Try as you may to avoid it, having kids changes your social life, and I think for some people who have yet to have kids it’s hard to understand why the change is often very drastic.
“Why don’t you just have someone watch them for a little bit?”
“Why don’t you sleep when they sleep?”
“Why don’t you try telling them ‘no’?”
“When I have kids they are going to listen to me, that’s for sure.”
“At least since they are staying up late they will sleep in!”
“Noisy kids in a restaurant is one of my biggest pet peeves.”
“Just bring them with you!”
No, no, no.
This is a super sinister comparison, but what the heck, having kids is like contracting a virus. No, more like a lifelong disease. It impacts every single aspect of your being. How you breathe, how you sleep, what you can and can’t do, how you feel. It literally alters how you think. Are there ways around this? Sure thing! Some people manage to travel the world with their babies and change very little about the life they lived before. But for most of us, it will forever change how we live our lives. We need our friends who are not yet parents to understand that we are still us, and we still are still friends, we may just ask to do a few things differently. Just bear with us.
Most of you know Kate and I are military spouses. Among other things, that means we live away from home. Away from family and friends, and our husbands are often gone. When we have someone else watch our kids, it’s either A) each other, or B) relying on a stranger. And I know you don’t yet have kids to worry about, but it’s a scary world out there, and I am not that mom that interviews babysitters. I need to know you, I need to trust you. That may seem like a helicopter mom thing to say, but my next door neighbor told me her 18 month old was killed in a daycare fire, so no, I think I would rather bring my child along to our coffee date rather than hand them off to someone else. I think about 75% of parenthood is worrying about all the things that could happen. And even if I do get a babysitter, that’s costs money and doesn’t really relieve any stress because I have to anticipate everything he or she may need, pack it, and then worry about it the whole time we are hanging out. Sure, we watch each others kids from time to time, but that is no easy feat either, so please understand that sometimes it’s not that easy to just leave young children with someone else to get a little time away, no matter how much we need it. Conversely, it’s not always easy to just bring kids with us, because then we actually have to watch them instead of holding an adult conversation or enjoying the party. However; and this is very important, PLEASE KEEP INVITING US. We want to come and be our old selves, we want to feel included, we want to spend time with you too.
As a stay at home mom, I simultaneously feel like I don’t have a job, and also I have a job that never stops. I respect my friends that work full-time (and then some), especially those that work weird hours. I am glad I don’t have to do that. But please know that even though I am home all day, my life is also exhausting. I don’t get to sleep in. Ever. No one makes meals for me. I am a 24/7 Google search bar for my preschooler whose curious little brain wants to know why all the things are the way they are. I’m also a complaint box for my toddler who screams at me in a foreign language and I’m pretty sure would give me one star on Yelp. I am extremely thankful that I get to be a SAHM, but sometimes I want to complain. I want to vent. I want my friends to understand that my day spent at home was long and hard. You may think I get to play with kids all day and that’s awesome, and yes in many ways it is, but sometimes I want to just hide in the bath tub and listen to white noise, which by the way I can’t do because someone will probably harm themselves in the 30 seconds I am gone. And if I do get to sneak away for some “me” time, I always feel like I’m staring at a stopwatch, seeing seconds fly by and feeling like I need to get back to my kids. So please know that my job may not be the same as your job, but it’s a hard job, and just like you complain about yours, I may want to complain about mine too.
