"The biggest driver (pun intended) of car use for us is visiting friends. My family lives in the city, and so do most of my old friends. I, do, however, have one or two close friends who live outside of bus range; my husband has several...I wrote a little bit about this a while back, but mostly in the context of new friends. But the existing friends and family are a tougher problem. Some strategies we have are to host events instead of transporting ourselves to other peoples' houses, especially if it's for an activity along the lines of "hanging out in a living room". It's easier for us to feed and host people than it is for us to get to them, and hey, then they don't have to cook, so it's a win for them. For friends with kids who live in the burbs, we sometimes arrange for transit accessible meet ups at kid friendly activities that they'd probably come into town for occasionally anyway (like a trip to the Boston Children's Museum).
I like to reciprocate visits to friends and not always have them come to us, but renting a car just to go sit in a girlfriend’s living room is not something I’m going to go every week—or, for that matter, every month. Most of my husband’s friends have kids, and they are forever having baby showers and birthday parties and Super Bowl parties and et cetera. Sometimes we can take the bus to these events, but these are two-transfer rides with long wait times and infrequent service... Many times, we cannot take the bus to these events and so either have to rent a car or skip the trip...
So, after all that, my question is: Do any other car-free parents have this problem, and if so how do you handle it?"
But that doesn't really answer the question of the baby shower or the super bowl party, that really is happening at someone else's place, and that someone didn't really consider bus routes when they bought their lovely 4 bedroom in the burbs. One strategy is to increase the threshold for what you consider a true social obligation. If the baby shower is for someone you really care about, and particularly if it is for family, then maybe it is something you need to be there for since a baby is kind of a big deal. The super bowl party might be less of a true social obligation (but keep in mind, I'm not a football fan, so feel free to disagree for your own life). If you decide you really need to be there, one option is to divide and conquer. If only one grown-up goes, you might be able to beg a ride from a driving friend, and lord knows the toddler doesn't want to go anyway. If you can't rustle up a ride ahead of time, go ahead and take the 3 bus trip, knowing you'll probably be able to hitch a ride home since everyone there will be horrified that you didn't drive and will be falling all over themselves to offer you a ride home (just say at moderate volume "oh, I need to head out soon to catch the bus, I've had a great time!" and you'll have 10 offers of a ride...but all of those offers evaporate if a carseat is involved).
The social pressure to maintain tit-for-tat invitations is very strong, but is nearly impossible to maintain for a carfree person (especially a parent of small kids) in a social world that assumes you have a car. These social rules are largely unspoken. It might happen that you gradually come to fewer and fewer parties, and eventually you just aren't invited anymore. Honestly, for some friends, that may not be such an awful thing. I'm sure your old friends are wonderful, but is each and every relationship really one of those friendships meant to last a lifetime? Most friendships do eventually fade, especially once kids are in the picture, and you know, that can be OK (and isn't that kind of what facebook is for?) But some of those friendships are probably ones you really want to maintain and are willing to work for. For these friendships, a little communication is in order.
I'm reminded of a situation with some of our best friends (fortunately, they are the kind that live in walking distance!). We both have 3 y.o. kids, but theirs is a more finicky sleeper. When he was little, he couldn't sleep at our house. He still has a much more rigorous nap schedule. However, our kid was fine sleeping at their house and could be a little more flexible on timing at a younger age. As a result, we frequently ended up going to their place and having our kid nap or even sleep overnight there. We started feeling really bad for never having them over and for eating too much of their delicious food. So, at some point, we actually talked about it. We established that for them, it was easier to just host us than to mess up their kids sleep, so it was OK for all of us if we didn't host as often. Now, that conversation was probably a year and a half ago now, so we should probably have it again, especially since baby nap schedules trump 3-year-old nap schedules and baby R has been added to the mix. Maybe now we can return the favor and feed them (C & D -- let's discuss!). But the point remains, we felt bad for not meeting our social obligations, but there was a good reason for it, and it turned out that there was an arrangement that worked.
Perhaps it's similar for those really close friends who had the audacity to move to the burbs without checking with you, first. Go ahead and tell them, out loud, how truly difficult it is for you to get to them (even though you feel pressure to prove anything can be done by bus) but that you value the friendship and would hate to lose it due to logistical difficulties. Say that you'd really rather host them when you get together or meet at a restaurant or activity in bus range, but let them know that for the really big stuff (the baby shower, the wedding), you'll suck it up and rent a car. If you can actually communicate about the unspoken obligations, you can probably come up with a level of contact that maintains the friendship.
(And congratulations to BusChick and BusNerd on the impending arrival of BusBaby #2!)