of favors. Something like, “Sure! I’m totally there on Saturday if you’ll help me with X project. I’m really having a rough time with it.” Making sure of course to sound upbeat so it goes over easier. It might even be best to start with fun “favors”, like picking out a new purchase or such. Hopefully that sort of thing can help with some of the resentful feels that seem to be brewing there and make it feel more like an exchange. If that doesn’t sound good either, using their words and explaining that the free sitting is no longer welcome is probably a good idea.

        2. I don’t think that talking about their frustration with her being unavailable unless they come to her, especially since it’s coupled with her talking about missing them, necessarily means that they’re “holding grudges” or even talking about the babysitting in particular behind her back. I also didn’t see any indication that they’re being passive aggressive. Where are you getting that from?

      2. Well, then maybe single friend is a person that uses her friends…but again, to state that as more than a possibility or an assumption overlooks all the other reasons that may exist for the situation to be what it currently is (and it`s kind of the least generous version). Obviously this is a friend they like enough to babysit for, and to wish for more contact with, so it is worth their while to investigate solutions rather than linger on their made-up versions of what is going on for single friend. Casual hypothesizing can have more ill effect than malevolently planning to do harm to a relationship, so I think the Captain`s advice is still the wisest course of action – involve everyone in finding a solution.

        1. See I assumed she mentioned the babysitting etc as… context. Not to complain about how terrible and unfair it was, just to demonstrate that they’ve all been trying.

          1. This is how I took it, too. And if she hadn’t said it, there would have been a dozen comments saying, “Well, have you ever offered to babysit for her while she goes on dates so she’ll have more money for a babysitter to hang out with you?”

      3. Yup. There seem to be a lot of accusations of “just not understanding a parent’s life situation” flying around considering that a) free babysitting has been given, b) the friend group has made an active attempt to maintain the friend’s inclusion, despite increasing distance, and c) an apparent willingness to travel to friend’s house 100% of the time in order to accommodate their needs for EIGHT YEARS.

        This is not someone failing to get why their newly-parenting friend suddenly has priorities other than going clubbing at midnight on a Tuesday, it’s someone who is becoming frustrated with what feels like a lopsided status quo trying to redefine how things work without damaging the friendship.

        1. And yet, from the LW’s own words, they waited 8 years to bother to bring up their frustrations and have continued with the status quo. That’s a long time to let something fester. Single mom is not a mind reader and she may not even realize that her friends are that irritated with her.

          1. You’re right, eight years is too long not to bring it up. But I’m thinking that the friends were operating under the belief that it was short term (i.e. while the kid’s a toddler it’s like this, once they’re in school things will change). Not being a mind reader (as you say) the friend has probably assumed everyone is okay with how things are (except for the “I’m sad and lonely” statements). Some communication is definitely needed, but I still think the friend group has overall tried to be reasonable and sensitive.

          2. It’s also possible that the LW hasn’t been feeling these frustrations for eight years. She said that it wasn’t a problem early on when they were all in the same neighborhood – it seems like it’s only become an issue as they’ve all left the neighborhood and settled in different suburbs. If she’s also found herself with less free time because of other responsibilities, I can see how this would start to bug now when it hadn’t really registered before.

        2. Yeah, I don’t think the LW is being unreasonable or unfair at all. I do think that she probably should have brought this up sooner, because it’s really easy–particularly if LW and other friends are the ones who moved away–for her friend to get used to assuming that this is okay with everyone.

      4. That actually made me wonder a lot about why them babysitting for free so that J could have a friend-date didn’t come up. Does J never ask, or is J ashamed to ask, or do they never offer because hanging out with friends isn’t seen as special enough to try helping/asking for help with?

        (I’m not saying it isn’t important enough, I’m saying it might be seen as something they’re supposed to /think/ isn’t important enough. Because “it’s normal for gals to blow of gal friends for romance”, apparently.)

      5. I’m not sure of all the circumstances behind this free babysitting, but it likely also means they’re aware she doesn’t have much money for babysitting. Since, you know, she has to ask friends to help her with it rather than paying for someone.

    4. I read the “we” in that sentence (“we grow up and move out the suburbs and away from each other”) as including J. As in, the entire group of friends moved to the suburbs, but to different towns–so they’re spread out over a large area rather than living in the same city neighborhood. I don’t think the LW was implying that J wasn’t a grown-up at all–I thought she was saying that *all* of them are growing up, which is why they’ve gotten busier and geographically farther apart.

      1. Yeah, that’s the impression I got, too.

        To me it sounds like their single-mom friend might have had the baby at a relatively young age (in/right after high school, maybe?) and the rest of the friend group is now in the stage of their lives where they are growing up and moving away from their hometown. I didn’t read the LW’s usage of “grow up” with anything other than a chronological meaning.

    5. And not to mommyjack the discussion, but I think a lot of LW’s trouble with the situation right now kind of boils down to LW not understanding because she’s not a parent. … Maybe J____ feels that she doesn’t need to expend as many resources to maintain her relationship with LW and the rest of that group. It’s not fair, and it’s probably a good way to begin the end of the friendships. But a lot of relationships end up being casualties of parenthood.

      That’s entirely reasonable on its face. We all have to prioritize in the face of time constraints, and all other things equal, people with kids have significantly more time constraints than people who don’t.

      On the other hand, LW didn’t write in because J doesn’t make time for her anymore. LW wrote in because J doesn’t make time for her, and then J complains that LW and the others aren’t making time for J. A lot of commenters have offered good ideas about how J could meet everybody in a kid-friendly location that isn’t her house. If J wants to see her friends, maybe she could suggest those possibilities herself.

      I get that it’s a lot harder to have plans outside the house when you’re bringing young kids with you. It’s fine for J’s friends to visit her house most of the time. Still, given that J is complaining about the state of things, is it unreasonable to ask her to make an effort that’s greater than zero?

