Hey parent friends, I want to hang out with you AND your kids!

June 7 | Guest post by ALKD
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
"Let's be friends pho-ever" greeting card by Etsy seller takohako
I am not a parent but many of my friends are. When friends started having babies, I did all the usual stuff — bringing muffins, offering to help out around the house or at least hold the baby while the parents clean up, and of course cooing over the little ones. I genuinely enjoy kids and I am happy that my friends are bringing them into my life. My efforts went well while the kids were tiny and the parents were adjusting. Now, however, many of my friends are happy parents of happy toddlers, and they mainly socialize with other parents. I get why — other parents have empathy and advice, and provide playmates for their kids. But I miss them — the grownups and the kids!

I know I can't be included in everything, but I feel so sad when I hear a bunch of people I like talking about an activity that I would've enjoyed but wasn't invited to because they all brought kids. No one seems to think I care, even though I've mentioned that I like, say, the zoo or the park, too. I have tried inviting people with their kids to my place and it's lots of fun, but it's clearly a grownup apartment and things wrap up pretty quickly.

I feel like my husband and I are in danger of becoming "special occasion friends" — people you need to get a sitter to go see, and then it's a big formal event — and thus you only see them twice a year. I am not sure how to get around this. How can I gently remind my parent friends that we would still love to be included when they hang out with other parents and their kids? — Rebecca

Most of my close friendships are still with friends who don't have kids yet. I am an only child, so when I discovered I was pregnant and my husband and I were about to have a son, I talked with some of my friends about being an "uncle" or "aunt." I left it open and made sure they knew that they could be as invested (or not) in that role as they liked, but I would love for them to have an active part in my kid's life. You could try having the reverse of this conversation — tell your friends that while you don't have kids, you would love to be a part of their children's lives and are always happy to be an extra set of eyes and hands at kids events to help out.

The first thing that came to mind was: throw a potluck picnic at a local park, and invite a whole slew of your friends — include both families with kids and without. If your birthday is coming up, throw yourself a birthday party at a kid friendly place: the zoo, the park, a bowling alley (include on the invite that there will be a lane with bumpers on it for the kiddos if you like), anywhere you know your friends already like to take their kids.

Another thing is, meals and snacks are always welcome, even after the kids are finished being "little." Do you know if one of the kids is about to get a round of vaccinations? Maybe a child needs to have a surgery or has broken a bone? Offer to bring a comfort meal over for dinner.

Offer to help prepare for a kid's birthday party (make a pinata! put together grab bags for the kiddos! organize a game! frost some cupcakes!). Let your parent friends know that you want to be a part of their support system because you love them and truly enjoy their kids.

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  1. Rebecca, Where do you live? Be my friend! That aside, I've never thought about this from your angle. I always assumed that my child-free kids were bored of my kids, or at least, they wouldn't be interested in helping me wrangle them at a zoo or some other often stressful but fun destination. I always worry about them feeling exploited, too. Heck, I even worry about my family members feeling that way! If one of my friends expressed interest in these kinds of activities, I might still feel doubtful and/or self-conscious but I'd still take them for their word and invite them along next time, especially if it was explained to me the way you explain yourself above.

    1 agrees
  2. I wonder if using a direct approach with your friends would work? For example, this weekend I'm heading about 1.5 hour south to spend some time with a friend (we're meeting halfway between our places) and I do have the ability to be kid-free that day. I was talking it out with her and she said, "oh, please bring Potamus, I haven't seen him since December!"

    I had been worried that bringing him would feel like a hassle for her, and while it is harder to have grown-up time with a non-parent (it feels like I end up more distracted by my kid), I was REALLY happy that she was persistent in letting me know she wanted to hang out with mom-me.

    1 agrees
  3. I had my boy at 45…and having been a child-free grownup for many years before that, most of my friends are also child-free grownups. Some of them want to hang out with my child, some of them prefer to limit their exposure to special occasions. Since pretty much everyone is at least polite to small boy when they see him, how am I supposed to know the difference unless they tell me?

