Or they can if they have a good enough support base. Unfortunately for most expat parents, there is no grandparent or aunt/uncle that you can ask to help out at short notice. Of course there is the option of babysitters, but even that depends on availability and it doesn’t come free.
And of course they can if there is a bit of give/take in terms of what is and what isn’t possible… but the fact remains that life is now different… so here is my open letter to you, my friend to help you understand…
I promised myself before I had a child that my life would not change that much when I was a parent. That I would still make time for my husband (date nights), my friends (girls nights) and quality time for myself. I would NOT be THAT parent who cites *routine* and *bedtime* as reasons for not going out to have fun. But sadly, I am exactly that parent. With a 21month old I realize that messing with a toddlers sleeping routine does not only affect that particular day/night but can leave you feeling like a zombie for days afterwards. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and we try really hard to be good spouses, good parents & good friends… but sometimes, something has to give. And more often than not, the priority & needs of the family exceeds the want of *me* & fun time. I am now responsible for raising a new generation and I believe that the early years are formative in their development (that means that I need to be there and be present in a day & age when I also have to work full time) – that requires time management juggling skills that rival some cirque du soleil acts!
- I invite you to our place because the thought of having to police every single move that the toddler makes while we are at your place is exhausting. I don’t want them to put their greasy dirty paws on your furniture or take an intensive interest in your decorative crystal figurines. They will want to explore the new surroundings, generally with some kind of food item in their hand, which means I can’t sit down on the couch and chat with you because I am concerned about what they might destroy if I don’t keep one eye on them at all times. Plus I place more value on your belongings than ours J
- If we go to a café/bar/restaurant – it needs to be early enough that they don’t start bucking the high chair because they are tired, bored and want to explore. At some point, I will have to pick them up out of the high chair and attempt to restrain them in my lap while I continue to keep eye contact with you over their bouncy head. Because putting them down on the floor to explore will mean that I will need to leave the table to follow them and ensure that they don’t create a trail of destruction in their wake. Eventually citing *bedtime* I will need to make a hasty retreat before other diners get irritated with toddler noises coming from our neck of the woods. The moment we leave the venue, the monkey will calm down in their stroller and the walk home might be in silence. They might even nod off to sleep. The ultimate F*** you from them for changing the routine.
- In their own surroundings, they are more likely to play with their own toys allowing us time to sip on wine and chat. They will also be more pliant when it is bedtime (between 7-7.30pm) as they are aware of the routine in their own home. This means that from 7.30pm onwards, I am ALL yours. Sure, it isn’t some hip happening joint, and it does require you travelling to us – but it would be 100% one-on-one time between us.
- Our situation is unique as HIM works Mon-Fri nights (6pm to 1am(ish)) and I work weekdays (8am to 5pm) – meaning that I don’t have many alternatives during the week and our weekends are often family quality time (balanced with all the household drudgery & chores of adulthood). Therefore planning in our household is paramount.
- Having a mini-me around requires planning. We can no longer be spontaneous about going for a drink directly after work or changing agreed plans just a few days before a meet up. The list of *to do’s* increases exponentially as the family grows – with items like food preparation to packing an entire overnight bag just for a few hours for their little highness. It is tiring to say the least.
- If we agreed to do something – please, lets keep the plans in place. Once babysitters are booked or spouses have agreed to handle the bath/bed routine – we are ready to go. We might not last very long, especially if we have been up multiple times the night before or if our daily wake up time is 5am (and by wake up – I mean “ripped from a deep slumber by the sound of a crying infant”) – but we are there. (Unless the plan changes because offspring are sick… this is unavoidable and we are most probably more disappointed than you are – trust me)
- We require a certain amount of compromise & understanding from our friends – as a parent, we are no longer a priority in our own time management or even just life in general. We all know of the statement “You can’t pour from an empty vessel” – but most parents exist as zombies for years without ever having more than a moment of *me* quality time. I rarely have the opportunity to even pee in peace – so if we ask you to compromise plans/venue/ etc – it is because we are trying to find a solution to spend time with you because we want to see you.
- We use a babysitter once every 2 months. Either for a date night or if we are meeting friends for dinner. We try to ensure that Monkey is in bed before they start & that we are home at a decent enough hour to allow the babysitter the opportunity to still take public transport home. That means that we are essentially utilising her services for 3hours (from 7pm-10pm)… give or take an hour
- The going rate in our area is 10€/hour… plus if it is closer to 11pm, we offer to pay the taxi (another 10€) – meaning that over and above a night out, we need to shell out a further 30-50€. For that amount, we can definitely host a great night in J
- And finally – we have 2 contacts to look after our darling little one when we need it… two people that we trust in our home and with the life of our offspring. Your offer of a random stranger (who is not a stranger to you, but to us) is very sweet & thoughtful and we truly appreciate the effort. But entrusting the most precious thing in our life to an unknown in order to have a jolly doesn’t sit right in my gut. I am sorry to say, but I only take babysitter recommendations from people who have used that person to look after their own children. (i.e. I am not going to recommend a dentist for root canal to you, if they have never worked on my own teeth … )
I am sorry that my life is no longer in sync in with yours – and as much as I love spending time with you, I know that having to compromise to my lifestyle change is frustrating for you. You want quality girl time without interruptions. I want to be able to go to the bathroom without an audience. But the fact of the matter is that my life has an appendage now – something I can not (and will not) change. My #1 priority is my family. But I promise, as the tykes gets older, life will be easier for us to manage and we will get more time together again.
I still love you & value our friendship…. So please don’t give up on me yet.
Patience, compromise & wine…