    6. I know the Captain picked up on the “grow up” bit too, but when she did that, it made me wonder and I re-checked what the LW said. Here’s the thing. You and the Captain both assumed that the “we” didn’t include Single Mom, but there is nothing objective in the sentence to indicate that. It goes from “we were all in the same neighborhood” (which clearly means everyone including Single Mom) to “as we grow up and move out to the ‘burbs.”

      Maybe people are assuming Single Mom is excluded from the second “we” because single moms can’t afford the ‘burbs? Otherwise, I really don’t see how the sentence excludes her. I really don’t think that’s what the LW meant.

  12. I’m reading this letter and thinking how the tables are going to turn in a few years. I was the first person in my group to have a baby, and a few years after that I became a single parent, so for a long time I didn’t see my friends unless she could come with me. Now she’s a teenager and I have scads of time to hang out, but my friends all have two or three younger kids and are too busy with their activities to get together. Sigh.

  13. Single mom to a similar aged child in the LW’s scenario

    When I was dating, I would also save all babysitter time (twice or three times a month) for dates. I very much wanted to be in a relationship. A lot. Part of dates having babysitter priority was that It was hard to get a relationship off the ground when I was only able to see someone for 2-4 hours one time a week.

    I felt that my real friends were going to be my friends whether we did daytime fun stuff (coffee, thrifting, walks) or nightime drinking stuff.
    The people who were actually my friends have stuck around, and I love them.

  14. Thank for the great advice on this Captain. I have nothing to add but I will say that as a lifetime single mom money has always been super scarce and even though I am lucky to have family nearby to help out its been a long hard road of juggling priorities trying to date and be social and be a great mom.

    As has been pointed out when a single mom is getting to know a new beau it’s often a priority to get to know them alone first for an extended period of time and ensure things are progressing on a somewhat serious track before one even tries to introduce kids so when money and time are tight friends sadly fall by the wayside. It’s not “fair” but everyone only has so much to give and if you want to find a partner than most of your available babysitting funds will be used towards that.

    I feel a little bit based on the “we all talked and we’re all getting sick of this” that your group has a bit of a girlfriends do everything together vibe and that often clashes with single parenting because people who have kids and want to be parents don’t want to abandon them all of the time for adults-only group outings that are just like “old times” your priorities can shift without you even realizing and then the entire friendship dynamic has to change. I’ve really had to work to manage my time and ensure each of my friendships had my undivided attention at least once every two months with lots of advanced notice and planning and it definitely gets lonely at times but I put everything I have into it. The friendships that were worth it have lasted all the way with some chats about why things are as they are and a bit of accommodation from everyone and it’s definitely not the same but it works. ♡

    I hope everyone works things out together and your friendship only grows from here and should you someday find yourself in a busy parenting role I hope everyone steps up to the plate for you as well.

  15. Seconding what has been said upthread regarding the reason why dates get babysitter priority. It’s not “because getting a new man is more important than time with female friends” – it’s both a safety and a mental health issue. For a kid that age, it is important to go super slow with introducing and developing attachment to new Important Adult (and unfortunately, “mother’s new boyfriend” is statistically one of the more likely potential abusers in a child’s life – I used to work in child welfare and this was a constant thing there).

    And because of all of this, there is a lot of pressure on single moms to just Be Good Women Who Don’t Date, simultaneously with lots of pressure to find a replacement “father figure” for the kid if the biological father is not actively involved anymore. It’s a crap-awful Catch-22.

    1. “and unfortunately, “mother’s new boyfriend” is statistically one of the more likely potential abusers in a child’s life – I used to work in child welfare and this was a constant thing there”

      I still work in child welfare and I actually just did a lot of research about how girls of divorced/single parents are more likely to be sexually abused than girls in “intact” families. Many of my CPS cases ended up being mom’s boyfriend or stepdad. It’s a scary position for a single mom to be in. You not only want your child to like the person, you want your child to be safe with the person and a lot of pedophiles focus on single moms because they see them as easy targets. It’s sick. You’re absolutely right. It is a horrible catch-22 for single moms.

      1. I’d be careful there, though. Both my academic research and practical experience would indicate that abuse ny biological parents is more common than previously recorded – because obviously it’s a lot less likely that children would implicate biological parents than stepparents.

  16. Why can’t this group of friends, all of whom seem reasonably comfortable babysitting for J’s kids, organize a round-robin? “Okay, J – this week, if you’re interested in going to the girls’ night, I’m your allocated babysitter. No, it’s OK that I’m missing it… this is an activity that I’m not wild to go on in the first place, which is why I volunteered for tonight’s shift; and I’ll get paid back by attending a lot of the other events with you, because those nights it will be someone else’s turn to serve as Designated Babysitter. You’re welcome to skip any week you don’t *want* to come out, of course – nobody wants to go to everything, all the time; the point of this isn’t to force you into anything. But we wanted to make sure that a lack of babysitting would never again have you saying no when you really wanted to say yes. So anytime the group of us get together and you *do* want to say yes, say it – and we will serve you up a babysitter from the gang; someone you’ve already had sit before, whom the kids are used to, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

    1. ooooo, good one! I like this, and it would definitely make everyone feel closer, rather than more polarised. I like it a lot, and I think it would have been amazing (plus these friends will benefit later from now-empty-nest experienced-mom sitting for them (or this young man they are helping to raise will be of age to babysit, and have had a sane and supported mom showing the way)

    2. That’s exactly what I was thinking when I got to the part where the LW said they’d babysat before. That seems like a nice, at least partial, solution to this if they’re still up for babysitting.

    3. I like this idea a lot also because it seems like it would transition really well if/when other members of the group have kids of their own – one person takes babysitter duty for all the kids, and the others do whatever, and then the responsibility switches the next week. This seems like the kind of strategy that will not only help J now, but would probably help them all maintain a closer bond later. So smart!