    I have one friend who simply asks "can I come?" when we talk about family-oriented events. The answer is always yes (ok, except if we need tickets and can't get more). I have another friend who plans events and invites us. We don't go to her very adult-oriented house, we go to public places where everyone can relax and have fun. The trick, I think, is not to wait for an invitation; make your own.

    There is a lot of media emphasis on parents not inflicting their children on other people in restaurants etc. If you don't make it clear you want to spend time with said children, parents are likely to assume you don't.

    1 agrees
    • I agree with this — there is a lot of media emphasis on enforcing the seen but not heard rule with kids. And there are also a lot of adults who say the polite thing (oh yes, I'd love for you to bring your child to event X, Y, or Z) but actually mean the opposite and don't know how to vocalize it without feeling bad. For example, I do know that it would be inappropriate to bring my newborn to a wine-tasting wedding reception that starts at 10pm… so it was weird when my friend awkwardly said that it would totally really be OK if I brought him. I let her know that we already arranged for my mom to take the baby for an hour that night, and while we would have to leave by midnight instead of staying until 1am, we would be there and were super excited. And then we arranged for a more kid-friendly hang out time for her to get a baby-fix and meet our kiddo.

      1 agrees
  4. Have you tried talking about it at all with them yet? What I'm thinking is that they may just be assuming that you'd perhaps not be all that interested in being included on the 'family outings' kind of social engagements simply because you might not feel like a part of the group.

    Likewise, kids are total pains in the asses sometimes – they may also be not inviting you because they don't want to frustrate you and end up losing the friendship because of too many cancelled plans or visits gone awry because the little one decides to have a public melt down.

    Finally, they may just not be thinking 'adult interaction' when planning these events – more focussed on the play date for the kids. The parent that happens to be attached to said kid is invited by default.

    I would suggest putting it to them exactly like you posted here – you come across as very open and genuine and simply miss them, all of them.

    1 agrees
    • I definitely agree with the part about not thinking of adult interaction. I know there are times when I've thought of inviting my child-free friends to an activity, but then I know that I'm going to be spending most of the time chasing my son around and that I wouldn't really be able to focus on my friends or do whatever I/we want to do because kiddo wants to chase birds around or something. So I think if you do ask to be invited to hang out with parents and kids, maybe just let your friend know that you know that they'll have their hands full, but that you can help out with the kids and you're not expecting a big sit down and catch up session or anything.

      5 agree
  5. It probably all depends on your relationship with the friends…but I'd just tell them! Next time they talk about a trip to the zoo or park let them know that you'd love to tag along even if you don't have kids. I'm one of the first of my friends to have kids and I feel very isolated sometimes just by the nature of our lives. While my days out are children's museums/zoos etc….theirs are bars and music festivals. I would LOVE it if any of my friends wanted to tag along to a kid place. I don't invite non-parent friends to this kind of stuff because I worry that it would be boring to them. An extra pair of hands/eyes or even some grown up conversation would be very welcome!

    1 agrees
  6. Speak up! And maybe try inviting yourself over to their house rather than waiting for an invitation? It is a million times easier for me to have guests to my house (when they do not have kid-friendly homes) than it is for me to go to their place or out somewhere. And I love being able to have adult conversations while my kids are in a comfortable place. Bring a bottle of wine (or whatever you're into) and prepare to stay through bedtime so the real grown-up time can take place. I know that I prefer to hang out with people with kids because it creates a distraction for my kids so I get a break and can talk with adults. That being said, I wish my friends without kids would be willing to come to my place more often because I would love to see them with the kids around, yet still be able to focus on them.

    9 agree
  7. I think you should take the initiative and invite them and their kids to do fun things like go to the park or zoo or amusement park. As a parent and the only one of my friends that has a kid, I often assume that my childless friends don't want to hang out with my kid or do kid friendly things. Kids are needy and sometimes annoying. They demand a lot of attention, and you can't do things in front of them like (depending on the family) swear or talk about adult topics. And some of the places and activities that my friends like are just not kid-appropriate. So it's out of courtesy to them that I don't invite them to play dates or bring her along to our activities. If, however, my friends specifically invited her and made it clear that they actually enjoy doing kid stuff with her, it might be different. I think the more your friends see you enjoy hanging out with them AND their kids and that you can handle the not-so-fun moments and limitations that come with that, the more inclined they will be to start inviting you.

