I clearly remember thinking to myself a few years ago, It must be nice to have a kid to use as your excuse to get out of things.
To all the parents of the world, I sincerely apologize for my as-yet-unknown idiocy. I had no idea then how utterly ridiculous and insufferably judgy I was.
After being flaky on occasion in college, I decided that, as an adult, I didn’t want to flake anymore. Why? As much as I would like to say it was all altruistic and that I didn’t want to deprive my friends of the beatific glory of my presence, it was a little more self-centered than that. Honestly, the feeling you get when you decide to flake, stinks.
- First, if it’s a legitimate flake (scientifically defined as preferring to sit at home with Netflix or the latest Liane Moriarty novel when you said you’d do something with a friend), you have to come up with that little white lie to explain why you can’t go out.
- Then, you have to feel guilty about that lie—trust me, it’s a requirement.
- Then, you have to totally avoid social media so as not to remind the person you flaked on about your existence. Pro tip: do not Instagram a pic of your wine glass and your iPad screen queued up to binge on Law and Order: SVU. This will not win you any points with the friends you ditched to hang with Benson and Stabler.
- Then, you have to start going all Mindy Kaling on the situation and wondering, Is everyone hanging out without me? and feeling left out and looking at your clock and wondering if it’s too late to say, “Oh, that case of Ebola I mentioned I might be coming down with? Looks like it’s cleared up. So, wanna hang out still?”
Or, at least, that’s how I’ve heard it goes. Totally not speaking from personal experience here.
But, anyway, to avoid that post-flaking feeling, I just decided not to flake anymore. I decided that if I had a commitment, I was going to stick to it, that I was going to go out with my friends and have fun, whether I liked it or not. And I did have a lot of fun.
I was the person who’d plan wine tastings, host March Madness and Heisman parties, learn how to bake ombre layer cakes, and join (and, wonder of wonders, actively participate in!) multiple book clubs. I was the person who handcrafted Christmas presents that weren’t completely eligible for Regretsy. I was the person who was usually somewhat surprised to have a free evening to lounge at home, an evening that didn’t involve errands, girl time, really poorly executed tennis matches, happy hours (lifetime devotee of Chuy’s free queso and cheap margs, by the way), or something to that effect. Now, please note, I’m not saying that I was interesting; just busy. I also had a husband who worked out of town or had a serious love affair with the law library and a sidechick called studying for the bar, so there was always plenty of alone-time for me to kill.
And then that little positive pregnancy test happened.
Fast-forward 10 months, and I feel like my life became a complete exercise in flaking. I’d tell a friend who had a newborn, “We want to bring you dinner,” and then completely forget about signing up on the schedule. I’d miss book club because I was so exhausted I’d literally and truly forget what day it was. I’d miss playdates because my daughter had strep. I’d miss weddings because my husband had to work and I couldn’t wrangle the baby by myself. Flaking, which I’d once abhorred, became a part of my regular life—so, unfortunately, did apologizing for flaking. My text messages became a continual litany of “I’m so sorry, but…”
I hated it. I didn’t like being that person who leaves other people hanging. In fact, I had actively striven for many years to not be that person. And that made me realize: if I’m going through this, I can’t be the only one. I’m going to assume there are a lot of parents out there who struggle with a combination of changing your entire life to accommodate a tiny human and figuring out the guidelines on how to keep relationships strong when your mind and schedule are so different than they were a couple of weeks, months, or years ago. So, based on my totally scientific hypothesis regarding this situation, I decided to invent my own, Natalie-patented Art of Flaking Properly. Here are the rules:
Rule #1: Tell someone.
The worst thing you can do is just go radio-silent on your friends. If you can’t make it to something, text them beforehand. If you totally space and miss something, just tell them. Remember back in the old days when you used to date? You didn’t want to be ghosted then, and your friends don’t want to be ghosted now. It’s a yucky feeling to be the one who wonders what you did wrong and why your friend just stops showing up or answering your messages. (On another note, it’s been so long since I dated that I don’t think ghosting existed then, but you young people probably know.)
Rule #2: Keep your germs to yourself.
You’re totally allowed to flake if your kid is full of bacteria and viruses and all manner of vileness. Green is my favorite color, but when that green is exuding from your tiny human’s nose, I want no part of that. Flake away, and go mix some Emergen-C in your wine. (Actually, please don’t do this. I have no idea whether it’s even safe. It could turn into a Coke-and-Mentos-type situation.)
Rule #3: Don’t overcommit.
With playdates, outings, library story times, swim classes, dance classes, and more available for toddlers, just getting through a normal week can be enough to make anyone want to flake. Some flaking incidences can be avoided just by taking a look at your calendar and seeing, “Oh, I have a volunteer commitment on the same day as a baby shower,” and then working from there on prioritizing. My husband and I go old-school when it comes to our calendar and have a paper one hanging on our fridge. We tried a million different online and app calendars to no avail, and now the paper one is the only way we can coordinate. We each try to keep our separate, non-work-related evening events to one per week so we can make sure we’re balancing the evening childcare, and more importantly, so we don’t get overloaded. We also try to make sure our out-of-routine-schedule events are bringing fun, not additional stress, to our family. Same goes for kid stuff: our daughter is still really young (and still an only child), so we don’t have nearly as many activities as busy folks with bigger families, but we are already making a conscious effort not to over-schedule.
Rule #4: It’s not personal.
Noted philosopher Mary Chapin Carpenter wisely said, “Some days you’re the windshield. Some days you’re the bug.” Eww. But we’ve all been there. Sometimes you’re the flaker, and sometimes you’re the flak-ee. And 99.9% of the time the flaking is not personal. Give your friends the same swift grace you’d wish for when they call and say they can’t make it, even if it’s for the fifth time in a row. If you really like the person, keep planning things with him/her. Your schedules will sync up eventually. If it’s just creating additional stress for both of you, take a break from planning things until your/his/her kids get out of whatever phase they’re in. And remember, no ghosting.
Rule #5: Think about it. Really think about it.
Take a good hard look at the reason you’re flaking. Is it because you’re tired and you don’t want to load up a diaper bag and fight through getting a car seat buckled? Is it because brushing your hair and finding two matching shoes seems like an insurmountable to-do list? Sometimes these things can be huge obstacles, but sometimes (see the previously referenced Mindy Kaling Rule) once you power through these get-out-the-door tasks, you’ll be happy you did. It can be so worth it just to get out of the house, change your perspective, and feel rejuvenated. And, of course, you should always make sure you’ve got that flake-free-zone friend out there—the one where you can show up at her house sporting your college sweatshirt and hair in a messy, unwashed bun, carting around kids still in pajamas and saying, “Hey, can I borrow a diaper?” Make sure to plan more things with that friend, because she’s low-key awesome.
So, maybe you’re not Superwoman (I mean, you are—look how amazing you are!). That’s OK, though, because your friends, your family, the people who truly love you, they understand. You are a hard-working mom who is making the world a better place by raising excellent tiny humans, and if you occasionally have to flake, it’s all good. And, just to make the rest of us feel better about our occasional flaking incidences, post the craziest reason you’ve had to flake in the comments. Go on—you know you’ve got that you-had-to-be-there story about how you couldn’t make it to your friend’s birthday party because you locked yourself out of the house with a baby…in your swimsuit…shoeless and phoneless. Oh, that’s just me?