I was texting a childhood friend. We were catching up, as we do every couple years. She’s a single mother living in a big city. She has a good job and one daughter. I live in a small rural town. I’m married with three children. Obviously, we’ve ended up in very different places. Somehow we got onto the topic of how often we socialize without our children.
I told her that I really didn’t. I work two jobs and any free time I have I spend with my kids. She mentioned to me that she tries to go out with friends (to bars or a concert) as much as possible. “I have a good life,” she said. “I make good money, and I have a good sitter. I try to make sure I have a balance, so that I can keep sane.”
I read that text and felt like such a loser. I hadn’t gone out with friends in, well, months? A year? Both of us were in our mid 30s, and it’s not that I don’t have friends. I do. They just seemed really far down on my priority list, and I wondered if they should be a bit higher. Should I be spending more time with my friends? (And less time with my family?)
This isn’t to say that either of us were doing anything wrong. From everything I can tell, my friend is a great parent. But at the same time, I couldn’t understand how she did it. How she found the time to juggle her daughter’s extracurricular activities, run a household, work a high-stakes job, and still manage to have an active social life.
But the more I thought about how I could manage to find time for my friends, and what that would look like for my family, the more I felt like I wasn’t really missing out. It was around this time that an article by Joelle Wisler came across my newsfeed, titled “I Cherish My Friendships, But I’d Rather Spend Time With My Family Than Anyone Else,” where she discussed this very subject, listing out all the times that she will choose her family over brunch with friends or a girls’ vacation because she only has a short window of time when they will choose her first.
And I think to anyone who really values socializing, this all sounds very suffocating. But for me, as a father working 50-plus hours a week, it makes perfect sense. It isn’t uncommon for me to leave before the kids are up, and get home once they are in bed. It isn’t uncommon for me to be sent to some conference, or meeting, or whatever in another city, far from the people I love the most, where the only interactions I have with my family for four or five days are choppy phone conversations and grainy images through Skype.
Every time I travel for work, I sleep through the night which, I admit, is awesome. I make a couple new friends from different places whom I will probably never see again. I learn a few things, but most of all, I miss my family. I miss their snuggles. I miss holding their small hands. I miss kisses from my wife.
And I miss being there for her. I hate hearing about how overwhelmed she is caring for three small kids, not because I think she can’t handle it, but because I know how demanding our children can be, and I like being her partner. I like being able to help. I like being a father and husband, and I enjoy everything that goes with it, even the frustrating parts.
So much of this comes down to the fact that, as a working parent, I spend a lot of time away from my family trying to support them, and so when I get home, I want to feel like I’m doing more than simply bringing in a paycheck.
This isn’t to say that my kids don’t frustrate me. This isn’t to say that I don’t sometimes come home to half-naked kids and a frustrated wife and think about how peaceful it was at work. But when I’m at work, I think about my kids and smile. I long for them in my arms. I look forward to watching them play soccer or practice gymnastics. I think about how amazing it feels to help my daughter figure out a math problem.
I have this deep longing to help them become something special. And I feel a deep connection to my wife that has evolved over the years from one of romance to one of partnership. It’s not that we don’t still have romance — we do. But we have grown to work well as a team. I get her, and she gets me, and together we are ready to take on any stain, sticky face, or poopy butt. I love her company more than I love the company of anyone else. And I feel very at peace when we are together.
Just last week, we watched Trolls as a family, and with each song, everyone but my too-cool-tween son had a dance party in the living room. My youngest shook her pigtails and stomped her feet, while my middle daughter pulled some seriously impressive ballerina moves. My wife and I bumped hips, and my son looked at it all with a red-faced, dimpled grin. It was better than any other dance party or concert I’ve ever been to.
Honestly, it’s hard to give that up.
Furthermore, it’s hard to spend so much time away, and then spend more time socializing with others, when all you really want to do is spend time with your wife and kids. I don’t think that makes me boring or uncool at all. I think it means I’m really digging this stage of my children’s lives, and I know that it will end sooner than I’d like.
Like Joelle said in her article, “So I’m sorry to anyone out there if I miss some stuff. I will probably miss a lot of stuff. You see, I only have this short amount of time to choose these little people because soon they aren’t going to choose me. I’m really going to try not to miss a single moment of it.”
I feel exactly the same.