Dear Maxine,

Now that lockdown is easing and people can go out and do all the things they used to be able to, I’m starting to feel really boring and like I’m always putting a downer on plans, particularly with my friends who don’t have children yet. They are all really understanding and flexible, but I feel like I’m always putting caveats in plans and redirecting towards child-friendly activities.

How do I get back to being the fun, spontaneous person I was? And how do I manage my friends expectations so they don’t all get bored of me and start leaving me out?

Thanks for your time.

Dear Follower,

Thanks for getting in touch. I think this is really common and, actually, not a challenge that is limited to parents. Now that lockdown has eased, everyone has different levels of how comfortable they feel with social contact and with the activities they are able to do. Plus, as parents, we have spent the last 18 months being able to flex around our children’s whims. We’ve been able to do only what works for them and us and not had to consider anyone else in the process, which means that doing new things now is likely to be scary.

As ever, I think there’s a number of things to think about here:

  1. What’s motivating the caveats and child-centred planning?
  2. What’s behind your fears that your friends will get bored of you?
  3. Do you want some child-free time? And, if so, how can you get it?

What’s motivating the caveats and child-centred planning?

As I mentioned above, you’ve spent the last 18 months doing whatever works for you and your child. You probably haven’t had to put them in too many more cars than they’d want, skip more naps than you’d like or go to any places they might find ‘boring’. So, of course, you’re apprehensive about breaking that mold and challenging them to do things that are notoriously ‘not fun’ for children (or their parents!).

But notoriety doesn’t always mean accuracy. Have you given your child the chance to experience these things recently? If so, how did that go? Are they in the same place developmentally that they were in last time they went? The answer to this is ‘probably not’ because even if you have an older child who isn’t developing at a rate of knots, they are still learning about new places and expectations.

What are your expectations for the first time your child goes somewhere? Are they realistic? Your child is still learning the rules and boundaries of what they need to do the first few times they go anywhere. What to expect from you, what they are expected to do. How will they learn without breaking the boundaries a few (hundred!) times and being kindly reminded of what it is you want them to do?

Do you remember the first time you took them to anywhere where you have had to take them repeatedly? Do they behave differently now than they did those first few times?

What would be the worst thing that could happen? Why would that be so bad? Is it that you won’t get to actually spend any time talking to your friends because you’re too distracted by your child? Is it that your child will just spend the whole time screaming? Maybe it’s that your child won’t have as ‘fun’ or ‘perfect’ a time as they might have had if you’d gone somewhere else.

How realistic are these fears? What would you do if that happened? What would you do if it happened at home? Is it more about your child’s (mild) distress or judgement from others? Is there anything you think your child could learn from being ‘bored’?

What’s behind your fears that your friends will get bored of you?

Of course, we need to be realistic here. This isn’t about ‘torturing’ your children and forcing them to be bored as a learning experience.

The outing to the pub now with children is totally different from before you had them. You’re not going to be able to sit there and chat with your mates as you get steadily drunker over the next 6 hours. Instead, you are going to have to be a bit more active with your child. Your friends will need to chat with you while you negotiate playing football.

And what’s so bad about that? How do you know what your friends are thinking about it? Have they told you or are you projecting your own thoughts onto them? Do you have the kinds of relationship where you can openly discuss how everyone is feeling about you moving into a new life stage?

What are your experiences of being ‘left out’? What does that bring up for you? Is that actually happening now or is it the ghost of the past coming to haunt you? How could you be kind to the ‘left out’ part of yourself? What do they need?

Do you want some child-free time? And, if so, how can you get it?

I think a big part of this is about identity. You are transitioning from being someone who doesn’t have the responsibilities of children to being someone who does. And you are now having to introduce them to people who mainly know you as the responsibility-free person. I wonder whether part of you is missing that time. Grieving the loss of ‘freedom’ and spontaneity? What does that part of you need, do you think? How would it feel to accept those changes? What makes that feel easier? What blocks come up? Which parts are you still angry about?

And I wonder whether it’s possible for you to reclaim some of that freedom, maybe, in slightly less spontaneous ways?

What is it you want to do? Do you want to go and sit in a pub garden without children for an entire day and night? Do you want to go to catch up with one of your friends? To go to the cinema? A cafe? A class or the gym?

What would it be like to do that? What’s stopping you? Is it those around you or is it something inside yourself? Where do you think that comes from?

How do you feel now you’ve read this?

What’s come up for you and where does that take you?

What do you think you need and how do you think you can get it?

I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. You can also like, share and comment on Facebook and Instagram.