  17. This thread has been so, so helpful and reassuring. Having to chose where to spend time and energy and money, and with a huge commitment to raising my kid the very best way I know how, I know I have passed up invitations and relationships when there just wasn`t enough of one or more of those elements to go around. Will I enjoy a night out enough to make up for being exhausted and possibly short-tempered the next day when there is no help? Can I afford to pay the babysitter enough so that I can plan on being out long enough to make the getting ready worthwhile? If I go out on a date one evening this week, how do I balance that against spending time with my child, who is also busy with activities? If all the girls are going out drinking til close, is that an appropriate way to spend my time/money/energy, knowing I will still have to be up at 7am, Saturday be damned? If I go out and have to leave early, will that “count against me”? So many questions and concerns and yes, even a bit of guilt and jealousy.

    I’m glad to hear I”m pretty normal, single-parently speaking.

    1. Your comment really resonated with me so much. Especially these parts: “Will I enjoy a night out enough to make up for being exhausted and possibly short-tempered the next day when there is no help?” and “If all the girls are going out drinking til close, is that an appropriate way to spend my time/money/energy, knowing I will still have to be up at 7am, Saturday be damned? If I go out and have to leave early, will that “count against me”?” Even my friends who have kids also have husbands who could “take over” for the kids on the weekends if we went out. But I didn’t have that option, so I always left early and I always got a guilt trip from it. It’s even worse now that I moved about an hour away from that particular group to be closer to my job. It’s hard to commit to staying out til after midnight when I know I’ve got an hour drive home and even on the weekends I don’t have my kid, I still have things to do before she comes home (i.e. laundry, grocery shopping, etc.).

      I’m not a single mom anymore, but old habits die hard and even now with help, I’m still my kid’s number 1 go-to person.

      1. Just wanted to say that I am so sorry your friends gave you a guilt trip for leaving early. Nobody should be emotionally blackmailed into ‘staying until the end’ (always has resulted in disaster for me) but esp. not if you have kids!

      2. As a dance teacher who teaches in the evenings to adults, I try to make classes as non-exclusive as possible. For a lot of my students, getting to class is their adult social time for the week, and valuing that for them fosters loyalty and repeat customers.

        Got a small person who can nap in a pram while you dance? Bring them.
        Need to feed said small person at some point? There’s no comfy parents room at the venue, but I can make sure there’s a chair in a room with a door if you need a quiet spot to feed them.
        Got a small person who enjoys being handed round for cuddles? There’s a bazillion volunteers to cuddle a small child for the length of a song while they sit down and rest.
        Non-single parents with a child who needs a primary entertainer with them? Swap off entertainment duties at intervals throughout the night, as and when necessary.
        Got older kids who can sit and do homework in a corner? Here’s a corner, and volunteers to help if they need it.

        For me, making the environment not actively anti-children is a sound business decision. It’s cheaper for the parents than hiring a babysitter, and especially if the small person is breastfeeding, means reduced isolation for the parents. The kids do have to be able to not interrupt the class, which is not a given. And not all parents choose to do this – and it’s totally their choice to make the best decision they can in their circumstances for their kids. But it’s up to me to make it so they don’t have to choose between dancing and parenting.

    2. Single parent jedi hugs!

      My kid is close to finishing high school, but her dad and I split when she was in preschool. Though she is perfectly capable of feeding herself, getting her homework done, and heading out the door for school or whatever the next morning, I still don’t like to go out at night and leave her alone. She doesn’t need me there, but I feel bad about not giving her the stability of having an adult in the house.

      So I’ve had a devil of a time over the past 10 years trying to maintain my adult relationships among friends who are child-free or started their own families 5 or 8 years after I did. Maybe some of them are resentful that I seemed to abandon them? Maybe some of them “get it” now that they have kids? Maybe I’m disappointed, too, that I’ve missed quite a few parties and outings because my money went to the kid’s music lessons instead of girls’ night out? Life happens, but seriously, within reason, I can’t afford to put energy into guilt at how “badly” I maintain relationships with adults when I’m trying to bring a child to a healthy adulthood herself.

  18. I’m probably taking this too personally but “it grows more inconvenient as we grow up and move out the suburbs” suggests to me that you see yourself/ves as “grown up” but not your friend? I’m sorry but I find that really insulting.

    I don’t know the ages of the people involved here so I’m just going to give *my* perspective on *my* situation.

    Yes, I made a mistake/was irresponsible/slipped up (whatever language you like) and I was pregnant at 19. I was with the father but now I’m a single parent. I’ve never had a full-time job. I’ve never traveled outside my country. Technically I’ve never owned a car and I sure as hell have never bought property. A lot of these incidentals may look like I never “grew up”. But I grew up a long time ago and I had to do it super fast.

    Sometimes I see my friend’s facebook updates and I wonder why/how they find drinking, dancing, staying up all night so entertaining. They’ve traveled, worked “real” jobs, bought cars and homes and probably investment portfolios too. They go to mardi gras and popup bars and theme nights at clubs and TBH even if I had the time, money and other resources, if they invited me to something like that I’d say “no”.

    Even if I was interested in those sorts of events, babysitter+cover charge+drinks+taxi etc = a whole lot of $$$. I got really good at cheap dates – something that’s easier to do with just two people rather than with a group. I was very discerning with my “babysitting quota” and would often use it for a date instead of a night out with friends. Friendship is great, but it can’t provide everything a partner does (nor should it). Also sex! I don’t think my friends would be interested in having (safe, consensual) sex with me!

    If my friend came to me and was bothered because I spent money on babysitters for dates but not friends, I don’t know what I’d do. Probably becomes really defensive and upset and most likely end the relationship in some way.

