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The One Weekly Ritual That Saved My Friendships After I Had Kids

When we moved to a town near friends, I envisioned an idyllic utopia where we all pitched in to help our children grow. Only problem: I never saw anybody.

The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

Children, those adorable, needy, soul-sucking little humans, make maintaining even your strongest friendships a constant challenge. I didn’t know this when my wife and I moved to a town near most of my closest friends, all of whom happened to have kids around the same age as my own children. This is great, I thought, we’ll all basically raise our kids together.

I envisioned an idyllic utopia like some obscure Scandinavian commune where all of us pitch in to help our children grow and thrive. I could just see how our regular hang-outs would go. I saw myself stepping away from my friends to check up on the kids and make sure everyone was playing nicely, only to find the rugrats snuggled up against each other and fast asleep like a litter of puppies. I return to my friends, who are gathered around a bonfire and discussing one of the many shows we currently binge watch because “having kids isn’t nearly as hard as people make it out to be, at least not for us.” When I report back on our perfect children, the idea of a group vacation overseas ⏤ maybe Ireland or somewhere in South America ⏤ gets floated around and before the end of the night, we make firm commitments to get our children passports ASAP.

It didn’t take long to realize my hopes of such a utopia were pure fantasy. Weeks or even months would go by without seeing friends who live right down the road. When the grown-ups and the kids did manage to get together, normally during a birthday party or some other special occasion, the gatherings were a hurried mess of half-finished conversations mixed with full-fledged toddler meltdowns. Typically, I’d spend a few hours at a clip scooping up a needy child or chastising a misbehaved one while saying, “Hang on just a sec, I want to hear this,” to a friend who was trying to catch me up to speed on a life I used to know all about. Sure, we still got together without the kids occasionally, but coordinating schedules and setting up babysitting made this more of a seasonal outing than a regular occurrence.

I started to think I was destined to spend my kid’s toddler years maintaining my friendships the way many people my age do: By liking all of people’s mundane Facebook updates (friends and some acquaintances) or taking the time to dash off the occasional email or FB message (good friends). But then my friend Wendy proposed something that would ensure more frequent in-person contact ⏤ a weekly supper club for the people who live so close to one another. Every Wednesday, one family hosts for the group ⏤ eight adults and eight kids ranging in age from one to five ⏤ and provides dinner. It started out as just pizza, but it’s morphed into an anything-goes event. We’ve enjoyed everything from take-out Pho to delicious homemade empanadas and sliders.

We didn’t have high hopes when we started. After all, if it’s such a nightmare to get together with the kids for birthdays, why the hell would anyone want to subject themselves to that torture each and every week? If we could make it through a month, one full rotation of families, we would deem the experiment a rousing success. As it stands, we’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of our little supper club.

After some personality clashes during the early outings (many involving my strong-willed daughter Emma’s allergy to sharing), the kids settled into the routine, and Wendy’s idea ⏤ a regularly scheduled hang-out that breaks up the week, gets us away from our kids for a few hours on a weeknight, and allows us to commiserate about the trials of trying to raise terrifying, irrational semi-humans into well-adjusted, contributing human beings ⏤ became a familiar part of our weekly routines.

The familiar part is critical because, as a bunch of parenting experts pointed out in books I once skimmed, children crave routine. These days, when we show up to the supper club, the kids know the drill. I can hardly get mine out of the car before they’re off and running with the group, out of earshot and eyeshot from the grown-ups.

On some Wednesdays, when everything is going especially well, our little get-togethers come pretty damn close to that image of the Scandinavian-like commune I’d pictured in my mind. It’s only when we leave, and I’m trying to wrestle my screaming children to bed that I’m reminded this parenting shit is really, really hard ⏤ and I don’t have nearly enough free time to binge watch all the great TV that’s out there right now.

Jared Bilski is a new dad, a writer, a comic, and someone who witnessed an armed robbery when he was 11. Follow him on Twitter at @JaredBilski.