#743: How can I be a good friend to my friends with kids?
This Baby would like to disrupt all your fun times.
Dear captain awkward and army,
A handful of my friends have become parents this year. Consequently, and as expected, I don’t see them very often any more, and when I do, it’s for brief 30-minute “passing by” visits just to see how they and their rapidly developing Von Neumann machines are doing.
I’d like to invite them to larger gatherings and events, and shape these gatherings so that new parents feel like
a) they can take their kid without feeling like it would be a distraction or burden b) they could genuinely enjoy themselves c) the setting won’t be too chaotic even with multiple adults and kids d) the kids themselves would be comfortable, happy, and safe e) travel wouldn’t be inconvenient.
I live in a major metropolis where apartment space is coveted, so the home setting is limited.
But I’d just like to give my parent friends opportunities to socialize and do really fun things without making any implicit unreasonable demands to inconvenience themselves. Not having kids myself, I’m looking for best practices to provide that.
And to parents in the awkward army, what would something like this look like to you?
-Friend to new families
CommanderLogic here at your service.
Boy howdy do I feel you on this. I’ve got two Little Logics, 2.5 and 1 years old, and getting out to see friends with kids this age is hard. It just is. Even when our friends go the extra mile to make it easy for MrLogic and I, it’s still too hard sometimes, or something kid-related comes up and we have to bail. But I cannot tell you how much we appreciate the efforts our friends make! You are doing superb friend-work even thinking about this, so kudos to you.
The Challenges You Face
Parental Bandwidth (and the lack thereof): The social calendars of myself and the other parents I know aren’t especially full. This is because a full social calendar requires either leaving the house (ugh) or having a shit-ton of people at your own house (UGH).
Our MENTAL calendars, on the other hand, are stuffed to overflowing with things that MUST BE DONE – work, shop, cook, eat, keep tiny humans alive, keep tiny humans clean(ish), keep tiny humans happy(ish) – so the work involved in entertaining adult friends (as opposed to collapsing on the couch with laundry, wine, and Netflix) can easily be overwhelming.
Naptime: Unless your friends are all using the same daycare, or somehow coordinated to make their routines line up (HOW?), all the kids are gonna have different nap schedules, and it will FUCK WITH EVERYTHING. Some people are like “But what is a skipped nap here or there?” NOAP. NOPE. NOOOOOOOOOPE. Yep? NOPE. If the kids are under 4, and the parent tells you it is naptime – even if the kid seems wide awake and cheerful – trust me, it is naptime. The parent is sparing everyone from napless horrors.
Development: The under 3 set is always changing. ALWAYS. You look away for a week and suddenly the cuddly, immobile, everyone’s-my-friend baby will be a holy terror that only wants DADADADADA and will climb into every pointy bit in your apartment to reach their parent.
Everyone is Goddamn Different: This goes for the parents and kids alike. Some parents are going to be gung-ho about social activities, some are going to insist their children can’t be exposed to Outside People. Some kids are outgoing or able to collapse into a nap anywhere, some are nervous or unable to fall asleep without a frillion carefully timed procedures. No matter what I tell you, nothing will work for everyone in every situation. You may just have to ride it out for a couple years while the wee Von Neumann machines turn into semi-logical humanoids that you can shove into a room or outside with some toys and expect not to destroy themselves or everything (too much). It will be easier, and it will really not be that long in the scheme of things.
Not a single one of my parties has ever looked like this.
Here are a few coping strategies for Friends of Parents of SMALL Children to keep in mind, (*) will be included for those strategies that only work for couples. Single parents, you are impressive beyond my ability to express. Amazing.
1 – Embrace the Open House. If people can cycle through on their own (or let’s be real, their kids’) schedules, they’re more likely to come by.
Open Houses can be at your house, or at a park (“We’ll be at Moomin Park by the big blue play structure from 12-5! Come by whenever, leave whenever.”), or a beach, or other places the commentariat will doubtless suggest. Televised sport events are great for an open house. Or a board game day. Or a Terrible Movies marathon. The point is that people don’t have to be there exactly at a specific time, or stay to the end.
2 – Expect last minute cancellations. This can be hard. It will feel like a comment on your friendship, but it is NOT. Babies are assholes and they know, THEY KNOW, when you want to do something and will choose that moment to be epically sick.
