Accommodation – #2 in Living Child-Free Series

In the first installment, I suggested acknowledging parents’ choices to reproduce and taking choice into account when addressing both parents and child-free adults. The next step in negotiating repro-normativity connects to choice as well. When friends have children, their lives change considerably due to their decision to reproduce. The less familiar truth is that your life will change as well, and child-free friends need to think about how much they want to accommodate their parent-friends with new life paths.  Of course, the easy parts include oohing and aahing over beautiful little smushy people. Well, that part is easy for me because I truly enjoy babies. Oohing abilities may vary.

Once that stage is over, the more difficult adjustments begin. If you want to invite parents to dinner, forget the casual ease of pre-child plans. Be aware that most middle class American children live on a rigid schedule as contemporary parenting encourages routines to make the child feel safe or to help them sleep. That means they eat at the same time, they bathe shortly thereafter, and they are put to bed after that, usually with book reading, snacks, and other complicated arrangements. Your window for enjoying their parents’ company can be very small. Better that you “just go to their house,” too, because the children are thrown off by difference. Once again, initially these shifts are painless. Visiting  their home is easier than dinner at 4:30 and an almost immediate departure to begin nighttime procedures.  Regardless of the way parent-friends address the scheduling issue, it alters the way the child-free people interact socially, despite the fact that they are not the ones who decided to bring children into the friendship. Suggesting a babysitter to create adult flexibility can also be precarious. Sitters cost money, and some contemporary parents feel as if they already spend too much time away from their children for careers. A sitter suggestion may also be construed as unwillingness to spend time with the whole family.

These types of social accommodations seem unproblematic in the short term, but over time they may become frustrating. After all, the child-free people want to continue friendships, and children make that process exponentially more difficult. Most parents appreciate your sacrifices to spend time with them. However, if you constantly accommodate and never ask for what you need, it may wear on your patience. Don’t be afraid to spend time with your partner and / or your other child-free friends on your own terms, and don’t be afraid to sometimes even ask the parent-friends to do adult things or shift their rigid child-centered routines a bit. They may demur, but you must fulfill your own needs. Constantly shifting your expectations to accommodate friends’ parenting choices creates unevenness in the friendship, and it may never be reciprocated or even noticed.  Parents expect to sacrifice for their children. They have decided to do so. Other people also sacrificing for those children may seem completely ordinary and unworthy of comment to them. Yet, to you it can feel like an ongoing never-repaid favor. Instead of allowing this kind of resentment to enter the friendship, remember to balance accommodation with self-preservation and self-respect.

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