When Did Kids Become The Center Of The Universe?

Laurie Cunningham is tired of losing her friends to their kids, and as a soon-to-be mother herself, she vows to always make time for the adults in her life.

When I got married two years ago I was adamant about one thing: no children at the wedding. OK, I was adamant about many things. I wanted to get married at an event space (no church), I wanted our friend Tom to officiate (no priest), I wanted to limit the guest list (no distant cousins we didn’t know) and I didn’t want a wedding party (no taffeta either, please).

I was 38 when I married, a late bloomer if you will. I had been a bridesmaid more times than I could count. At every wedding I attended, I took mental notes of what I liked and what I would definitely do without. While flower girls and miniature ring bearers were adorable and often stole the show, I wasn’t crazy about guests piling into the church with their children, then spending the ceremony distracted with keeping them occupied and quiet. I mean, who wants to hear a baby start wailing as you’re about to say, “I do”?

At the reception it often got even worse. Parents couldn’t freely socialize because they were busy getting food for their children, taking them to the bathroom and keeping track of their tiny suit jackets and dress shoes. When the band or DJ started up, it wasn’t long before the dance floor turned into Romper Room.

I know I’m in the minority on this, but I’ve always felt that weddings should be an adults-only affair. Most people feel that weddings are about family, and what’s more “family” than having the wee ones around? For my friends who got married in their mid-20s, keeping the kid quotient down wasn’t much of an issue, since we had just graduated college and didn’t have any yet. But by the time I got married 15 years later, nearly all my friends had children. So did my brother and my husband’s two brothers—a collection of two baby girls and three toddler boys.

What kind of heartless aunt would exclude them from our special day? Me, that’s who. For one night I wanted the focus to be me, my husband, and our wedding—as selfish as it sounds. I wanted to see friends from various chapters of my life socialize together. I wanted family members to drink all that fine wine we had paid for and dance with their spouses to Beyonce and Lady Gaga late into the night. (We paid for childcare at an off-site location so they could do just that.)  

Why was this so important? Well, the reality was I’d been losing my friends to their children for years. My best friend from college, Sarah, and I used to have marathon long-distance phone conversations about boy problems, work issues, and life in general (me in Chicago and she in Boulder). After her son was born two years ago, those heart-to-hearts went straight out the window. Within 10 minutes of getting into anything juicy, I could hear the baby start crying in the background. Sarah would struggle to ignore it, to let her husband or in-laws handle it. But after a few minutes, she’d sigh and say, “Sorry, Laur, I’ve gotta go.”

I’d be left mid-sentence, struggling to keep my frustration and sense of abandonment out of my voice. I felt like one of those husbands who felt jealous of the new baby yet terribly guilty for being that emotionally unevolved. I mean, really, it’s a baby. Of course she had to go.

But even as Sarah’s son grew older, started walking and talking and entertaining himself, we still couldn’t talk like we used to. Not even close. Just the other day she called to say hello and within 15 minutes I could hear his little voice in the background. She put her hand over the phone and I could hear her muffled voice telling him to put on his shoes. “Hey, Laur, we’re about to head out for our nightly family walk to get the mail. Sorry but I’ve gotta go.”

Really? But we haven’t talked in months. Can’t he and your husband go alone?

“OK, talk to you later,” I said.

Sarah is just one in a long list of distracted friends and family members who now punctuate our disjointed conversations with “Jacob get down from there!” “Yes, Olivia, what do you need?” and “Lucy, this is the last time I’m going to tell you. I said ‘no!”

I had one friend who sat by while her 10-year-old daughter complained openly to me about not being invited to our wedding. “It’s not like I’m going to go ‘Wah! Wah! Wah!’ during the ceremony,” the 10-year-old said, mimicking a crying baby. Then her mother asked me whether she could at least bring her to watch me get ready. “Abby would so love to see you in your dress,” she said. Really?? I’m sorry, when did this become all about her?

I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. But when did they suddenly become the center of the universe? When did parents start making their children’s feelings most important? Why do they assume their children are welcome everywhere they go? And is this really good for them? In my opinion, no.

When I was little and tried to ask my Mom something while she was talking to her friends, she’d say, “Laurie, I’m talking to Lorraine. You’re interrupting. You need to wait your turn.” As far as I can tell, asserting her adult time did no permanent damage to my fragile self-esteem. Neither did leaving me and my brother with a babysitter when she and my dad went to weddings, dinner parties, and other adult events. In fact, I relished the opportunity to eat all the ice cream I wanted and watch TV way past my bedtime.

Anytime I have come remotely close to voicing my frustration with friends I feel are being overly indulgent parents—very dangerous territory, I might add—I get the same refrain: “Just wait until you have kids.”

We won’t have to wait much longer since I am eight months pregnant, due with our first baby in early June. It’s been a tough pregnancy, one with lots of nausea and my first real meal after this baby is born may just be these words. I sure hope not. But when I look around, I don’t see a lot of good models for how to maintain my individuality, marriage, and friendships while being attentive and devoted to my child.

I aspire to be a mother who hires babysitters to attend weddings and graduations and have nights out on our own. I hope to take friends up on their offers to watch the baby while I run errands, do yoga, grab lunch with an old colleague, or just rearrange my sock drawer. And when a girlfriend calls needing to talk, I plan to muster the strength to pass the baby to my husband, kiss its sweet forehead, and say ever so gently, “I’ll be back, little one. But right now Mommy needs to go.”

Laurie Cunningham is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor who now works at an international law firm in Chicago writing web copy and teaching lawyers how to write in active voice and use shorter sentences. In her spare time she blogs about fascinating topics like bad hair days, annoying neighbors, and the top five things she swore she’d never do until she got pregnant.

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