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Friend Versus Bedtime

Thursday, February 28, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

A good friend of mine who lives out of town has a one-year-old, and I don't have any kids. We've been trying to catch up with a phone call for ages, but the time that's best for me to talk is during her daughter's bedtime, and she says she can't talk then. From what I can tell, that means there's no time any evening where we're both available. I don't understand why her husband can't do bedtime one night every once in a while so she and I can talk, but I'm not sure how to ask her about this. Am I being unreasonable? Is she? 

Signed,
Friend Versus Bedtime


Dear Friend,

"Friend," you say? I have a funny story about the word friend: My daughter has recently started figuring out how to categorize words. When I recently told her, "People don't eat stickers," she looked at me and said, "Friends?" asking if friends eat stickers. We had the same conversation about people having tails versus friends having tails and tried to explain that some people (but not Mommy!) consider animals to be their friends. Watching this little person learn the acrobatics of language is fascinating and enlightening and an endless source of entertainment. Are you not laughing? Are you not totally blown away by that story? Right.

My point is, 1) my daughter is amazing, and 2) people with kids are obsessed with the minutia of everyday life with kids in a way that is completely incomprehenible if you're not in the thick of it yourself. Also, and perhaps more importantly, parents are superstitiously obsessed with bedtime routines. Some examples of things I've done to try to replicate good sleeping nights include feeding my daughter chicken nuggets, replaying the same episode of Curious George three nights in a row, dressing her in the same pajamas and trying to time putting her down to the same minute as the night before. If your friend taking charge of her daughter's bedtime has created any sleep-related success for them, it's actually not as simple as her husband "just" doing bedtime one night. Changing that routine (whether or not her daughter even notices) would require an emotional shift away from superstition so extreme that I'm not sure I know any new parents who are capable of such a thing.

At the same time, part of being a friend, and not just a parent, is performing grand gestures to let your friends know you care. In this case, the grand gesture may be stepping back from bedtime one night so the two of you can actually talk. If she's completely inflexible on this, consider doing something silly like setting up a doodle poll with all the times you're available for a phone call and letting her select one. Maybe there's time on a weekend afternoon during her daughter's nap, or maybe you can find some flexibility later in the evening after her daughter has gone to sleep.

Part of being a friend is also being able to hear your friends' concerns, and if this continues to be something that is causing distance between the two of you, I think it's okay to say, maybe in an email, "I love you, and I love how much you love your daughter, but it's been really hard for me to feel like you don't have any time for me. I really hope we can find time to talk soon." I think bringing up bedtime in particular is only going to result in you getting an earful about parental exhaustion, which will derail your larger, and totally valid, point, but this approach will let her know that you value the difficult decisions she has to make and that you're there for her, but also that she has to be there for you.

Be well,
Miriam

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