When I was a new parent, I resisted the idea of sticking to a regimented nap schedule. I bucked every attempt to plan weekends around our daughter’s scheduled snoozes, and if we were out visiting friends (or at a game, or on a hike…) and we passed the witching hour then so be it. She could adjust, she’s a baby ⏤ why should we leave early just to sit around the house?
My wife, on the other hand, along with many of our friends with small children, did not share my freewheeling (some might say selfish) view of scheduling. They ascribed instead to the “I don’t want to deal with a batshit crazy baby or toddler who hasn’t napped all day, and we’re going home right now” philosophy of parenting. It took a few rough Saturdays in which I flew too close to the sun blowing past nap time, but I started to see the light. More importantly, though, I realized that if I wanted to see my friends with any regularity, I had to embrace the ‘two-hour hangout.’
New parents quickly learn a few things: First, no matter how spontaneous life was prior to kids, it now consists of two-to-three-hour blocks scheduled around meals, naps, and bedtime. Second, keeping up with friends is hard, especially the ones who also have small kids. And finally, unless you get a babysitter (which can be a pain), hanging out with friends becomes an “on the clock” affair ⏤ and one that, much like having conversations when a toddler continuously interrupts you, can feel wholly unfulfilling at first. Whereas you once meandered through dinner at a restaurant, maybe grab drinks at another bar or see a movie, you now try to squeeze in as much broken conversation as you can while the kids eat and then say goodbye in the parking lot, agreeing to totally do this again soon. Huh? Wait, we just got here?
But once you get used to the brevity of this new world order, you start to realize the beauty of these limited windows. Because everybody is working with the same couple of free hours, usually in the morning or late afternoon, it almost becomes easier to hang out ⏤ whether it’s meeting at the park, going for a hike, or grabbing takeout on your way over to somebody’s house for dinner. A dinner, mind you, that will last only two hours because, well, 7 p.m. is the kids’ bedtime.
You learn to take advantage of the windows when they’re open, to fire off a quick text, and, ironically, to build some spontaneity back into an otherwise structured existence. Sure, people are still busy and can’t come out to play, but it never hurts to text, “Hey, we’re going to the park. You guys want to meet us there for an hour?” The interactions may be shorter, but it’s decidedly better than seeing each another every few months. I equate it to quick phone calls home. Sometimes it’s just easier to briefly touch base with mom or dad a couple of times during the week than to call on Sunday and chat for an hour.
The best part of the ‘two-hour hangout,’ however, isn’t even the stress it relieves in scheduling. Rather, it’s that it shapes expectations for any get together before you begin ⏤ because everybody, save maybe a few kidless friends who still want to hang longer, is on board with the plan. There’s no need for excuses as to why you’re jetting so soon after eating. There’s no need to feel guilty, nobody’s feelings get hurt, and rarely is somebody offended. Everybody gets it. Good to see you, man, let’s catch up more soon.
I actually have one dad friend who throws a first-half-only Super Bowl party. Most of the invitees have kids and he makes it crystal clear in the invite ⏤ everybody out of my house at halftime. The guests are happy to comply. In fact, if there’s one thing new parents learn almost immediately is that babies or toddlers are a great “pull in case of emergency” lever for almost any social gathering at which one would rather not spend too long. So with the bad (less quality time with friends) comes the good ⏤ I don’t have to make small talk at this party for long and I can go home to watch the game. Seems like a fair trade.
Obviously, all of this will come to an end. Kids grow up. They stop napping. Activities begin to take over your days. Scheduling time with friends will become even more complicated. Which is why even though I may have fought it in the beginning, wheeling my 6-month-old around the county fair determined not to go home so I could keep chatting with some friends, I’ve come to see the two-hour hangout as a gift. And damn am I going to miss it when my 3-year-old ends her midday slumber.