    4 agree
  8. I think being direct works best! I'm a mom of a toddler with another on the way and the majority of my friends don't have kids yet. While I know some prefer our quality time kid free (not that they don't love my daughter but we all know it's easier to chat without them!), some have been very open about wanting to see her just as much as they want to see me. Some of my friends even like to make plans with her without me… 😉

    1 agrees
  9. Before I had a child I was in your boat. The friends in my case, I think, appreciated the opportunity for a child-free activity/evening, despite my expressed interest in also seeing their little. This is probably easier with a child-free friend as only one of you has to coordinate childcare.

  10. The first thing that came to mind was: throw a potluck picnic at a local park, and invite a whole slew of your friends — include both families with kids and without. If your birthday is coming up, throw yourself a birthday party at a kid friendly place: the zoo, the park, a bowling alley (include on the invite that there will be a lane with bumpers on it for the kiddos if you like), anywhere you know your friends already like to take their kids.

    Another thing is, meals and snacks are always welcome, even after the kids are finished being "little." Do you know if one of the kids is about to get a round of vaccinations? Maybe a child needs to have a surgery or has broken a bone? Offer to bring a comfort meal over for dinner.

    Most of my close friendships are still with friends who don't have kids yet. I am an only child, so when I discovered I was pregnant and my husband and I were about to have a son, I talked with some of my friends about being an "uncle" or "aunt." I left it open and made sure they knew that they could be as invested (or not) in that role as they liked, but I would love for them to have an active part in my kid's life. You could try having the reverse of this conversation — tell your friends that while you don't have kids, you would love to be a part of their children's lives and are always happy to be an extra set of eyes & hands at kids events to help out. Offer to help prepare for a kid's birthday party (make a pinata! put together grab bags for the kiddos! organize a game! frost some cupcakes!). Let your parent friends know that you want to be a part of their support system because you love them and truly enjoy their kids.

    2 agree
  11. I had been mulling over this myself and wondering if I should write in to Offbeat Families! Glad to see it here.

  12. I would say be honest with them! Tell them how you feel, because if they are truly your friend, then you should be able to talk to them as such!

  13. THIS. I understand this so much. You don't want to butt in and invite yourself along, but sometimes people assume that because you don't have kids, you don't understand or want to be around them.

    First, about inviting yourself over: I know for me, it's awkward to just invite yourself over to a friend's in the first place, and when that friend is exhausted from running after a toddler all day? You don't want to feel like a burden. I hate just dropping by my friends' house without at least an hour of notice, even though they're "Open Door" friends. I never mind a dirty house because I know that people, you know, live in it, but sometimes it makes people weird to have people over when the house is a mess. Like somehow they're less than an actual person because their kid just got out twelve of his favorite toys and oh yeah, they're all boxes of Legos, or there are dishes in the sink. Then again, I may have a skewed perception on how people want their houses to look; my mother has been known to sweep and dust before the maid comes so "she won't know how dirty we really are".

    Either way, indicate to them that you miss them AND their kids, and that you'd like to visit with them where they feel comfortable. That could be their place (dirty or not), a neutral area, or your own; you could talk to them about trying to make your own place a bit more child-friendly. Is there a space in your place that you can make child-safe? My partner's place is definitely not (glass tables, heavy/pointy statues, far too little space for three adults, much less for a kid to play in) but my other friends have bigger spaces that we slap electrical covers on, put away the breakables on higher shelves, and barricade them from the kitchen.

    But, like the others before me, I have to agree that honesty is the best policy. If you and your partner were drifting a bit, would you just let things progress and see what happens, or would you try to talk to him, share your concerns? People do change and drift closer and further apart throughout their lives. Tell them you miss them, that you want to see them more. Maybe they've been distancing themselves from you because they're afraid they've been talking baby at you 24/7.

