Haloes Just for the Asking Print
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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