The Catholic Thing
Haloes Just for the Asking Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 15 July 2011

Any couple with young children knows one of the hard facts of married life. It is nearly impossible to get away alone. “Date night” becomes no more than a crazy dream, and one that fades rapidly into the distant past.

If family members live nearby, you are lucky. Paid babysitters are notoriously hard to find. And when you find a good one, you latch on, but so do other folks – and they become increasingly hard to book. What’s more their period of babysitting tends to last only a short while before they become too busy with their own lives or are off to school. The expense, too, is a killer. A $25 movie for two becomes a $70 proposition before you take a sip or bite of anything. And that gets too hard to justify when there are so many other family expenses to consider.

Time alone for married couples is essential for healthy marriages. I suspect that social science backs this up. Spending all your time at home or all your time with your children can make you forget how to be a couple, and down that path lies potential disaster. Wives need romance and specific attention from their husbands. Men need to remember how to give such attention that is not filtered through and around the kids. Without it, couples can fall into roommate mode, which can be death to marriage.

At the very least, mothers of young ones – particularly stay at home moms – need time away from little people and the four walls of home, and the chance to get dressed up and go out and have conversations in complex sentences. Even one night out a month would be a blessing. What we are talking about here is not simply entertainment. We are talking about helping marriages and families remain strong.

There is a cohort of individuals who could help with this dilemma. They are, in fact, uniquely situated to help. They have time, not more hours in the days, but time of their own choosing. I am talking about single people. 

There is an epidemic of single people in America, perhaps because people are delaying marriage or because finding the right person seems harder today. But wouldn’t it be something if some of them, perhaps lots of them, decided they would spend at least a little of their time to helping their friends who are parents keep their marriages healthy? 

My wife and I have many unmarried friends. One of our favorite fantasies is that one of them will call someday and say: “Why not go out next Tuesday and I will watch the kids.”

Alas, it is a dream as yet unfulfilled.  Even when we do the asking they are usually too busy.  After being turned down a number of times, we’ve simply give up.

          Consider the apostolate of the babysitter

The thing about time that single people do not understand is how much of it they really have, because it is all their own. When you are married with young children, you can no longer choose how to spend your time freely. Those little creatures you love so much are ruthless dictators when it comes to time.  And God bless them, because sometimes it takes a tyrant to make us learn the lesson of total self-gift.

When you are single, you can go anywhere at anytime and do practically anything. I remember those yawning open weekends in New York City. Long weekends spent on my bike, riding through parks, reading books, staring at the clouds in the sky, eating in fine restaurants. I had a sense of being blessed with this gift of time, but did I share it with those who were time-starved? Nope.

Even married couples without children have a remarkable amount of free time. My wife and I still joke about those days in our marriage when we were “single,” which is how we refer to our life before children.

If I am pointing fingers, the first person I point at is myself. In all my single years – a whopping forty-seven of them – I babysat exactly once. I was pretty proud of myself, too. Man, was that a rough night. I did not know what to do with these three little souls, one of whom was as unhappy with me as I was with them, and cried the whole time. My wife admits that the very few times she babysat in her long single-hood she felt like a martyr. 

Of course, it may well be that singles look upon marrieds as “having it all”: love, marriage, and children. How could the “Haves” need something from the “Have-nots”? When I was single it never occurred to me that they needed me. 

I am here to tell single people reading this: you are very much needed.

What tends to happen is that married couples with young children band together and trade off. You watch ours while we go out. And then we’ll watch yours. That’s what we do with other couples in our neighborhood.  No money is exchanged, just smiles of deep gratitude.

Still, there are haloes out here just for the asking. How about an apostolate of singles who dedicate a small part of their time helping married couples with children? It could be thought of as a down payment on the future they hope to have.  Perhaps an unmarried man or woman reading this right now will hear a guardian angel telling them to be a supporter of marriage in this way, simply by babysitting once in a while.

Call me.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Trish, July 15, 2011
I'll be honest here. I LOVE children and I love my married friends. Yet I'm tired of hearing from married people complaining that single people have so much time to give them. Of course, I'm sure a lot do, and a lot go party or chill out every weekend, but there are TONS that don't.