    I do hope everything works out for you with your child-rearing friends. 🙂

    2 agree
  14. I think it's really sweet that you don't mind tagging along with the kids. However it is practically impossible for me to have a conversation when my kid is with me. Unless she is really engaged by something, I'm having to constantly interrupt my conversations to listen to her, intervene in something, and especially if its a public place I'm distracted watching her. I can't have a real conversation with anyone when my kid is present. So with my friends who don't have kids, I try to meet them on my own, since as much as they like my kid, I'd really like to look my friend IN THE FACE and talk to her rather than have her talk to my side or back or have to suddenly walk away when she's telling me something and I see my kid do a face plant off the climbing frame. It's stressful to try to parent and be a friend, and we hang out mostly with other moms and kids primarily because at least we are both acting this way! I wish it were the case that the kids would amuse themselves quietly and let the moms chat, but that never ever happens. Somebody is crying or fighting or having to go pee, and I miss parts of conversations or lose my train of thought, or send emails hours or days later like, "hey, remember how I was just about to tell you our pediatrician's name and then something happened?? Well here it is now!" I really also cherish those times when I am able to get away for a drink with a friend. It's so nice to just sit and talk without anyone tugging at you or needing anything. So perhaps a compromise is in order. Can you do things one-on-one so that the entire couple doesn't need a babysitter occasionally, meet at your friends' house (after bedtime?) occasionally, and do the whole go-out-get-babysitter thing once every few months?

    3 agree
  15. I am perplexed by your problem because I have a toddler and many childless friends! So I make them hang out with me and the kid all the time.

    Here's how you do it! "I haven't seen you in like forever! Wanna go to the park and sit on a bench with me while we watch your kid play? Can you do tomorrow? Awesome."

    5 agree
  16. Everyone else has great ideas so far, but I totally agree with 1) Inviting yourself along 2) Reminding them, more than once that you like to do things with them and their kids. Also, I have a couple of friends who say they are fine with doing family/kid stuff with me, but then are zero help whatsoever and seem to expect me to hold a conversation with them while chasing my kid around. So then I feel rude, and I'm not likely to invite them to the park and stuff, because I can't give them my full attention and they don't seem to understand. However I do have one friend who has been totally amazing and is forming a relationship with my daughter, she will give her a lot of attention and play with her and give her baths and all the stuff that I get tired of doing. But then I almost feel like I am taking advantage of her by inviting her over to have her play with my kid, so having her remind me that she loves me and my kid and it isn't a burden, realllllly helps.

    2 agree
  17. I completelt concur with the others who have suggested that you take the initiative. I was the child-free friend for a long time, and I adored spending time with my nieces (not bio, my best friends' kids). I always referred to myself as their "Auntie Molly" (I cleared this with their parents first) and volunteered to take them to the park, for ice cream, read stories, whatever. Now that I am expecting my own bundle of joy, many of my child-free friends have voiced that they would like to be involved with/hang out with/spoil my son. I couldn't be happier! I'm looking forward to surrounding him with my huge chosen family.

    1 agrees
  18. THIS. I had a friend (not friends anymore) and one of my frustrations was that I genuinely enjoyed spending time with her child, but when I visited she was always so quick to whisk her kid away that I hardly ever got time with her. I emphasized again and again that I was happy to have the kid along and structure the day for kid-friendly things. At first I thought it was just that my friend was just desperate for a break from her kid. Later, when other problems surfaced in the friendship, I realized that she seemed to actually be a bit jealous of the attention I lavished on her child. I think my interactions with her child left her feeling insecure not only about the attention she received, but that she also perceived it as a threat to her parenting (she seemed to be really nuts about the fact that when I visited I had very positive interactions with her child, as a novel adult, while she was not always happy as a parent and often had negative and frustrated interactions). Not saying this is the issue with OP's friend, but this could easily happen to other people.

    1 agrees
    • "… she also perceived it as a threat to her parenting…"

      Sometimes I wonder if they feel that as a non-parent I shouldn't be interacting with their children. There are times I notice there's a definite distrust in my ability to provide care or play even when supervised. Which personally feels weird since I've worked with kids for years.

