Why do couples with kids seem to purposefully relegate themselves to being hermits rather than trading off who stays home so that at least one of them can still spend time with their non-parent friends?
My girlfriend and I often host dinner parties. As more of our friends have gotten married and had kids, fewer of them come to these events. I hear a lot of, "babysitters are expensive," but I don't understand why one parent can't come to the party while the other stays at home with the kids, and then next time they could switch. It seems like they're unnecessarily relegating themselves to being hermits rather than trying to find a way to keep their non-parent friends in their lives.
Frustrated Friend of Party-Pooper Parents
More than three years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter but not yet telling anyone I was pregnant, a friend asked me this question. I had a hunch that I couldn't quite understand the situation, but that soon I would. I smiled and nodded and let her vent, then tucked the question away in my file of potential blog topics. Last week, my dear friend Warren took me as his "date" to the theater.* As I said goodbye to my kids (one in the bath, the other jumping up and down and screaming) and wished my husband good luck, her question resurfaced in my brain. I knew I finally had my answer, or, at least, something to write about.
Part of being in a couple is sharing experiences. Couples like to go on vacations, out to dinner or to the theater not just because they like those activities, but specifically because they like doing those activities together. Couples with kids even, believe it or not, like wrestling their kids through bedtime and then collapsing on the couch together to complain about all their unencumbered friends who are out having fun.
You can watch the same movie as your friend and talk about your favorite parts, but it's not the same as sitting in a dark room together to see it. You can have one parent over for a party one week and the other parent over the next week, but they will be different parties and different experiences. No amount of cajoling from you is going to convince them otherwise.
That's not to say there isn't room for parenting partners to have separate activities. In fact, I think it's great when couples have some different friends with whom they can socialize at different times. It's much harder, though, when an invitation is for the couple together and one gets to go out while the other stays home to, in effect, babysit. Babysitters are expensive, it's true. I often find it hard to justify paying someone to sit in my house while my kids sleep. We do it occasionally, and we're always glad we do, but we save those times for activities we're really excited about. It's possible that a dinner party at a friend's house just doesn't rank up there as babysitter-worthy.
My husband and I sometimes tag team an event so that each of us gets to go to part of it while the other stays home. And once in a while I'll go to a Shabbat lunch with friends while he stays home to give the kids (and himself) a nap. On rare and decadent occasions, such as last week, one of us will go out to enjoy a much-coveted night away, and the other one will stay home, secure in the knowledge that 1) it all evens out, and 2) we both deserve to remember the parts of ourselves that don't revolve around family life.
Still, wherever I've been and whatever I've done, my life ultimately does revolve around my family because my family is my life. It's not that I'm trying to ignore my non-parent friends, it's just that my brain is on such kid overload that sometimes it's tough to remember that the whole world doesn't revolve around my family. I'm sorry it took me three years to answer this question, and I'm sorry it may not be the answer you were looking for. I'm not at all sorry, though, that I went to the theater last week — the experience was wonderful and will keep me going until the next time!
*We saw Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Philadelphia Theatre Company, and since it's not often I get to do a plug for a show that I actually saw live, I'm thrilled, on a number of levels, to recommend it. It really was fabulous.