Single people are very often viewed, or at least given the impression that we are, as workhorses who just have gobs of time to spare on behalf of the married. “Gee, single people, you’re not doing anything else, why don’t we volunteer you to clean up at midnight on a work night after a parish function when all the married are gone home and off to bed?” “Gee, young, single guy in the office, you obviously have no REAL commitments, so you can sacrifice seeing your relatives so your coworkers can have Thanksgiving with their families.” Do any married people realize just how much this attitude can dig into the heart of the single person who wants marriage and hasn’t been able to find it?? And a single person is supposed to like hearing what amounts to, “Well, we’ve found happiness being married and having the kids we wanted and now we need to demand your time because we can’t find a sitter for those kids we wanted”? Gee, thanks. I’m free help because I haven’t yet been lucky enough to find someone with whom to share my life? – which, by the way, isn’t by choice – really, married people? OUCH.

And who ever really ministers to the young, Catholic singletons? Guess what – it’s other young, single people doing that, too, the vast majority of the time.

Truth is, I know a lot of young, Catholic single people who work full-time (because they have to), commit their time and talents in their parishes (because their married fellow parishioners don't have as much time), volunteer in other places, work on their education, take care of aging parents, etc., and also have no one with whom to share chores when they get home. Granted, some of them still have extra time, but a lot really don’t. So, maybe we singletons can babysit, yes, but please stop with the, "You have SO much time" guilt trip.
written by Dick Schenk, July 15, 2011
I sit here a father of 5, the first born when I was 27, the last when I was 42. Few babysitters. It wasn't all that much fun but frankly we didn't expect much fun. I think there is a difference between fun and gratification. We had lots of the latter. By the way, we took vacations every year but never without the kids. My wife and I have been married 39 yrs. We are 68 yrs old. We survived.

Your idea is a great one. Good luck. i suspect, however, your biggest problem is you became so accustomed in your younger yrs. to being "single", that now you still are experiencing culture shock. Its time to get over it. Our grandparents raised far more kids than we did and never went out by themselves. The divorce rate was also significantly lower back then.
written by Louise, July 15, 2011
Time alone together? It used to be called "bed time" for the kids. Staggered times, maybe, but by 9:00 the last one was in bed or was busy in his bedroom doing homework (that parents didn't need to do for him). Nowadays, the children I have seen (grandchildren, mostly) are still running around at 10:00 or 11:00 and everyone is exhausted as the children expend their irritable energy, which is more often than not just over-tiredness.

Mother's time alone? It used to be called "nap time". During nap time, I taught myself to paint (water color, charcoal, pencil, and oil), to sew, to garden, and sometimes I just enjoyed reading or telephone conversations with my friends. (My sewing and gardening became an enjoyable source of income later on.) Kids in school meant gatherings for coffee and conversation once or twice a month or more. This describes just about everyone's life in those days. Mine was not the exception but the rule.

I know that life is hectic for everybody of all generations these days. My greatest sympathy is for the children, however. Their lives are chaotic because their parents' lives are frenetic. What a demonic lie that women bought into--that they could have it all, all the time!

No, Mr. Ruse. Single people are not needed. They have their own lives to live. Married people need to re-order THEIR lives. At 47, you should have been anticipating college graduations or even grandchildren. If you were single until age 47, you wasted the energy of your young years. That energy belonged to the next generation, because it take energy and a certain amount of blessed youthful ignorance to raise children. And, in anticipating grandchildren, you would soon be in a position to tell your children who are expecting their first babies, "I raised my children. You raise yours." And your wife could be going back to college or whatever she looked forward to doing, and you could be doing whatever you like to do, and you would have 35 or so more years to do it in.

It's not that hard.
written by Diane, July 15, 2011
Interesting article -- I'm single -- middle-aged -- I haven't been asked to babysit in a very long time -- probably 15 years or so -- and I don't feel moved to offer my time in that way -- my life is chock full with other works of charity and mercy (no sarcasm intended) -- but if asked, I would enjoy the opportunity to assist -- but I wonder, why can't a couple go on "a date" with the kids in tow? -- perhaps married couples can find the "alone time" they crave together in shorter periods -- say, before the kids wake in the morning, share one hour together praying the Rosary and Christian Prayer (Divine Office) -- maybe during nap times or while the kids are within sight but playing in the backyard (or some other activity in the house), the couple to have a lunch date in their diningroom, back porch, or wherever in the house -- think creatively.