3 – Set aside a Quiet Room, stocked with a comfy chair, something to function as a changing table, and room for one or more pack’n’plays. It may not get used, but this is way more helpful to parents of small children than a set aside Play Room. When you set up a Play Room for the under 5 set, what you’re really doing is setting up a situation where the parents are going to hang out in the Play Room instead of with the adults. If the kids are there, they’re gonna be partying with the adults. Count on it.
4 – Offer to come to them. It will feel SUPER WEIRD to invite yourself over, but as I said, most new parents’ social calendars aren’t very full, and by offering your presence you’ve made it possible for them to socialize without adding One More Thing to their mental calendars.
The Captain and her Gentleman Caller do this frequently and we love it: they come over around nap time and hold down the fort while MrLogic and I go out to a movie. Or they make us dinner. We all play with the kids. When the kids go down for the night, we hang out and play board games.
Here’s how you make it happen: “Hey Friend! I’m free this weekend, can I make/bring you dinner and we [whatever is your jam] after Little goes to bed?” “Hey Friend! I can come over during Little’s nap and stand guard while you go run an errand or see Fury Road on IMAX. Let me know if there’s a time that works best!”
1* – Resign yourself to seeing only one of your friends at any given event, or expect that they’ll tag team it. Finding babysitting is annoying as fuck, especially if your go-to babysitters are in your friend group and are probably also invited to the event. Frequently, MrLogic and I will decide who is more interested in (or has more energy for) a given event and only one of us will go. The parent left behind is usually rewarded by getting sleeping-in dibs, the most precious dibs of all.
2 – Give as much lead time as you possibly can, and be SUPER EXPLICIT about it being adult-only. This gives your friends the info they need (I need a babysitter) and the prep time to make it happen (SHIT I NEED A BABYSITTER).
3 – Change your go-to events/times. I can’t do brunch at 11 anymore. How about 7:30AM breakfast instead? I can’t go to a party that starts at 9PM but REALLY gets going around midnight. Let’s do a lunch during the workweek instead, while the kid is in daycare. I can’t go out to the club, why don’t you come over and we’ll watch one terrible movie and drink no more than a bottle of wine? Basically, my energy times are all out of whack with what they were when I had no kids. I have to be up and sober at 6am because a tiny person is going to yell at me regardless of my condition. Ask your friends what works best for them and try it out. tbh, 7:30 breakfast is some of the best brunch in the city.
4 – Try a standing-invitation event. (A variation on the Open House) This is kind of 400-level social maven advice, and heavily dependent on one person birddogging it, but it has really worked for me: Have a once-weekly Thing to which people are invited. It must be flexible enough to accommodate ALL the invitees or only one showing up. Maybe it’s a weekly potluck. Maybe it’s game night. Maybe it’s weekly rifftrax. The goal is to have something that is attractive to your friends, reliable on their calendars, and easy to say “shoot, I can’t make this one but I hope I see everyone next time.”
NOW, as a haver of small children myself, I also have some suggestions to the parents out there who may be feeling a bit trapped. THE POWER IS WITHIN YOU.
Everything I recommended to our LW is something that YOU TOO can do. As I said, I myself host a standing-invitation event on Wednesday nights, and it’s THE BEST. People I love come to me, I feed them dinner, I put the kids to bed, and then we talk about stuff and watch Project Runway.
We’ve had open house parties that our kids weathered like champs.
I go to breakfast and weekday lunch with my lady friends, sometimes at their invitation and sometimes at mine.
Our friends with kids come over and play board games while all the littles are sleeping.
But having a social life is work. It is. It doesn’t happen by wishing one of our friends would set something up and inviting us at just the right time (though that’s definitely great!). We have to make the effort of inviting, too. So parents, this is your permission to invite people over for delivery food and Netflix. Host a poker night. Ask your friend to take your kid to the park and get some ice cream so you can nap, please, and maybe can that be a weekly Sunday thing? Ask a friend out to breakfast.
Having a social life doesn’t require you to be perfect. It doesn’t require you to have a perfectly kept house, or perfectly behaved kids, or perfectly so anything. All it requires is that you ask for what you need. You need adults sometimes. Invite them in!
And Letter Writer? Keep rocking on.