When my husband and I first started dating each other, he told me that one of his favorite things about me was that I enjoyed socializing with other people. I didn’t “need him” to keep me occupied at parties or in social gatherings. He’s a very friendly, outgoing person—one of my favorite things about him—and he said he enjoyed looking over at me across a room and seeing me laughing and enjoying myself with others. He never had to entertain me.
Since becoming a couple, we’ve made it a priority to spend time with our friends, both together with other couples, and individually. He encourages me to have girls’ nights, never insisting that I “check in” with him, and from the beginning we’ve loved making impromptu dinner “dates” with our friends. In fact, I would venture to say that one of the reasons we like having only one child is that it’s easier to be social with friends we’ve known and loved for years, some with kids and some without. We liked the idea of making our daughter a part of our get-togethers, and of having her become friends with our friends.
But since she became old enough to go to preschool and take part in extracurricular activities, an interesting dynamic has been added to the mix. We’ve begun dating Couples With Kids (let’s call them CWKs).
I’m not talking about polyamory here, people, just dinners out and game nights, that kind of thing. But make no mistake, I use the word “dating” purposely. Because it bears a startling, embarrassing resemblance to dating.
The first time I became consciously aware of that similarity was last year. Our daughter was in an after-school activity with a little boy whose parents we’d enjoyed talking to during classes. When his birthday rolled around, our daughter was invited, and our whole family had had a nice time. We came home from the party, and I confessed to my husband later that night, while chopping vegetables for dinner, “OK, I really want to be friends with those people. Do you think they’d want to hang out with us?”
“Probably,” he said. (My husband is pretty cocky; you should know this about him.) “Let’s ask.” (He’s also not shy.)
So he sent a text to the dad—something breezy like, “Hey, fun party. Let’s get together sometime.”
I got all nervous. “Does that sound too needy? Why did you say ‘Probably’? Did you get the vibe that they liked us? Did they say something?”
A few minutes went by with no response. “Did you get any response yet?” I prodded.
Finally, a response came. They were in. Next time we saw them at our kids’ class, we’d make a plan.
A few weeks later, we had them over for dinner, me hemming and hawing over what to serve, whether we’d cleaned the house enough, whether we should invite other people or just do the two families… I changed clothes three times. I realized with a start that it felt a little like high school: I really wanted this cool couple to like us.
What was great is that, when they arrived and after we’d gotten to talking (and drinking), they shared that they’d felt the same way about us.
Since then, we’ve “dated” other CWKs. Lately, we’ve become friends with a few other families from other of our daughter’s activities, and I’ve even had girls’ nights with some of the moms. My husband and have identified some couples that we’d like to hang out with (“They seem cool. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with them…”), and we will casually insinuate ourselves near them during classes, off-handedly cracking jokes to seem more fun and interesting. I suppose this is the married-adult version of flirting?
Yes, it’s a somewhat embarrassing fact, but I’m willing to bet that most parents of young children are familiar with the routine, and engage in it themselves! Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to have a small child AND a decent social life.
CWKs certainly make arranging playdates a lot more appealing, and they make planning grown-up time much easier—just put the kids together and magically the parents get a few hours to drink some beers and talk with adults who aren’t our own spouses.The kids will never (okay, rarely) bother us.
(I should add here that we have several single-parent friends too, whom we love spending time with just as much.)
But what I’ve really noticed is that it’s added a new reason to look forward to going to my daughter’s extracurricular activities. Now, they feel a bit like mini-lunch dates with friends, as if they’re our extracurricular activities. In fact, we’ve been known to gossip with CWKs about the other families. (OK, maybe it’s a little high schoolish, but it’s true). I’m also somewhat ashamed to admit that sometimes I find myself socializing and forgetting to pay attention to what new skill my daughter’s learning in class.
But I will also vouch for the fact that it’s made being parents of a young child less than, well, 100% kid oriented, which I firmly believe is a healthy thing. I think it strengthens our marriage, which research supports. I’m not sure how, exactly, you study such a thing, but I discovered that a Wayne State University study of 60 couples actually showed that couples who integrated other couples into their social lives had healthier, more satisfying romantic relationships. For us, it adds to our repertoire of things to talk about, and reassures us that we’re not the only ones going through certain things with our child. In fact, some of our daughter’s closest friends—whose parents have become our friends—are also children without siblings. So those shared experiences are many, and it’s a great comfort to us when our kids have plenty of socialization. Plus, my husband and I truly believe that it’s important for our daughter to see us socializing, making time for our own friends, enjoying ourselves independently of her. It’s something we want for her as she grows up.
So if you’re a CWK (or the parent of one of my kid’s friends) and looking for some socialization, let me know. We’re always up for it!