    If my friend came to me and said, “I want to spend more time with you – how can we make that work?” I would probably suggest coffee or a quiet drink or something very different to themed nights at a club.

    This may all be a clear indication that this relationship has moved on. Whether that mean redefining it or ending it, I don’t know.

    I don’t know. This post hit a nerve for me.

    1. I mentioned this upthread, but I thought that the LW was including J when she said they were growing up. I don’t see any reason why she would insult J like that–she seemed to be talking about the group as a whole, not just the non-single-mom friends.

      1. Yeah, I took “as we grow up” to mean that the group as a whole is getting older, which can make it harder to schedule things. Which has definitely been true in my experience. Considering the societal view is often “has a kid=grown up, no kid=probably spends all the time partying” it just didn’t even occur to me that it could be taken that way.

    2. Agreed. I really hate the usage that equates buying certain things is more “grown up” than others (or that the items themselves are “grown up” items.) It’s so classist.

      1. Thanks–I was trying to figure out why that line rubbed me the wrong way, and I think you nailed it. The way we define adulthood in our culture is so fucked up.

        Which may not be how the LW meant it at all, but it’s something to think about.

    3. Just chiming in to say I’m another person who read “we” as “all of us including J”.

      I’m curious why so many saw it differently. Is it b/c of linking it to “moving to the suburbs” maybe?

      1. The LW says that J is driving all of the extended friend circle crazy – we babysit, we are frustrated, etc. so it was ambiguous to me, too. It’s like the recent polyamory letter – if you use “we” a certain way to mean a group-within-the-group 10 times and then once it means we as in everyone, it IS difficult to parse whether that one “we” includes your antagonist.

  19. I’m willing to bet that part of this is just the fact that the friend group settled into a pattern of visiting the single mom friend once she became the single mom and it hasn’t occurred to her to break that pattern. When she misses you, she asks you to come visit because that’s just how it’s worked for 8 years.

  20. I get the impression that LW and her other friends don’t just want J to spend more time with them, they maybe want the ‘old’ J back, the one who hasn’t been through a huge life change and is now a single parent.

    I’m wondering if when they do meet up with her, those outings exist in a bubble where nothing’s different, because it isn’t for them (except for ‘growing up’ and moving to the suburbs. BTW, probably J can’t afford to move to the suburbs because of her responsibilities. Fulfilling responsibilities, and taking on new ones and fulfilling those, are what makes you a grown-up.)

    If that’s the case, then hanging out with you guys is probably a strain for J, a time when she’s less able to be herself. No matter how much she loves you guys. She might want, as a self-care thing, to try to meet some new people, get some more people on Team J… go on dates. That might be a higher priority than being with the people who used to get her and don’t any more.

    1. I’m not getting that sense at all, particularly since the “old” J seems to have left the building eight or nine years ago. That’s a long time to hang around hoping that the “old” J will come back. I also didn’t take the OP’s comment about growing up and moving the suburbs as being a slight against J – I think the OP was just saying that everyone, J included, has grown up and moved away, so there’s more distance involved.

      The OP also said, specifically:

      Meanwhile, she feels lonely and sad when we can’t find the time – and will tell us so.

      That doesn’t sound like hanging out with her friends is a strain for J because she can’t be herself, or like she’s actively distancing herself from them because she wants to meet new people.

  21. Honestly I just can’t get past the selfishness of “how dare she spend her money on trying to find a loving lifetime relationship rather than on us.”

    If any one of the women in the original LW’s group was to be told they had to pay $30-$50 every time they wanted to do something social, no matter who it was with, how would they prioritize that money? Would they be more likely to spend that money on their group of girlfriends or would they spend it on a potential future relationship?

    Being a single mom with limited resources is hard enough. Trying to find a relationship that both makes you happy and is good for your child is even harder. Having friends who talk about you behind your back and get angry because you spend your limited resources on family and trying to build a balanced life rather than going out with girlfriends? That sucks.

    1. I guess you missed the part where the mom’s selfish horrible awful friends regularly babysit so she can go on dates?

    2. There’s so much we don’t know about the quality of the friendships, and the respective views on life of the LW and her friend. I agree the LW might be in her 20s based on the “grow up and move the suburbs line,” and the implication that her friend is the only mother among them. I think it depends a LOT on your priorities – if you focus on building a relationship and family, do you dump your friends and acquire new ones? (Maybe so, if the friendship has really run its course. A single mother may not need these friends. But she might really need good ones.) If a support network of friends/community is equally important to you, you might want to give both priority – sometimes only focusing on your family for years can lead to a lot of loneliness later on in life.

      In my case, I’m childless and in my late 30s, and definitely the odd one out in terms of making plans with parents, which sounds like it’s not the case with the LW. But you learn to roll with it, because children are real people and not just inconveniences to plans, and presumably your friends and their children are important. And there’s a lot of ways to hang out with friends and their kids. Being childless doesn’t equal a non-child-friendly social life, especially once you’re AT the “grown up and moved to the suburbs” stage.

    3. I think moonb’s response to this comment is good (and Julia’s) but you have an implicit assumption about people’s “natural” priorities that is just not accurate.

      I am twenty-six, and I cannot imagine prioritizing finding romantic love above my friendships. It would be cool if it happened, but the actual process is not worth money to me, whereas my friends are worth all kinds of travel/inconvenience/gifts/whatever. My friendships ARE lifetime relationships, they DO provide me with balance, and I get more emotional support from them than I could reasonably expect to get from dating for years and years.

      Now, I don’t have children — but in my family, if you look at how people distribute their resources and time, it’s not actually that uncommon for women to value their close friendships above and beyond a primary romantic partnership, even those who have kids. Of course, the kid is the first priority, and that’s probably how it should be, but assuming that any given person will make the same choice as another presented a certain situation (in this case “what relationships do you spend your money on”) is both inaccurate and unhelpful.

