The Humanist Dilemma: Childless Couple Won’t Flex for My Family

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Old Friends Don’t Go with Flow: I am married with kids. I have long-standing best friends who are a couple with no kids. The friends and I are punctual while my husband tends to be late, which was bad enough when he became part of my life, but ever since my first child was born, it’s been excruciating to make plans with these friends. They virtually always want to see me without my husband, or my husband and me without the kids. They get upset when my plans have to change at the last minute because I have to respond to a kid’s sudden need, when it turns out my husband will only be available to join us an hour later than scheduled (his work is demanding and unpredictable), or when a babysitter cancels at the last minute and we can’t find another in time. The friends bristle whenever I try to negotiate a compromise that includes everyone, my husband bristles if they insist on meeting earlier than he is able to (in other words, without him), and we all bristle if we end up calling the whole thing off after a gazillion calls and emails to try to work something out.

I understand that my family is my problem, not theirs, but I still resent always being in a position where I’m pulled in three or four directions. I don’t want to tell these friends we’ll get back in touch in a few years when the kids are old enough to take care of themselves, but I also don’t want to feel guilty and stressed every time we try to make plans and then we end up postponing. We’ve discussed this, and they claim to understand my situation, but they persist in suggesting doing exactly as they want without compromise. I simply can’t always accommodate them, no matter how much I want to. I end up frustrated with them, frustrated with my husband and kids, and most of all frustrated with myself for being so ineffectual.

—Drawn and Quartered


Dear Drawn,

First, make sure you aren’t always subjugating your friends’ preferences in favor of your family. Surely there are times when you can tell your crew you’re going out and they’ll need to forage for their own food, or leave the kids with a babysitter, or inform your husband he may just have to miss a get-together if, at the last minute, he can’t get there at the agreed-upon time.

But it sounds as though these friends are quite rigid in wanting what they want, regardless of the effect not only on your family but, more importantly, on you—someone with whom they clearly want to spend quality time. Just because they don’t have kids doesn’t mean it’s cool to carry on as though you don’t, or that it’s ok for them to cancel out your husband if he can’t make dinner until eight o’clock once they’ve set their minds on seven. Is it possible they not only don’t want to include your children but that they also don’t want to include your husband? Maybe they can’t adjust to any of the additions to your life that make you less accessible to them. If they really want to spend time with you, or you and him, wouldn’t they be more flexible about doing whatever they could to make it work, rather than expecting all of your clan to do all the contorting? And if they are part of your life, don’t they have any interest in spending time with your husband and your children? (Of course, the answer to that question may very well be no.)

You’ve been dealing with this for years and haven’t found a perfect solution—perhaps because there isn’t one. It can’t all be about you and your family’s needs, but it also can’t be all about them. Your friends have to recognize that your life is not just your own, and sometimes you may have to disappoint them. And you have to recognize that you shouldn’t attempt to make plans with them unless you’re fairly confident everyone can stick with the program, since they aren’t inclined to just roll with delays and changes. You may have to see each other less often to maximize quality time and minimize situations that result in friction, but hopefully it will be often enough to keep the friendship alive. If the relationship has weathered many years already, it should be able to hold up through this phase—as long as everyone is willing to engage in some genuine give and take.

And, as you noted, it really won’t be that long before your kids won’t have to be a consideration whenever you make plans. So even if this relationship has to go on the back-burner for now, you may be able to warm it up later on—if everyone still wants to.