The first time my husband and I decided to socialize with our infant was a miserable one. We were living in Spain for my husband’s MBA program. His cohort had just finished finals and wanted to celebrate. In an effort to still have fun despite toting along a 4-month-old, we packed up our daughter and headed to the party. It was at a Greek restaurant with ouzo shots, plenty of clapping, and raucous merriment.
As the night wore on, everyone joined in on the dancing—except me. I was in the corner, sweating while struggling to calm our newborn’s incessant tears. I was angry, and our baby could sense it. I wanted to have a good time, and I wanted my husband to have a good time, too. As new parents, we just wanted to get out! Here was our first real opportunity to celebrate with friends. Needless to say, we were blinded by our ambition.
But did we learn from it? Yes!
There’s a stigma out there that becoming a parent means that your old life—your life with friends, socializing, and a fun nightlife—dies. But there are plenty of us out there with our minds set on defying this.
Many of the Verily editors are working moms who pride themselves on balancing work life, family life, and a social life. Sophie Caldecott, Verily’s headline writer and contributor, is a mom to a 2-year-old girl. Mary Rose, culture editor, has a 3-year-old and a 15-month-old. Katherine, our art director, is a mom of five (ages 14, 12, 10, 7, and 5). And I have 1- and 2-year-old girls. Together, we’ve learned that having children doesn’t have to mean giving up your former social self, but it does mean rebalancing your priorities and making them count.
With a little advice from mothers who have been there, I slowly learned that maintaining a social life, even with children in tow, was possible. From the Verily editors to you, here’s how to make it work.
01. Acknowledge your fears.
For Sophie, maintaining a social life after having a baby was a big deal. “I was one of the first in my circle of friends to have a baby,” she says. “I had this negative image of what it would be like from popular culture. I assumed that’s how it was because none of us had any experience of our own to draw on!”
When something is new to us, we assume we can’t simply because we haven’t. Fear of keeping up with the person we were before children is no exception. A great deal of new stresses and anxieties crop up when you become a parent. The thought of taking a needy little person along for drinks can feel like adding unnecessary torture to your cup.
Mary Rose faced the same fear all parents face: What if my child has a huge fit and makes others uncomfortable?
If my 2-year-old explodes because we won’t let her play with the saltshaker (like she did at Sunday brunch), I take her outside. Or a friend distracts her with a cork (true story). Or the hostess hands her a small chocolate cookie (also true). She calms down in minutes, if not immediately. Then we all go back to socializing again. And if she doesn’t? We go home. No big deal.
Whatever your fears are, ignoring or succumbing to them will only restrict you. Rather, think of possible solutions. Children aren’t rabid dogs. When they’re upset, it’s often because they’re hungry, tired, soiled, or bored. Come prepared for these situations. Worse comes to worst, none of them work, and you’ll just have to head home. Would that be the end of the world? Hardly. Is it worth the effort to preserve a part of ourselves and our relationships? Definitely.
02. Accept that your social life will change, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse.
Katherine has always made sure her friendships don’t suffer because she’s a mom. “One’s life will always be better when you think of others,” she says. “By that I mean genuine care for what is going on in your friend’s life.”
“We all know someone who got married and that was the last we saw of her!” Katherine says. This is the all-too-common story we hear. And sure, getting married and having children completely changes your life. But that doesn’t mean your social life needs to nose-dive.
After having kids, Mary Rose admits, “I found myself desiring to spend time with moms who understood the changes going on in my life. But I still desired to do the same things socially, too.”
Katherine has great advice for maintaining your valued relationships: Look at how those before you have done it. “Everyone talks about how your social life ends when you have kids. I had great examples in my own parents, though,” she says. “They went out together without us about once a week to get together with friends. And they went away together for a whole week, just the two of them, to their favorite place in the Caribbean once a year.”
Stories like this are great reminders that one of the most important things we can do as parents is to set an example for our children. By fostering healthy friendships and an active social life, we’re showing our children how to value personal relationships beyond immediate family.
03. Decide on your general philosophy for socializing with your children.
Not every baby is the same. And not every bar (or socializing locale) is the same. Knowing your and your child’s limits is key.
Don’t feel guilty because you want to go out sometimes. Of course your child’s well-being is your priority, but choosing to take them along for a night out isn’t going to compromise that. “I want to raise a child who knows she isn’t the center of the universe,” Sophie says. This can be avoided by socializing children at a young age.
“I think many moms feel like leisure time and fun is selfish in some way,” Sophie says. “I still struggle with feelings of selfishness when I schedule in fun, but I make sure to push myself to do it despite that. I’ve noticed I’m a much better mom when I’ve been having fun!”