  22. I’m sorry, but a lot of the assumptions here are making me uncomfortable. The LW and her friends aren’t necessarily childless. We don’t know. And I’m finding some of the lecturing to childless people here a bit condescending and assuming that we don’t care about mothers/can’t possibly understand their needs stuff a bit annoying, especially since my choice to be a childless woman is already regularly shit upon as it is.

    1. Ugh, sorry everyone. I am just tired and have to deal with this a lot in my life. I think I am reacting more to that than this thread.

      1. I don’t know about that – I’m having the same reaction, especially since it seems like a lot of commenters are thinking the worst of the LW and overlooking a lot of what she’s said.

        1. Yeah I’m right there with you; the tone of a lot of these comments of ‘you can’t possibly understand!’, ‘it’s selfish of you if you’re upset or not cool with the current arrangement in any way!’ is pissing me right off.

        2. I’m having the same reaction, with an additional kick of “but I’d hoped to already have a couple kids of my own by now, thanks low fertility and miscarriages” that always stings a little extra when people get on the “if you don’t have kids you don’t get it” train.

        3. I’m kind of having that reaction too, and I AM the only parent in a scattered friend group, so I don’t think it’s just people without children being oversensitive.

    2. I think there might be a bit of an issue where there aren’t a lot of details in the letter, and the emotional issues involved (having children vs. remaining childless; the way friendships change when somebody’s life changes; navigating adult socialization when you’ve got a kid) carry a lot of baggage for many people. It just becomes really easy to project experiences onto the letter (and I include myself in that).

    3. I agree. I’m not a parent, but I’m very close with my brother and his wife, and my adorable niece. I’ve observed how their lives have changed and how limited their options and resources are. I do actually know (and care about) how things are different for parents vs. childree people. This attitude of “you’ll never truly understand me until you have kids of your own!” is one that gets old very quickly.

    4. No, I’m with you. This is super fraught and there’s a lot of dogpiling going on, assuming facts not in evidence. I’m childless and not by choice, so I’m sometimes oversensitive to stuff like this, but I’m reading a lot of “you’re selfish for not wanting to be the only one who puts herself out there for this friendship because she’s a mommy now.”

  23. LW, I’m a lot more sympathetic to you – I totally get what you’re saying about having friends that reprioritize their lives to include another person at the expense of, well, you and you just wanting to spend some time with your friend. It sucks. It’s necessary and understandable, but it sucks.

    How is it working now? It sounds like you guys are babysitting for her (yay!) but how often does she get to see you? And how often do you see her without a kid? Once a month? Once every three months? Once a year or less? I think you need to set reasonable expectations with yourself on how often you want/need to see her as your friend – and measure time in months here, not weeks – and then kinda roll with that. I get being annoyed if she’s out on a date once a week or more but hasn’t been out to see you in over a year. 52 dates being prioritized over 1 friends’ night would be hard to take; but if she gets out with you guys every 3-6 months, well, I’m going to say she’s actually making you guys a priority.

    While I agree with everyone else about making kid-friendly spaces a priority when you want to be with her, I also think that when you’re with a friend and their kid, you’re not really out with the friend, no matter how low-key their child is. They’ve always got half their attention on the child and there will always be interruptions from the kid they might deal with. You’re out with So-and-so’s Mom first and your friend second. So, again, figure out your expectations – how often are you willing to go to child-friendly places, how often do you want to see her outside of her house, and how often do you need one-on-one time? Is this reasonable with what she’s been signalling she can give to you? Can you accommodate her in other ways to help make this happen?

    Then, once you’ve got this straight in your head (and not the group’s head, because everyone’s got to figure this out for themselves), communicate with her gently – not to set expectations but to try to get a sense of whether or not she can meet yours, by using the excellent suggestions above and verbalizing how much effort you’re willing to put in to keep on seeing her – in a positive way, of course. When she says she misses you, answer with, “Yeah, I miss you too! I’m free all next week/any Thursday/let me know a week in advance and I’ll be happy to clear my weekend schedule for you – I hear the kid’s museum is open/I know Brenda from our friend group owes you a day of babysitting.”

    And also, if you decide that you need more from a friendship than she’s able to give right now, it’s okay to graciously and kindly let the friendship fade. Don’t place blame or get angry with her – it’s no one’s fault if life changes and so does your friendship. If this has been 8 years of free babysitting, always going over to her place, and never getting one on one time with a close friend, I think a re-evaluation of the friendship is fair. (If she’s been going through a rough patch in the last year or so, I would probably give it a little longer before reconsidering.) Her life is different now and so is yours.

    1. I think the part about making these decisions and communicating them AS INDIVIDUALS is so important. Because if you approach it as ‘We have all talked and decided XYZ”, even if you do so with kindness and good intentions, she’s probably going to feel attacked. Make it about your relationship with your friend as an individual, not about her relationship with The Group, if that makes any sense.

  24. I wonder if the financial situation is more than just cost of babysitter.

    Friends come hang out: cost = snacks? bottle of wine?
    Go out with friends: cost= babysitter, transportation, cover fee and drinks? entree and drinks? ticket to show?

    Single income parenting doesn’t leave a lot of spare cash for the parent to use on themself. If the outing costs $50ish even before babysitting factors in I can see how maybe getting a baby sitter isn’t necessarily the primary issue here, it might just be the one that J can use to save face. No one likes to be the “poor” friend.

    “Sorry, can’t afford babysitter” might be easier to say than, “Sorry, we’ve eaten nothing but ramen this week as it is and I can’t spend that much on one night for just me.”