Blessings to you,
Diane (aka, joyously single, and actively working for God and His people)
written by Ars Artium, July 15, 2011
My first thought, on reading this morning's post, was that it could only have been written by a man who has had the good fortune to marry somewhat late, has been blessed with children, and has no conception at all of the pain that many young women are enduring as marriage is often delayed until they can no longer give birth to a child. (I do understand that it was written in innocence and is well-intentioned.)
written by BT, July 15, 2011
As a single Catholic, I feel incredible social isolation. I am involved in any number of Catholic activities and have plenty of Catholic friends and acquaintances, but none of my best friends are Catholic and there is no one who understands the escalating level of loneliness I feel as I advance into my forties and my chances of marriage seem to be getting bleaker, bleaker, and bleaker. I am a man but don't seriously expect to marry a woman young enough to bear children by the time I do get married, if I do, and it is not because I didn't spend my 20s and 30s actively looking for a Catholic woman my age who could be my wife and companion. The idea that time has run out and that you will ever have children of your own comes as a rude shock to men too, though some men can perpetually maintain the fantasy they will marry a woman 15 to 20 years their junior. I honestly don't have any Catholic friends with children that I could just call up and offer to babysit for. It's a regrettable fact of today's society that if I did call a family at random and offer to baby sit, they would probably call the police immediately. There are so many perverse individuals in our society who do stalk children that any family would be rightly alarmed. It is probably less threatening for a woman to offer babysitting services, but I from other posts on this blog that single women don't want to be seen as babysitters for someone else's children, especially if they already have to grieve for the children they will never have. I will tell you one thing, it is very hard to sit in Catholic parishes surrounded by families with children when your own sense of loneliness is overwhelming. I will also tell you that in years past I have gone quietly to married Catholic friends and asked them for introductions to eligible single women who are practicing Catholics. The results: zero. My Jewish and Protestant friends have offered me plenty of introductions over the years, but not surprisingly, never to a Catholic. It seems to me that families with children can offer reciprocating services. Once again, it seems that Protestant are all over this with informal arrangements and church-sponsored exchanges. I am actually aware of at least one Protestant church that has a program to help parents get a date night that in the context of a much larger, church-wide mission to support healthy marriages among their parishioners, if you can call them that. In the same context, this church also spends time helping single members get married. We single Catholics are on our own getting older and more lonely every day.
written by Charlotte, July 15, 2011
If might have been better to ask singles to offer help as an act of generosity that would be received with gratitude, rather than "you have it - I don't - give it to me." And wouldn't it make more sense anyway for couples with young children to help each other out?
written by Kate Adams, July 16, 2011
Actually, I don't want to leave my babies with some clueless single. This job is not as easy as it looks. The exception would be a woman who is the oldest daughter in a large family. Some of them don't seem to be in a big hurry to marry for some reason.

But here I think the old rule applies--"if you want something done, ask someone who is busy" in this case, someone already riding herd on a bunch of kids. You could work out an exchange. Possibly permanent.

I certainly sympathize with those singles who complain that everybody assumes they are available to take up everyone else's slack. Schools, civic organizations, and some "working" mothers seem to expect the same thing from stay-at-home moms.

And, trying to be helpful, may I just put this out there: my beautiful and accomplished daughter gave up on "real life" at the age of 25 and signed on to It is really difficult for an orthodox Catholic woman (read: chaste, non-birth-controller) to find a like-minded man in the old haphazard way. Long story short, two years later she married a man we really like, from a family we really like. Their first baby is due in February.

Take heart!
written by Tim Rohr, July 16, 2011
My wife and I are the parents of 11 children ages 25-3. We now have built in babysitters, but for many years, did not. We also raised our family far away from any family members and endured great financial hardship. Our job is far from done.

