On behalf of your friends without children, I’m officially serving notice that you suck at being our friends.
We respect and admire you as parents, and we support your decision to have a family. However, we feel that once children entered your life, you stopped being the friend we thought you were. We have been shuffled to the bottom of your priority list, and our calls have gone unanswered. You broke up with us, abandoned us for another, and frankly, we’re a little miffed.
I know, I know. We just don’t understand the challenges of parenthood. Trust me, I’ve heard that argument before. For the record, I’ll stipulate that we the childless cannot know exactly what it’s like to be parents, but we’re still educated, intelligent, aware adults and thus capable of forming a decent approximation. Besides, as your friends, we’re watching and participating in perhaps the finest documentary ever created on the subject.
We witnessed your transition from beer-drinking, coupe-driving, softball player to juicebox-loving, SUV-owning, Lego builder. To accommodate your new schedule, we traded nine o’clock reservations and late-night theater for 5 pm mac n’ cheese and home screenings of Toy Story 12.
As babysitters, we spooned creamed carrots, played with Barbies, and changed poopy diapers. We attended birthday parties without fail and suffered the “Which one is yours?” question a hundred times. We went to soccer games, talking at the side of your head while you intermittently burst out with “Go Emma Go!” and “Pay attention to the game, Brandon!” We sat on your couch swirling cheap wine and looking at photos for thirty minutes while you read storybooks and tried to settle Mason down for bed, after which, we’d awkwardly attempt to resume conversation to the hum of the white noise machine. “Sorry, what were we talking about?” you’d say, to which we’d often reply, “Oh nothing, we should probably get going and let you get some downtime.”
No, we get it. We also understand the other primary defense: they grow up so fast, we don’t want to miss anything, they’re only young once, yada yada. Certainly no one expects you at the bar while Lucas takes his first steps or debuts “Dada” to the babysitter. But of the 365 days in a year, is it too much to ask that you carve out a night or two a month to meet us for a cocktail, a game, anything by yourselves? Must you have every meal with little Chloe? Will Evan be irreversibly damaged if Dad misses bath time occasionally? Can’t Madison go to bed once in a while without Mommy reading Goodnight Moon?
I’m not suggesting equal time, but today’s parents seem to need their children too much, and consequently, children are smothered beneath constant care. Parents drive their kids to school, attend play dates with them, hover over them while they do homework, and in general, attempt to shield them from every perceptible danger.
I’ll take it a step further and say that it’s in your child’s best interest not to be there all the time. While I was growing up, my parents had their own lives, and we were sometimes left to our own devices and often told to go outside and entertain ourselves. We learned creativity, free play, and social skills, uninterrupted by overly protective adults. Yes, we sometimes came home with bloody knees, hurt feelings, or stolen bubble gum, but it was all part of growing into our independent selves.
I contend that a certain amount of “away time” is good for your children. They will come to understand that they are not the sole reason you exist. Liam will learn to appreciate that Mommy and Daddy occasionally spend time with their friends and that having friends and nurturing those relationships are important. Olivia will develop a certain measure of self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-esteem by managing a few hours on her own. Ethan will be disciplined by and learn to function in the presence of a non-parental adult—the babysitter—and in doing so, he’ll develop a respect for the authority of adults other than Mom and Dad.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying you’re parenting poorly. However I am suggesting that perhaps you’re parenting too much and that your priorities might benefit from a slight re-balancing. You’re so entangled in your children that you are unable to assess the situation objectively. Through the filter of parenthood, you don’t see that our relationship has changed because you have changed.
Sometimes, perhaps in frustration, it’s been said that we should just find other friends without kids. Newsflash: we did that already! We found you, before you had children, and furthermore, we befriended you for who you were as an individual. We didn’t select you because we happened to get pregnant at the same time, because we have similar questions regarding baby formulas and skin rashes, because Hannah and Avery are in the same 3rd grade class, or because Noah and Jayden both like Spiderman-themed sleepovers. Rather, we became your friend because we value your presence in our life. We’re in it for the long haul, and we’ve stood by and watched the short-term, task-specific friends become obsolete as this or that phase of your child’s life passed, simultaneously wondering why we’re undervalued simply because we don’t have children.
Moreover I ask, what will you do when your kids begin to shun you during adolescence, when they leave for college, when they forge their own path in the world? Will you make new friends at empty-nester support group meetings, or are you shamelessly assuming we’ll wait for you?
If we sound upset, it’s because we’ve put too much time and energy into our friendships to be put on a shelf. Our patience is wearing thin, and the truth is, we miss you.
Your soon-to-be ex-friend,