        1. I agree that this is a problem in general, but I’m struggling to see how it relates to the LW’s letter.

          1. That she might consider what things they’re planning and make sure to include some cheapie ones in case that’s a factor. That fixing the issue of babysitters may not be actually fixing the situation. That the friend complaining about missing her friends might be driven by the friend struggling with finances and shame rather than trying to send any message to friend about their failing to come over.

          2. This is a good policy in general, absolutely – but I’m really not seeing any indication that the LW is “shaming” J for spending money on herself and going out on dates.

          3. Zillah: I never said she was? I said society does. To point out the pressures that are telling the friend that she shouldn’t spend money on herself.

    1. OMG, never thought of that— since in certain circles, the man is expected to pay for the meal as a courtesy to the woman for “auditioning” him or something (never got that, but was raised in a feminist family). It may very well be that sort of financial issue.

  25. I don’t have kids. I do have friends who had kids and subsequently had a lot less time for me. That was sad, but I wasn’t angry with them because of course they didn’t have as much time.

    But none of those friends ever told me how sad and lonely they were because I didn’t come around.

    I’m not sure where some of the commenters’ anger toward LW and her friends is coming from. It seems like they’ve have been plenty accommodating.

    1. That’s the part that struck me in this letter. Taken at face value, it sounds like the friends are investing. Lot of their time and energy in free babysitting, and then getting feelingsbombed by J for not having more time for her despite that. I can understand that the lack of reciprocity would be wearying after a while. Not to say that J or the LW is a bad person or at fault, but it’s a rough situation.

    2. This this this! It sounds to me like she’s been very understanding (as you are), but your friends don’t weaponize guilt, or assume that you’re the only one who should flex. Someone’s behavior isn’t okay here, and I don’t think it’s LW’s.

  26. We’re doing the same, always driving the 1.5 h out to our friends to see them, ever since they had the kids (first one 7 years ago) but V and M make *an effort* to get a baby sitter once in a while and go out with us in our neck of the woods. And they compensate our gas with good food.
    On the other hand I have a friend who does not have a baby and she simply can’t be bothered to move her sorry ass around to my place but whines when we don’t see each other in her place often enough. My approach was to tell her I can’t afford the extra time for travel but if she’s lonely she can drop by on day X, let me know. I did that a couple of times in a row after I’d been to her place for many times, and she finally got the idea. Now we are doing more or less 50% here and 50% there.

    So, LW, I’d “call out” your friend whenever her own reactions don’t match. Not even call out, but simply show her how discrepant she is. Don’t want to come but still sad you are alone? Well, one or the other. Make up your mind.

    Skipping in with babysitter money is a good idea, too. Depending on what you do, you could also let her bring the kid and have her or him sleep on the couch. And also, with 8 a child may be able to stay at home alone if the neighbour has a key and the kid can operate a telephone. That might cut down on the cost as well. (I know I know, different standards. My parents started that when I was six and could operate a phone, but I was a good girl and usually asleep when they were gone).

    1. In a lot of places, these days, there are laws about how old a child must be before being left alone. There are many, many places where it would be illegal to leave an 8 year old alone.

    2. Being a parent is not the same thing as ‘can’t be bothered’. Single mum has responsibilities and no back up. Every parent experiences some loneliness after having a child. I am the only one of my friends to have children. It can be very lonely at times and I often worry that my friends feel that they are not important to me anymore. It could be that confessions of loneliness are her way of letting them know how much they are missed. Why should she be called out for that?

      1. This. I think LW’s friend needs to make an effort, but ‘I’m so lonely I want to see my friends, but I can’t find babysitting/don’t want to be 3 hours away in case something happens/haven’t slept more than 2 hours a night this week’ is definitely a thing.

  27. Dear lw,

    I’m getting something a little bit different out of your question to what the captain is, so I’m going to answer that instead; I may very well be wrong, in which case, ignore me, go with the captain.

    I appreciate it’s frustrating to be in your position. You have made alterations in your relationship with J, you have put in the lion’s share of time and energy because you acknowledge that your friend now has higher priorities than keeping up with you, I get that it must hurt that after 8 years of doing this you still don’t (apparently) rate high enough for hanging out with you to be enough of a priority that a sitter can be paid for very occasionally, but it is a false equivalency; it’s not that you don’t rate highly enough, it’s that you are close enough you get invited to that special category of activities called ‘hanging out with J AND the child’. Other people do not rate this. I think the captain has covered that bit reasonably thoroughly.

    The bit I think that has been missed is where J says things like she misses you and feels lonely and what that then makes you feel. Because to someone in the relationship you have with J, I find it really easy to believe that a lot of your frustration comes from the fact that her saying that can cause guilt that you’re ‘leaving her out’ or potentially you’re hearing and unsaid ‘please fix this for me’ after those words, and it’s really easy to get frustrated with that when from your perspective it would be really easy for her to fix- have less dates and more hanging out.

    However, things to remember are
    1) Just because she’s a parent doesn’t mean a magical switch in her head has been flicked and she no longer enjoys what you used to do before she had a child. She probably is lonely, a bit, and does miss those times. You don’t need to fix it though. She won’t be expecting you to fix it. In the same way you might want to moan about a bad day or a job you hate, she might just need to vent, and would like you to listen.

    Now, if every conversation you have with her ends with her bringing this up, that is a problem, but it’s a problem that isn’t related to her being a parent, and you can treat her in the same way you would treat any friend that kept steering conversation back to talk about their problems.

    It might be the case you don’t know what to say to this. My default response to such situations is to commiserate, but you can’t do that, because while it’s ok for her to be wistful over what life would be like without the child, it’s not an ok thing for anyone else. So, two potential strategies:
    – take the hopeful approach and remind her she doesn’t have that many years to go before kiddo can be left alone on the odd evening and then she’s freer to socialize than she is right now.
    – the ‘share the misery’ option, where when she says this, you contribute something about your life that is awkward and you can’t change. Eg ‘I’m lonely’ ‘I hate my job…gosh, we’re not in a great place right now, let’s talk about it while having ice cream’ and then you all have a big vent and get it off your chest.