I believe the greatest challenge to Catholic marriages is the Church itself, or more specifically Church teaching, and even more specifically, a totally new insertion into the 1983 Code of Canon Law as to the purpose of Marriage.

The 1917 Code said, as the Church had always said, the the purpose of marriage is 1) the procreation and education of children, and 2) a remedy for concupiscence.

The "remedy for concupiscence" should not be understood as just a Church condoned relationship wherein a man can relieve himself sexually, but, as was God's original design, where man and woman find a true remedy for the concupiscence that descended on man through original sin, and discover God's original plan for their sexual selves.

In any event, the Church taught up till 1983, as it had always taught, that the primary purpose of marriage was children. In 1983, the new code not only eliminated the hierarchy of the old code, it inserted a completely new phrase "bonum coniugum" or the "good of the spouses". And not only is the phrase new, it is placed before procreation in the Code.

The Church argues that the two are equal, but since "what you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear", has resulted in an entire generation that think that the relationship between spouses is more important than the children.

We can say that the Church did not intend this, but it doesn't matter. It's what has happened, and no amount of Theology of the Body and apostolic exhortations about the sacrality of marriage is going to change that. "Law shapes the culture". The Law changed, the people changed.

One might also argue that the "good of the spouses" is not a new idea and that it was intended by God from the beginning, and yes it was, but God did not say "go forth and be good to each other", He said "be fruitful and multiply". Good marriages are a result of total death to self . And the more kids you have, the more necessary, and easier, it is to die.
written by Susan, July 16, 2011
This is a case where the comments stirred my interest more than the column (with all due respect to Mr. Ruse). For anyone who's willing, there's good fodder for another column or 2 here regarding the varying expectations for marriage and family, especially from one generation to the next.
written by Graham Combs, July 16, 2011
Several Thanksgivings ago at the house of an old friend, the 4-yr old grandchild of one of the guests (the single mother had "gone out" for the evening) dragged me upstairs to watch THE INCREDIBLES for apparently, the hundreth time. I'm in my fifties and have never married. But it's a running joke with friends that I love talking to kids -- but haven't experienced the rigors of parenthood. They're exactly right, as it happens. But I see quite a few people who simply don't like children. The boy wanted me to sit next to him, as he does with his grandfather. I didn't. We don't live in that America anymore. I wonder if that isn't another reason why single men and women no longer accept these invitations. I hate to be negative here. I mean it. I hate what we've become. But it does no good to deny we now live in a suspicious culture.
written by Austin Ruse, July 18, 2011
All I can say, folks, is that there are couples with young children who have great needs. They are your relatives and your neighbors. You can choose to ignore them. You can even be openly hostile to their needs, but they are there and need help.

They are not the only ones near us who need help. There is likely a shut-in or two or three who live near you who would love to be an occasional guest at your table, or who would welcome an occasional visit.

Whether it is a young couple with children, or an elderly shut in, even one night a month would be a blessing.

God speaks to us in those people he places right before us. All we need to do is open our eyes, put aside whatever hurts we have, and help. Haloes are there just for the asking.
written by Maureen, July 19, 2011
Well-stated, Austin Ruse. I thought your original suggestion was quite modest - that single people have more freedom to order their time and that, if they have an interest in ordering their time in service to family life and marriage they might offer to babysit for their friends' children.
written by lalis, July 20, 2011
Austin, I'm in my late 30s, married, and no children. I have asked countless times to babysit for friends and family, and I've been turned down just as many times. My husband and I love kids and we can't have them. I would love to be more involved in helping those closest to me to raise theirs, but it seems at times as if they don't think I can handle babysitting since I don't have kids of my own. I don't know, I've tried. Moving on.
written by John Thomas, July 19, 2013
This article is incredibly insulting. Austin Ruse, you are a condescending, thoughtless clod. Good for you that you got married by age 50 and still managed to have children--now you want someone to babysit for you so can have a date? There are millions of single Catholics out there DYING of loneliness because we can't get married. Why don't you think of other people for a change? What have you ever done to help a Catholic single get married? Probably nothing. Have a little bit of self awareness before you ever write another article like this again.

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