Katherine has similar sentiments but warns against throwing all caution to the wind. “My philosophy is to teach your children from the earliest age the appropriate behaviors,” she says. “Most importantly, know your child! I only brought children who I knew would do the right thing. If you have a fussy baby, going out to a bar is not the right thing to do.”
Mary Rose is flexible depending on what she knows about her children and friends. “I will take my kids along to a lunch date, dinner out, or outdoor events—anywhere as long as the people [I’m meeting] haven’t requested quality alone time. For a serious chat that requires no interruptions, I’ll leave my children at home.”
Have your own philosophy, but leave a little wiggle room for the unexpected.
04. Look to other moms for inspiration and support.
You can take kids to some crazy places. Just ask your own mom.
High-end restaurants and bars with babies are in Katherine’s inspiring repertoire. “When my daughter (now 14) was 10 months, we took her to Susanna Foo’s restaurant in Philly. The waitstaff raved about her to Susanna, who came out to coo over her herself. We also took her to a lot of Irish bars. When our son was a month and a half old, we took him to New Orleans to scout for houses. He went to all the restaurants and even bars in a Moby wrap!”
Traveling is a great opportunity, and children shouldn’t hold you back. “Believe it or not,” Sophie says, “Parisians are some of the most baby-friendly people I’ve met (despite not having a reputation for being friendly, generally!).”
Indeed, Sophie looks to the French for inspiration. The book French Children Don’t Throw Food, written by an American raising a child in France, explores the idea that French women don’t let children drastically alter their lives. They often go back to work and take their children out socializing with them a lot. This means that French culture is (a) used to children being around and (b) used to children being well-behaved and therefore, welcoming them. French children are often better behaved in public and social situations because they know it’s expected of them. These are valuable lessons we could all benefit from.
Among the eyebrow-raising places I’ve taken my children to socialize? Michelin-starred restaurants, an entire Viennese opera, and London pubs top the list. This isn’t to say we haven’t experienced failure. We’ve come to accept that, as with all things, there will be good and bad days. “I’ve had bad wedding stories where everyone else was having fun, and I was stuck with a stinker,” Katherine says. “There will be ups and downs. You’ve got to put your time in sometime.”
“Sometimes it’s just a bit of a trial-and-error thing,” Sophie says. “You’ll go out to some places and find it doesn’t work at all, and you learn from that. But you’ll go to other places where it works like a dream.”
Our mothers and fellow moms have been there, done that. Try to have a “personal board” of mothers you can go to for inspiration and support when you need it. I seek advice from my mother-in-law, who has traveled the world alone with four children from a young age. Your parenting philosophy may be different, but it’s wise to get a range of perspectives!
05. Prepare, practice, and trust your instincts.
Socializing with children is proof that setting limits often results in greater freedom. Sounds contradictory, but hear me out.
If we don’t set limits, we allow the possibility for all hell to break loose. I once saw a mother and her six young children having brunch at a French café on the Upper East Side. Mind blown. It was clear they had practiced plenty of times, down to the 3-year-old girl stirring sugar into her teacup.
Good outside behavior begins in the home. We expect our children to eat all their meals at the dining room table using the appropriate utensils. We don’t allow them to use iPads or iPhones. A deck of cards is an equally good distraction.
We also plan in advance so that there’s minimal disruption for everyone. Going out well before or after nap time (rather than near or during their regular nap time) means less meltdowns. If that’s not possible, we play Tetris with our schedule. If drinks are at 6, we’ll feed the kids dinner beforehand. We’ve found that stretching bedtime by an hour one or two weekends a month is no big deal. Friends have been gracious about letting our babies sleep in their room during game nights and dinner parties in. We just make sure to bring along a couple travel essentials. If all else fails, we hire a sitter. We build the cost of a sitter for ten hours into our monthly budget, not just for date nights but for emergency situations as well.
In every situation, you have to make a judgment call. Some situations can truly be child-friendly, but some aren’t.
“As I said, know your child,” Katherine urges. “Is this a 4-month-old who always goes to bed at 9 and will sleep anywhere? Then, by all means, take him to the bar, sit outside, and tuck him under the table. When you see him stirring, make your goodbyes, and get out of there. Yes, your evening was a little short, but you still made it out and put a good face on having kids and still being cool.”
Had I asked mom friends—such as Katherine, Mary Rose, and Sophie—for advice three years ago, we would have avoided that disastrous evening in Spain. We could have stayed for cocktails and then had a quiet dinner at home. Or skipped drinks and asked a friend to babysit while we joined for dinner. There were ways we could have made it a win-win situation for everyone. We hope these tips help make your time out with family and friends a win-win for everyone, too.