    2) you don’t need to feel guilty for having an adult social life, and I sincerely doubt your friend wants you to. They might moan about their situation, but that doesn’t mean they genuinely expect you to turn your life around so they (and child) can join in with everything you do. If they seem particularly down, maybe tone down any wild stories of childfree shenanigans, but other than that, try to remember your friend does not want you to clip your own wings to fit in with what she can partake in and only that, and it would be unreasonable if she asked you to.

    3) There is a chance, I would like to point out, an extremely low chance but it is a chance, that you are not imagining that silent ‘fix it’ on the end of the sentence and J really is being unreasonable about this. In which case, using your words is going to be your best tactic. If she honestly does seem to be saying this in a pointed manner, your best response is ‘what are you asking me to do about that?’ At which point you can have a clear and honest conversation about what she seems to be expecting vs. the reality of what you can do.

    *all the Jedi hugs for you* lw; maintaining friendships and other relationships when one of you has gone through a major life-turned-upside-down and the other hasn’t is HARD, and I just want to give you props for the fact that you’ve not only done so, you’re still putting in the effort to do so, because a lot of other people would have just drifted away and it really says something about how much you care about J that you’re looking for a solution. I hope you manage to find one that works for everyone.

  28. Oh LW, I understand how it feels when you realize it has been years since you saw your friend sans child. My go to solution for friends with older kids is daytime, weekend meetups when the child is involved in other activities, play dates, etc.. One option is to find free/low cost kids activities at your local museum, parks, university, rec center, etc.(luckily you have babysat the child and know her/his interests) and suggest brunch at a place nearby. Child gets time doing fun kid stuff, you, your friends and J get time doing fun adult stuff.

    Another option, if J and her child have this kind of relationship with anyone, is weekend play dates where moms alternate watching all the kids for 3-4 hours while the other moms get some downtime. A single mom friend has a group of other single moms who have a rotating play date on Sundays so everyone covers once a month and has a few free hours on her off weeks. A few others have something similar but with just 2 of them every other month.

  29. Single parenthood is not the sad state everyone makes it out to be, but it is a serious logistical question every time you have to leave your kids for a night out. I’m a single parent. In the last fifteen years, I’ve used a paid babysitter exactly twice. It’s extremely expensive to hire a sitter on top of whatever expenses I’m also spending on going out. A calm night out for dinner and a drink would easily chalk up to $100. Frankly, an extra $100 can make or break that pay period — it means less groceries, less gas, no fun money for kid stuff, and definitely no savings.

    I’m pretty vocal that if people want to see me my kids will usually have to tag along. I request we dine at family-friendly places at relatively early times. That might mean we meet at the cool new pub and grill at 7pm for dinner and I duck out by nine when my friends are ready to go bar-hopping. Even this is expensive for me. A dinner out for me and the kiddos is $40-50 unless we meet at McDonald’s or Chipotle. Even McDonald’s is a $20 visit.

    Otherwise, my free social time is limited to the two weekends a month my kids are away, and then by the spending money I have left to spend on myself after paying bills (including daycare which is as much as I spend on rent). I might not have money left to spend on lady time. I might instead be inviting my ladies to my house for wine and chatter. I might be trying to shoulder up to a new boo who, since I only have four kid-free nights a month and I don’t let new boos meet my kids, I want a little boo time with. Dating as a single parent is a rough lesson in boundaries, and it’s important to filter out the bad dudes while your kids aren’t around.

    I know if I were asked to justify this time and mental and emotional and dollar expenditure to a group of my friends, it would be likely that we wouldn’t be friends after that conversation. The world is rough enough on broke people and single mothers that my support system shouldn’t be shaming me for not being everything for everyone.

    I had a friend who kept inviting me to go to Cabo with her, and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t throw a vacation on a credit card, or just get my kids passports and fly them out of the country for fun. She asked me over and over and over again, and I got tired of explaining why I couldn’t go. We aren’t friends anymore. LW, has your friend communicated why it’s difficult for her to join your group every time?

    1. But it doesn’t sound like the issue is so much that J doesn’t join the group every time, as much as J only being available if they come to her place and expressing that she misses them when they don’t have the time to do so.

      I’m super sympathetic to what you’re talking about, and to J’s position – logistical concerns and money can get in the way of spending time even with people you like, and it’s frustrating to feel like they’re not understanding your situation. However, I feel like the issue you’re talking about isn’t really the same as what the OP’s talking about: being frustrated about being the person who’s always making the effort in a friendship is understandable, whatever the cause and however reasonable the cause is. That’s not shaming. It’s articulating inequities in the friendship.

      1. Especially if J is not assisting with coming up with solutions AND is the one who is more vocal about the diminishment of contact. If someone simultaneously complained to me about not seeing me enough and made little to no effort to help come up with solutions because the status quo is not working, I would be a bit torqued too. Especially if it meant I was the one who always had to travel.

        I think asking J to help brainstorm new plans is the best path because the model they have been using for 8 years needs updating.

      2. I’m just not confident (based in experience) that LW is the best narrator for interpreting her friend’s station in life. Like the Captain says, there’s some “we” talk where folks have discussed it without SP friend and decided they are in agreement that the way SP spends her money is annoying and disrespectful. That’s a really yucky position to put a friend in — I’d argue it’s especially yucky for a single parent whose time and money and dating potential are under lots of restraints and socio-political and personal scrutiny (clearly).

        I agree with Lab Lizard below that some brainstorming is in order if in fact everyone still wants to hang out with one another. And what Elikit also says below about life circumstances changing and no dramatic confrontation being necessary to express what is simply a desire for adult time with a friend.

