Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let’s talk about babysitters and the parents who never use them.
I’m 33 and live with my girlfriend. We do not have kids. Maybe one day we will, but right now we don’t. We have a dog and a chicken. (If you had kids, I would tell you that the dog and the chicken are “just like our kids.”) We also have two nieces and a nephew between the two of us that spend a lot of time with us. (Again, if you had kids, I would tell you that they are “just like our kids.”)
We have friends who are parents. It’s impossible to hang around them without the kids. When we do spend time with them, it usually involves a play-date at one of our houses with alcohol for the adults. I also have a buddy who’s a stay-at-home dad that I’ve got the same problem with. He comes in from out of town, always with the kid or kids, and we end up stuck at home babysitting instead of doing anything fun. And the dog jumps on his son and scratches him and licks his face, then my buddy gets irritated — it just doesn’t work.
In both cases, my girlfriend and I would prefer to leave the kids at home some night, and go out for dinner and drinks. But no one wants to get a babysitter. I’m not even talking about a babysitter-for-hire, but even grandma or grandpa. I know our frustration is not unique. I’ve got other friends that I’ve grown apart from since my 20s due to this same phenomenon, and I know other people in my boat go through the same experience. Maybe its just a fact of life, and I need to get over it. But do people not do the babysitter thing anymore? I know when I was a kid, my parents left my sister and me home all the time with teenagers from town, and we loved it. It usually meant we got pizza, rented a video, and stayed up late. It doesn’t seem like that goes on anymore.
If you dare to pose the question: “Should my friends maybe — once in a long while — get a babysitter and go out with their friends?” you get the treatment this poor guy Anonymous got. Reading between the lines, I think what the world is telling him is: “Grow up. Mature people have no interest in bars and being away from kids. You should either (1) have kids and adopt their life of true moral purpose; or (2) find different friends that are degenerate lushes just like you. If you had kids, you know that you would NEVER want to trade family game night for a night out with your barren, spinster-y friends, even if babysitters were lined up at your door.
I certainly sympathize with parents who genuinely don’t have the time or money to go out because of their kids. I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t spend the majority (if not vast majority) of their weekends with their kids. I can imagine the demands that kids place on their parents. I do, after all, have a dog and a chicken. I’m just curious if you’ve explored this subject or run across any literature on it that might offer me some reassurance that I’m not being unreasonable, inconsiderate, or selfish. As near as I can tell, there is a dearth of treatment of this subject out there, and even less actual sympathy for guys like Anonymous and me.
A common gripe I hear is that once a couple has a baby, it suddenly feels like they call all the shots and put their needs, schedules and time frames ahead of everyone else’s — especially those of their childless friends. And those friends don’t exactly know how to react because what they’re thinking is, “Why is your life more important than mine?” and what comes out of their mouths is, “OK… whatever works best for you and baby Braelyn!” Or in your case, A., rolling with the assumption that any time you see your friends with kids, it will involve your friends… with their kids. Also, in terms of “literature” on this topic, all I ever see online is mind-numbing stuff like this:
People without kids have been conditioned to not only believe there’s something wrong with them for not having or possibly wanting kids, but to also believe they must be polite to their parent friends at all costs. They must be amenable. They must cheerfully attend children’s birthday parties. When making plans, they should consider the lives of their friends’ children. They know if they don’t, their parent friends will be thinking, “Dinner at 8 p.m.? Did it occur to you that 8 p.m. is when I tuck in my daughter and read her a bedtime story? Guess not, but no dinner is more important to me than my daughter’s bedtime ritual. #sorrynotsorry.”
People without kids may find themselves constantly skating around their parent friends because they want to be flexible and not appear unaware of the stress and responsibility of parenting. But really, is going out alone every now and then without the kids such a tall order? I don’t think it should be.
Plus, most people want to be supportive and have a genuine interest in knowing their friends’ kids. They want to tag along on a trip to the zoo. And like you, A., they’re sympathetic and mindful of the costs that come with child-rearing. But most people also want to see their friends alone again someday, and society teaches us that childless adults shouldn’t feel that way or express it out loud. It’s “wrong” for adults to admit they don’t love or even like little kids, and it’s “wrong” for people to anticipate seeing their parent friends, at any time, without their children in tow. Much like those single friends you never see alone again after they get involved in a committed relationship, some parents will never show up to anything by themselves ever again. They also have an extensive list of reasons for always bringing along their kids to hang out, the most common ones being:
- Babysitters are expensive.
- Parents don’t like leaving their kids with babysitters because they don’t trust most babysitters they’ve met.
- Babysitters are unreliable and difficult to find.
- Parents want their friends to know their kids and vice versa.
- It honestly never occurred to them that their friends might not always want their kids around.
- Family doesn’t live nearby.
- They could leave their kids with their grandparents, but they’d prefer not to ask family for help unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Parents love being around their kids and would rather be with them than not be with them. Kids are their whole world now, and that means their schedule revolves around them, and they’re cool with that.
Even with all these reasons to consider, however, what you’re saying is still true, A. There was a time when parents frequently (and enthusiastically) hired $5 per hour babysitters, but unfortunately, those days are over. When I asked a friend who’s the mom of a teen about this, she said, “Babysitters are more expensive than ever, and finding a responsible teenager is like finding a unicorn. People don’t live near their families as much as they used to. Also, I think young parents are especially nervous about leaving their kids with a babysitter.
That said, finding a good babysitter is the best thing you can do for yourself as a parent. You need to get away from your kid every now and then, and parents should make it a priority. Some people definitely rationalize that their kid is fun and/or easy, but I think they’re just nervous to make that leap. I’m now at the stage when my friends’ kids are old enough to be left at home alone, and some people just don’t believe it and bring their teenagers along and then those teenagers sulk and eat all the appetizers.
Say what? TEENAGERS! Whoa. The parents of today are on the other end of the spectrum from the parents who hired Kimberly from up the block to get pizza, rent a video and stay up late making prank calls with the kids while their parents attended a key party or whatever. Nowadays, parents who can afford to hire Kimberly would still rather hang out with their kids at home and take Instagrams of their every move for virtual likes than go out.
But putting aside the neurotic parents who keep their kids on a leash until they’re 18, I do think expense is the main culprit here. And Grandma and Grandpa aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, even if they live nearby. Understandably, your friends are no longer in the position they once were, and their priorities (and finances) have shifted. Also understandably, you think that sucks.
I agree with your assessment that this transitional period is a fact of life and something to be accepted (if reluctantly), but I also agree that it sucks. You’re allowed to be annoyed by your friends’ kids or annoyed by the fact that you don’t see them alone anymore. I give you full permission to not childproof your home when your buddy comes over, and your dog can lick all the kids’ faces he wants. But I’d encourage you to tell your friends that you’d like to have a night out without the kids sometime. Start the dialog and see where it leads. You never know; maybe your friends are looking for a great excuse to take a night off, but won’t instigate the action themselves. Maybe you just need to find new ways to hang out alone together and can brainstorm and figure out better solutions. Maybe some of your friends agree with you.
I can reassure you that you’re not being unreasonable, inconsiderate or selfish for preferring the days when your friends didn’t have mini-mes. And I believe that one day it’ll be acceptable to say that out loud to someone who isn’t a stranger on the internet, your partner or your dog. Until then, try to learn from those broken relationships in your 20s and reassess what you want your friendships to look like right now. Just because your friends want to hang out with their kids doesn’t mean that you have to.
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