You would think that with all the hours in the day, I could clean or do laundry while I’m at home. You probably look at my laundry on the couch or see dishes in the sink and think “Man, if I have a full-time job and do this, why can’t she find the time?” Or actually you probably don’t think that at all, you’d help me in a heartbeat if I asked, but that’s what I am worrying that you are thinking because I often feel like I should be able to do it all. Trying to get anything done during the day when your kids are home is like trying to type a research paper with an undo button on repeat every 10 seconds. I put toys away, it’s instantly the most fascinating thing in the room and my kids must play with it. I fold laundry and my preschooler wants to “help”, which really means take laundry from the folded pile and try to fold each one again. Cooking meals takes extra time because I have to tell my kids, “it’s hot!”, “don’t touch!”, and “stay back please!” a million times, and again the preschooler wants to help. I once sent my friends a picture of dirty laundry in color-sorted piles lining my hallway and one friend said, “I don’t think I have ever seen that much dirty laundry in my life.” It didn’t hurt my feelings. It was a lot of laundry. When you have two small children who are messy eaters and play in the dirt and the water you never get to have empty laundry baskets, that’s for sure! And FYI, if you sleep when the baby sleeps, that means you never get any of the above done either. It’s very unfortunate.
Have I gotten annoyed at a baby crying in a movie theater? Sure. A lot of things used to bother me before having kids. I never knew getting crapped on could actually bother me so little, but what do you know?! Please know that some parents take their kids places as a way to enjoy their time together (not doing kid things) and that means that the kids can get a little bored. Having fussy kids in a restaurant is MUCH MORE annoying to us than it is to you, trust me, we just may not show it on our faces. We have to choose our battles and therefore our frustration at our kids often lives deep inside and slowly just eats away at our souls, that’s all. We also would prefer our kid not cry or throw rolls but to us, it’s worth it to have a little time out when we are used to cooking mac n cheese. We are sorry that our kids cause a ruckus. We wish that wasn’t the case too, but kids are kids.
Trying to talk to kids when you don’t have kids can be challenging. I’ve been there myself. Sometimes you don’t even know what they are trying to tell you. You smile and nod and say “ohhh, cool!” on repeat. But please be mindful of what you say when they are around, because they are ALWAYS listening. Even in a conversation you are having with me, they are listening, and they will ask questions later. Also, some common topics to avoid: dead pets, Santa, sweet treats or any food not currently in my house, and anything scary. If I spend MONTHS convincing my child that ghosts do not exist, and you come in and they say, “What was that noise?” and you say “A ghost, eek!” I will gut you with my eyes. True story. Getting kids to eat vegetables, getting kids to not be scared, these are just some of the things we spend so many man hours on, please don’t ruin it for us! And if you mention some food that we don’t have I am going to hear about it every day until I buy it.
Please know that kids also defy logic. If they stay up two hours after their bedtime, they will not sleep in later. They will wake up at the same friggin’ time with an attitude like they have a hangover. There is this thing called “overtired” where they get SO tired that they are actually restless, and it is real. And it is scary. So if we have to leave early or skip an event because of child nap times or bedtimes, please know it is for our own sanity. We wish we could be there. If we make an exception for you, you know that we must like you a whole lot! A young kid staying up late is similar to Daylights Savings, it takes several days to adjust after.
I want to be clear that I am not speaking to my friends directly, or any friend in particular. (Except you Jeremy, the ghost comment was not cool!) This is just an open letter to things I have heard or had said over the years. All of this is in good fun. As parents, we are used to the stereotypical sayings and assumptions. We get it ALL THE TIME. Even from other parents. The point is, we don’t really know anyone’s whole life, do we? The friend that works 60+ hours a week in the medical field, the mother of one who has to give her child multiple medical treatments each day, the friend without kids who desperately wants kids, the mother of five under five who barely keeps her head above water but always has a smile on her face. We don’t know, so we don’t judge. Or we try not to. There is always someone worse off than you. There is always someone better off than you. The best you can do is be understanding. When a friend says they can’t come, they can’t talk right now, believe the best in them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe that they are trying to juggle all the things, but right now something is more important and it is not a reflection of you. Also know that we don’t just assume you think badly of us. You overlook our laundry and dishes and restaurant tantrums and so much more with understanding eyes. Sometimes we just worry we don’t have it all together, just like I’m sure you do.
To my friends without kids, I love you. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for letting me be yours.
XOXO, Elizabeth and Kate