      1 agrees
      • It might be worth asking your friend whether there are any "house rules" they'd like you to follow with their kid? I have a friend who my toddler adores, but she ignores naptime, uses words in ways I'd prefer my toddler not echo, and offers foods I try to avoid. My child has a lot of fun with her, but then my friend gets to leave and doesn't have to deal with the inevitable meltdown of the exhausted overstimulated child, and it honestly makes me limit my child's time with my friend more than I'd prefer.

        1 agrees
        • Hi Marina,

          If you are mentioning these "house rules" to your friend and she's not taking them seriously, that is just disrespectful and you don't really have a choice but to limit her childcare time. BUT, for me as a non-parent who knows a lot of parents, what seems obvious to them is rarely obvious to me. I don't know at what ages kids nap nor what hours, and I don't know which foods are appropriate when either. For myself, I would ask for that info if the kid were being left in my care, but perhaps your friend needs a nudge. Mention the meltdown, and what constitutes overstimulation–ask him/her to help you prevent that scenario. I would honestly have no idea, but I would take it seriously if someone explained it to me–especially if my ignorance were costing me bonding time with a child I adored!

          It's so hard for people immersed in childcare to realize how little I know on that topic–and sometimes it's embarrassing for me to admit. But I do want to know–I accept all (polite) lessons in childcare gratefully! Hopefully your friend will do the same!

          2 agree
        • Appreciate the feedback and will store that away for later use. In my situation it's usually more like we, the either single/childless friends, don't get to hold or play with the kids. Which might not really fit the initial question, I guess.

          • I'm late to the party here, but I mostly assume my childfree friends don't WANT to engage with my kid. They're nice to him, because who would be a jerk to a small child? But, from a parent's standpoint, "I don't mind hanging out with you and your kid" can really mean anything from "I love interacting with kids and really want to play with them all day!" to "I can tolerate the fact that your kid exists, but I don't want him touching or interacting with me, and I'd really prefer he played somewhere else." I generally have no idea which it is, as people are reluctant to say it's the latter.

            which brings me to the second point. People act as though any time a kid does kid things, it's an imposition. I make sure he's well-behaved, but he is a child. There is very little tolerance in our society for kids doing kid things. If you look around, you can find a million articles about horrible selfish parents who take their kids in public (restaurants, movie theatres, airplanes, buses, anywhere that isn't explicitly a "kid place") and the kid acts like a kid- making some noise, moving around, even just existing. People have even discussed banning children from various places! As a parent, it's easy to start worrying you're being "that" parent. It's easy to do- many non-parents have little experience with kids, and can consider normal developmental stages "bad behaviour".

  19. Thanks, everybody, for all the really helpful comments. I was travelling the day this post went up, so apologies for not being involved in the conversation sooner.

    The people who suggest taking the initiative are right of course. I am pretty retiring by nature and though I'll ask once to be included, but if it doesn't work for whatever reason, I'll feel too scared to ask again. I need to stop being so sensitive!

    Someone mentioned that she doesn't like having non parents around, because they don't help with the kids… I feel like often that is me, because I don't have a tonne of experience. I wish that there were a course I could take–"How to play with a kid on monkey bars without anyone getting hurt or being a hovering pest!" It's a steep learning curve when you don't have your own to practice on.

    One thing I have done lately is start making tv dates with my best "mom friend." Tv is nice, because it is relaxing and undemanding, and if the baby is fussing she can leave the room without me having nothing to do. Then if the baby is quiet, I get to cuddle her and we can put the show on mute and chat! I got to feed her some porridge last time and it was a big mess but I think I will get better at it. Babysteps!

    Thanks again for chiming in, all!

    1 agrees
  20. Okay, this may be off-topic, but it's related in that "left out" kind of way…

    This happens to me all.the.time. But with a twist. I am constantly excluded from stuff for being a single. Everyone I know is partnered up, except me, so I'm "left out" a lot of the time just because I make an odd number and/or don't have a playmate for the spouse of my friend.

