As a mom of three, two of whom are 4 and 6, I have officially entered the play date era. I’m not upset about it, because I love to see my kids grow and enjoy playing with their friends, even if they do the whole “parallel play” that kids often do. I love listening to their conversations with their friends when they don’t think I am listening. It isn’t as much work as I thought it would be, so I don’t find it to be a hassle.
My six-year old had been begging me all school year (literally) to have a play date with a particular friend. They were in the same class, in aftercare together, and I heard a lot about this kid. The kid even came up to me once or twice at pick-up from aftercare to request the same as my own child had. How sweet, I thought. So when we couldn’t make it to the kid’s birthday party, I decided to set up a playdate with the parent to compensate for the year-long request and lack of attendance at their party. The parent agreed, and how convenient, they only lived one street away! Perfect. I offered the pool, as the weather looked warm enough, but the parent declined, which I was fine with. (I get it, not every parent – or kid is comfortable enough with a pool.)
The day arrived. When they came, I greeted them at the door. The father came into the house, and the kids ran off to play. My youngest was in hand, cranky or something, and the father said, “I am just going to hang around for a little bit to make sure they are okay – it’s their first playdate.” Okay then. “Sure, that’s fine.” He started to walk into our adjacent dining room, which was dark. “I can just do work <waving his phone around> in here.” Well, being the good host that I am, I immediately said, “No, no, that’s silly. Please come in.” Big mistake.
The baby continued to be cranky. The father wanted to chat, which was okay, but I began to run out of things to talk about. I had to tend to the baby, the kids were being kept (mostly) busy, but kept coming in and asking for various things or places to go and switch it up. His kid kept coming into us and complaining to him about what they wanted to do, or what they were doing, and he just kept saying, “go back and play”. His kid was very demanding, and wanted to do everything OTHER than what my kid suggested or set up to do (which was 1001 various things either in their bedroom, playroom, in the basement or outside). And I waited patiently for him to feel comfortable enough to leave.
Which never happened.
Finally, after an agonizing hour or so inside, with me leaving the father alone so I could try to get the baby to nap, I suggested going outside to draw on the driveway. Well, his kid wanted to do when we were inside, and then didn’t once we got outside. Okay. Let’s go into the backyard to play on the swing set. Again, it was a good idea, until it suddenly wasn’t. The baby was hanging off of my hip the entire time, watching everything as it unfolded because I feel like in some way they knew it was a train wreck. Finally, when we were close to reaching the two-hour mark, his kid came over to him, and suddenly started whining and crying, practically jumping into his arms (the kids are SIX, by the way). I didn’t see anything happen (and nothing had) and when I asked if they were okay, he said yes, but they were going to head out. Praise ever-loving Jesus.
It was the worst, longest playdate of my life. The father never left, as he originally said. My kid, who isn’t the most patient kid but is when they want something, was completely accommodating AND let their younger sibling hang out with them the ENTIRE time, offering everything under the sun to do with their friend. I felt exhausted, because not only did I have to deal with my two older kids, I also had a cranky baby, a play date who could not be made happy no matter what, and a father I had to entertain because I felt bad leaving him off on his own.
My suggestions for anyone who is trying to do the “good deed” of a play date? Don’t have one. Honestly, though, a few words of wisdom from a mom who’s been there.
- Pick a neutral place – NOT YOUR HOME. A park, a indoor play place, kids museum, whatever. Just as long as you can take off when need be.
- Pick an END TIME. Make something up if you have to so that you can say you have to be done by a certain time. Then, if things go south quickly, you can explain it will take a bit to get the kids ready for your pretend whatever-you-have-to-do.
- And if you MUST have it at the house: make sure to set up whether or not the parents WILL BE THERE. Does your child need you? Are they okay with just being the kids? Because if not, pick that neutral place or cancel altogether. It is NOT worth the time and effort if you have to play host to an entire family.
And don’t be THAT parent if you are the one whose kid is invited on the play date. Be up front about your kid (likes, dislikes, ability to be independent) to the other party, because you don’t want to be blacklisted forever.