        To me, the equation is similar to what I’ve experienced. You pay for sitters for dates because you generally don’t want dates to hang out with your kids. Your friends, who are established as nice people can hang out with your kids, so if the conditions are right, it’s “free” or free-er socialization, which is way cool for a young single parent. If the friends don’t want to hang out with the kid all the time, it’s totally within reason to say, what can we do to get you out for adults-only/lady-only time? If the friend doesn’t want to, I’d just assume that the friendship wasn’t *that* important to her and act accordingly. But realistically, logistically, my ability as a single mom with a standard custody agreement and median salary, lady-only night with friends on the town and paying for a sitter would be possible for me, like, three or four times a year tops.

        Like I said above, I’m speaking from experience. I’m a super-double single mom, two kids, two babydaddies, single parenting for 16 years, currently dating with a teenager and toddler. I’ve lost friends because they didn’t like how I spent my time and money, or they felt neglected, or because I turned down too many invitations, or because I couldn’t hang out on the fly, or other reasons, all of them legit. Some of them were amazing people I thought I’d be friends with all my life. Truth is, as people’s priorities change, people’s friendships change, and this might just be an example of that.

        1. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying as a general rule. However, I do question whether a lot of it really applies to the LW’s situation – because for all that you’re speaking from experience as a single mom, you’re speaking from your experience, which is not necessarily J’s experience.

          I mean, a lot of what you’re describing is stuff that the LW seems to understand, unless we’re going to say that she’s completely un-self aware and/or a liar. She explicitly says that she thinks it’s perfectly normal to prioritize finding a partner over friends and that she gets how important that is to J, how difficult it is, and from her account, their group of friends have been totally willing to pitch in to provide babysitting. I certainly don’t see any indication that the LW thinks that J should start bringing dates home.

          All I see is the LW expressing because 1) she never sees J unless she goes to J’s house, 2) it’s become more difficult to get to J’s house, and 3) J is complaining about seeing her friends less without making any effort – for whatever reason – to get to them. I’m not saying the LW is blameless or that J is an evil person who’s taking advantage of her friends, but I do think that it’s reasonable to be frustrated about that, especially over an extended period of time.

          I’ll also point out that while “free” socialization for a young single parent is “way cool,” it isn’t necessarily “way cool” to the people around you. I don’t mind it a lot of the time, but at some point, I am going to want some time with just my friend, because there’s a limit to the emotional support and bonding I can do while my friend’s attention is split/their kid is close enough to potentially hear what I say. There’s not always a way around that, but just as I think that childless people need to accept that being flexible is the cost of admission when a friend has a child and a limited support system, people with children should be cognizant that the dynamic isn’t without its flaws. It seems like there’s been some unreasonable pressure from J and some counterproductive conflict avoidance from the LW, both of which are problems.

  30. This has probably already been said but the problem might not be getting a babysitter but distance. It’s one thing to leave your kids with a babysitter if your date is in the city and an emergency trip home is short. It’s another if you have to travel further out. A baby sitter does not replace a parent and she still needs to be (relatively) close by. I don’t travel more than 1/2 an hour away unless my husband is the one looking after the kids.

  31. I think the biggest problem isn’t childless vs child-havers here. I think maybe LW and friends have focused on the “you pay money to go on dates why not to see us?” as a defensive reaction to either being guilted about not visiting J as often as she would like.

    The accepted pattern for 8 years or so has been that everyone goes to J’s house, so when J is sadmouthing about how they can’t find the time to visit/hang out it is understood that the people who are going to be making the effort and who J thinks should be making the effort is LW and the rest of the co.

    That sounds maddening as fuck, honestly. You get to be sad about a state of affairs. You get to even mention it every now and then. What you don’t get to do is whine about how the people who always make the effort/trek out to see you don’t do if often w enough for your liking.

    So LW and friend group, who have busy lives too, get guilted and that gets their back up, and it sort of lashes out with, “well she pays for babysitters to see dates, why can’t she pay for babysitters to come see us, if she’s so sad about not seeing us”.

    As far as J knows, things are fine except for the lessening visits. She’s sad y’all are making the time like you used to. Y’all are the ones who aren’t fine. You don’t have to meet as a cabal and come up with a plan for confrontation. Just talk to your friend about how since everyone is a bit busy and scattered, the old days of her being catchup central are past and that if she wants the frequency of catch up days of yore, she will have to make more of an effort to meet you where you are. Physically and metaphorically.

    So instead of just waiting for you all to arrive at her place, she might have to do the work of organising a function that suits her, like finding a kid friendly pub in your area or closer to a hub, or catching up for solo coffee while the kid is at a play date, or whatever. I bet a lessening of the guilting, with an increasing of the effort on her part would go a long way towards soothing feelings and making you see that it’s not about the money.

  32. LW, I get why you feel this way. It sounds like a frustrating situation for everyone. I get where J is coming from, but I also feel like it can be exhausting and frustrating to feel like you’re always the one making the effort and traveling to see someone, no matter how good the reason is. That’s particularly true when it’s been happening for eight years and has become significantly more inconvenient than it once was because you’ve all moved further away.

    This is a tough conversation to have, but I think it’s important to have and worth having – as the captain said, on an “I” level rather than on a “we” level.

    That said, before you have the conversation, I think it would be useful for you to figure out where all your feelings are coming from and what sorts of things could work to make you feel less frustrated and maybe even resentful.

    Is the issue that you’re tired of always being the one to make the trip? Is it that sometimes you’d like to go out? Is it that you’d like to get a little time with her without her attention being divided? Do you just feel generally undervalued? Are you tired of babysitting?

    All of those are reasonable, and it may be that what’s bothering you isn’t ultimately something you can solve. However, if you really try to get to the bottom of the issue, maybe you’ll be able to find a solution that works for all of you.

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