Group Chat is a weekly series where HuffPost UK writers discuss friendship, diary dilemmas and how to reclaim our social lives in a busy world.
There’s a conversation that seems to crop up fairly regularly with people I meet – at work, at a wedding, even on the high street – as soon as they hear I’m a mother of two young children.
It goes something like this: “Three and seven? I bet you don’t get out, much!”
At this point, I usually hesitate. I almost don’t want to let them down; to let them know that they couldn’t have got it more wrong. Because the thing is... since having children I go out (whisper it) more than ever.
I know. It sounds crazy – but there’s a simple explanation, and it’s this: I have so little time away from the kids, that when I do get a child-free night ‘off’, I make the absolute most of it. The phrase ‘go hard or go home’ has never felt more applicable.
[Read More: 12 Signs You Are Going Out Out – Mum Style]
It’s partly because, after putting in so many hours at the parenting coalface – a 24/7 job if ever there was one – I feel I ‘deserve’ those nights off. But it’s also because I need it.
Everyone’s different, but I’m sociable and love being around people and seeing new and exciting things. The idea of going for dinner at a pop-up restaurant, followed by a cocktail or two at a brand-new bar and then a dark and intimate little jazz club? Yes. A thousand times yes.
And the tricky reality is that no matter how rewarding they are, ‘the baby years’ can feel stifling, dull and isolating at times – Jennifer Garner wasn’t wrong.
But what I’ve realised, now that my kids are growing up and I’m no longer tied by breastfeeding, is that having children doesn’t mean I have to miss out completely. Far from it.
In fact, compared to child-free friends, I’m more likely to be the last woman standing. That person who suggests “one for the road”, when they’re calling final orders at the bar? Me. The one who suggests karaoke after the bars or clubs have closed? Also me. I get so little ‘time out’, that conversely it makes me want to make the very most of it.
It’s also because, after seven years of little-to-no sleep, I’ve built up tolerance to it. Whereas my child-free or younger friends might need to rest and recuperate after a few nights out on the trot, I get fewer than five hours of sleep every night – and I’m (almost) used to it.
That burning feeling behind my eyes? Well, a post-work can of gin and tonic in the park with my work colleagues helps me forget I was woken at 3am the night before by my toddler’s nightmare about a bear breaking in through his bedroom window to steal his chocolate-chip brioche.
Plus, being ‘out’ in ‘town’ (which, for me, means central London) is so exciting, and so far removed from the mundanity of the everyday bath-and-bedtime routine that it’s intoxicating. And very hard to resist.
That’s not to say I go on a ‘BNO’ (Big Night Out) that often. I can’t – I have a three-year-old to cuddle and kiss and put to bed, and a seven-year-old who likes me to tell her stories until she goes to sleep. These moments are precious and fleeting. They won’t want me to do it forever, and I don’t want to miss out while they still do. I have a partner who deserves my attention too, and limited financial resources to spend on babysitters.
So I make sure I’m not out gallivanting more than two (or three) times a week. But you better believe that when I do get the chance to go dancing or to a show or live gig, I’m all in.
And it’s that balance that I believe makes me a better parent than I would be if I ‘only’ stayed in at home. After all: happy mother, happy kids.
Come on then. Who’s up for a BNO?