There's no reason your social life has to come to a complete halt because you have children. That said, we’ve all been on the wrong side of a badly planned baby outing: some parents decide to forgo the baby-sitter and bring a wailing tot to a prime time movie, to the dismay of the audience—and possibly the child herself.
The truth is, if you want to enjoy an event or experience that's meant for grownups, you really won't be able to if you're caring for a baby, and the people around you won’t either. I learned this after bringing my three-month-old to a cousin's wedding reception. My gut told me to leave him home, but his proud grandparents urged me to bring him along. I spent most of the night in the lobby; the loud music, change in routine, and uncomfortable—albeit adorable—suit made for one fussy baby.
Now I enjoy the best of both worlds—doing fun things and having my kids right beside me—by following some basic rules.
Choose “crayon” restaurants.
If there are visible stacks of high chairs, kids' activity booklets, and crayons when I walk in, I know I’m in a family-friendly environment. These are the kinds of places where I’m more likely to get looks of sympathy than glares if my infant goes into cranky mode.
Scope out cafes before parking a stroller.
Some local java spots are welcoming to mommy meetups. Others are filled with professional types working on their laptops while they sip. I check out the vibe beforehand so I feel comfortable bringing my kids along.
Watch movies at home.
I'm honestly not a fan of taking kids under three or four to the movies at all, but some parents don’t want to give up their big screen outings. If you've got a champion napper who might actually let you make it through a film, choose early showings when the theater is less crowded, or look for a special family showing. Otherwise, I guarantee you'll end up missing half of the flick and, as a double feature, aggravate your fellow moviegoers.
Get the scoop upfront.
When invited over to people's homes or to a party—especially if the hosts do not have kids themselves—I always check in beforehand to see if children are invited. I try to ask in such a way that I’m not putting them on the spot; I simply say I need to know in advance if I have to make babysitting arrangements.
It’s hard to miss out on the things you used to enjoy before you had kids, so try these modifications, and remember—they're only temporary, and there are so many new things you can enjoy when you look at the world fresh, through the eyes of a child.
Dawn Papandrea is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, women's lifestyle, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, and more. She lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband, two fast-growing boys, and a living room full of toys.