    For example, I just spent an exorbitant amount of money going on a specialty event vacation (sort of like a con, I guess) that I really couldn't afford to attend, but I went because I've always been fascinated by this particular retro, kitschy scene. My friends were super encouraging about me going along and when we would run into each other at the hotel, they for sure invited me to join them. But no one every thought to check in with me to see if I had someone to eat with or hang out with or even invite to the room gigs/pre-shows. I ended up spending most of my time wandering around alone just hoping to see someone I knew.

    Even more sad sack are the Mondays that I learn of yet another "couples event" that I wasn't invited to because of my unpartnered status. To be fair, they're usually spontaneous events. You know, boyfriend/husband/partner runs into same gender half at the store and — boom — steaks on the grill, cocktails on the stoop, etc. But it happens all.the.time and I'm left feeling so pathetic — worse, needy.

    Seriously, unless it's some sort of key party, why does everything have to center around couples? I know, stupid question. That's just how it goes. It isn't meant to be exclusionary. It just is.

    Whine du jour.

    1 agrees
  21. Hi Kirsten,

    Though I'm married now, I was single for ages when many of my friends were hooked up, so I know your pain. There is honestly not much you can do about "couply" events other people are holding–but definitely invite friends as couples out with YOU and show that it's not awkward to socialize in odd numbers. I used to host brunches on my own and invite friends with their partners–I liked to get to know them.

    To be honest, if people ONLY want to socialize as a couple with couples, I would just let the friendship lie fallow for a while and see if their viewpoint matures after a while. Even now as a married lady, I find that a narrow way to see the world. I like to see my friends one-on-one sometimes, without having to entertain people who don't know all our in-jokes. You should definitely organize some time with your core friends, or at least suggest it. Also, my husband is very busy and not as social as me, so I can't expect him to attend every event I want to go to. I feel like I can talk to dudes and chicks equally well, so I don't have to provide a male for that aspect of the conversation to go forth. If people don't want to hang out with me sans husband–their loss.

    I'm going with a married couple to see Cats in a few weeks–my husband hates musicals! I'm the one who did the inviting though, which is kind of the message I got with the above question about folks with kids–if you want it to happen, ask. Even if doesn't work out, you'll know you tried!

    I hope this helps!!
    All best,
    Rebecca

    1 agrees
    • Thank you, Rebecca! I actually got kind of teary reading your encouraging reply. It's so hard not feeling invisible on the best days, so to hear your kind message above was exactly what I needed to hear. I am going to take your suggestion and run with it! I'll be honest, I've attempted half of your suggestion in the past (inviting the girls out on girl nights), but never the idea of inviting a whole couple. Perhaps I am just as guilty of the matchy-matchy!

      • I'm late to this party too!

        I don't live with my partner yet, so I haven't done this. However, if my partner is over for a weekend, I feel reluctant to invite friends along- I don't want them to feel awkward, like a third wheel! One of my friends just flat-out told me she doesn't care, unless we're being ridiculously physical (We're not!). Now we often go to the farmers market together, and then home for tea on Saturdays!

        I can especially imagine this if I had another couple or two over, though. Then it might seem as if I'm making you the fifth-wheel, or simply pointing out your single status (Which is fine if you like it, and shitty of me if you don't!). If you invite them over sometimes, though, it could work out that they get over it. The other option is, if you have another single friend, you could form a platonic couple. I had this with another friend years back. We got invited to things together often, because we were attached at the hip and so we wouldn't be alone at an event.

  22. Make it really clear that you want to see their whole family. I only have one friend with children but when I arrange to see her I ask 'hey when can I come see you and the boys'. When she realized that we wanted to see the children when we visited she became more comfortable bringing them with her when she visited or came out somewhere.

  23. I have a three year old, and several couple friends that don't have kids. One of the things I love is that they don't mind coming over to my place and hanging out. I know you said you invited them over, but that is a scary thing for people with small kids – I don't want him to break anything! But if my friends come over, we can cook and they bring sides and my kid can play with his toys. So, maybe offer "hey, I can come by your place some time and we can hang out". It might feel weird at first to invite yourself to someone's house, but honestly I get relieved. I've even started to apologize because I feel like maybe my house isn't cool enough for people without kids, but my friends have insisted it's still a good time (which honestly makes me feel warm and fuzzy).

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