I Confess. I Hate “Playdates.”
Rules I wish I’d created to make these events more tolerable
Thank GOD all my kids are old enough now to be one or more of the following: a.) young adult, b.) driving, and/or c.) socially independent. Because if I had to face one more playdate where I’m expected to entertain the parents, I might snap. Don’t get me wrong — I happily put in my fair share of time hosting and attending playdates, birthday parties, get-togethers. But, let’s just say by the time my third kid was in third grade, I was definitely comfortable enough (and beyond ready) for the “drop and go” method.
In fact, I longed for the day when I could do just that: drop my child off at your house and then drive away — away to a little coffee shop where I’d hide in the corner with a latte and get lost in a book. Or, away to the confines of my own kidless house, so I could sneak back to my big comfy bed and nap without fear of being interrupted. Anything, really, as long as “away” meant no small talk, and no adult responsibilities for the next few hours. But after a few years and countless more playdates where moms I barely knew insisted on staying at my house while my kid and theirs played happily, independently, upstairs for three solid hours, I began to think the “drop and go” method was a myth, or a relic of the past — something only us ’70s and ’80s kids had experienced.
Back in the day my mom would tell me, in no uncertain terms, “I’ll be back at five. Be ready to go! I’m honking the horn, and you’d better come out right then; don’t make me have to come to the door or talk to anybody!”
I can still hear my mom’s voice enunciating these words, still fresh in my mind. And back then I knew if I wanted to have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever coming back to this particular friend’s house, if I knew what was indeed good for me, then I’d definitely be packed up and waiting by the door, ready to go, at five o’clock p.m., sharp.
This memory got me thinking about all the differences between the playdates of today versus the old school version of just “playing” or “hanging out.” Not that one is inherently better than the other, but for what it’s worth, the word “playdate” didn’t even exist when I was a kid — at least, not to my knowledge. If we were playing in the neighborhood, our signal to come home was when the street lights came on. And if our parents had to drive to pick us up, their honking the horn as an “I’m here; let’s go” message wasn’t perceived as rude. It’s just what we did. The host’s mom probably didn’t want to talk to your mom any more than your mom wanted to talk to her.
When I grew to be a parent myself, I could totally relate to this drop and go mindset. But as time passed and I put in hours upon hours of mutual playdates, birthday parties, and reciprocal get-togethers, I noticed the drop and go mindset never caught on. Whenever I took my kid to a friend’s house, I always got the feeling I was expected to settle in and stay for the long haul, a sort of, “we’re in this thing together” attitude which required a helicopter parenting style that I did not share. Of course, I never asked, “Do you mind if I just drop her off? I’ve got some errands to run” for fear of being that parent — the one who uses others. But also, no parent ever said, “feel free to go enjoy yourself for the next two hours!” No “drop and go’s,” no horn honking to announce the arrival of parents come to retrieve their kids.
Thinking that maybe parents just didn’t know this was an option, I tried offering the advice myself once when my youngest was going to have a friend over for a third playdate: “Hi Liz! You don’t need to stay. Go have fun! Enjoy yourself, kid-free, for three hours! Or at the very least, go do your grocery trip!” But she didn’t take me up on it, nor did the other moms. They’d laugh if off as if it were a joke — as if to say, “yeah, right!” as they barrelled their way into my front hallway and staked out a spot to lay claim for the next several hours. It was like the thought of leaving their child alone (gasp!) for more than five minutes was appalling! Either that, or someone had started some false, juicy rumor about me that left other parents untrusting and skeptical of my character and my home.
But I noticed it wasn’t just me. This was just the way it was. Parents stayed everywhere, all the time, well-past the time when their kids were old enough to handle themselves. Then I started getting really irked by this behavior. Did no one else besides me dream of a world where you could drop off your kid at the home of another parent — who’d somehow managed to raise kids of their own without injuring or killing anybody — and reasonably expect to find them in good condition when you returned a few hours later to pick them up? Did no one else find it a terrific burden to have to stay for the duration of yet another six-year old’s birthday party, being forced to make small talk with parents you barely knew? Did these other parents actually enjoy spending their Saturdays inside a very loud, very sensory-overloaded room full of inflatable jungle gyms, feigning excited surprise and merriment every time the birthday child opened another gift?
I don’t know if there are other parents out there who long for the old school drop and go method like I did, but if so, this is for you. This is the list of rules I only wish I’d created about a decade ago — and hung in the front of my house like a welcome sign:
1. If your child is coming for a playdate at my house, please drop your child off, and kindly go away.
It’s one thing if it’s the first time our kids have ever gotten together and you want to come in for the obligatory first-playdate coffee to make sure I’m not drunk and sobbing in the corner. But after that? Please don’t stay. Especially if the kids are school age. The main reason I’m fine with this playdate in the first place is because my kid and her friend can entertain each other — without bothering me — that’s the point! So that I can use this time wisely and finally get around to all the dishes, laundry, cleaning, or cooking I haven’t had time to do yet.
Additionally, when you insist on staying, I feel an anxiety-provoking need to entertain you. Which should include snacks and coffee, or tea, if I’m a good hostess. But see, if I’m busy entertaining you, then I can’t take off my bra, get into my ugly pj’s and clean the shower, or chip away at any of my dozen or so half-written pieces. These things require a certain level of… well, privacy. And concentration. Which I can’t do if I’m busy forcing small talk with you.
While I understand I don’t technically have to feed you and otherwise entertain you, I just can’t feel comfortable with you hanging out on my couch or reading a book while I attempt to work from my laptop across the room. I don’t live in a fishbowl for a reason, you know. And while I’m sure you’re a lovely person, I don’t need to make idle chit chat or new friends with random parents anymore. I get it’s your first child and you want connections, but this is my third child, and thus, my third rodeo doing years of the playdate dance with parents I end up never talking to again once our children have parted ways.
In all honesty, I don’t really mind making new acquaintances. Even a potential coffee buddy, maybe, here and there. But as an introverted extrovert, I prefer keeping things the way they are: I have a very small group of close friends I’ve known since high school. I work long hours between two jobs, I volunteer, I raise three kids, three pets, and I try to maintain good communication in my marriage; i.e., my free time is very, very precious. If I spend that free time with friends, I want it to be the friends I already have a 25+ year investment in — the ones who don’t give a shit how messy my house is, or how awful I look with depression bags under my eyes.
2. Don’t put me in a situation where I have to “discipline” your kid while you sit idly by.
If you’re going to insist on staying, then you absolutely must discipline your child. So be sure to learn what my house rules are. (For the record, I’m pretty laid-back, I’m liberal, my kids eat junk food and McDonalds sometimes, and I don’t micromanage their playtime.) Still, I have my limits. Please don’t sit idly by acting like you can’t hear it when your child screams and leaves my child alone so she can run up and down my stairway, cackling like a wild banshee. Don’t laugh like it’s cute when your child picks up my cat and screams in his face. Don’t think it’s just typical kid behavior when your kid plays so rough that he breaks things in my house— esepcially when you don’t offer to pay for or replace the broken things.
If you say nothing and it gets to the point where I have to step in and say something to your child, in front of you, that puts all of us in a very awkward position. And if it gets to the point where my husband feels the need to step out of his home office during working hours to interject, or politely ask for “less noise?” You’re not ever getting invited back again.
Look, if you abide by the drop-and-go playdate method, I’m fine with handling the discipline my own way (which mostly is to not intervene as much as possible, unless things like the above mentioned behaviors occur. Because what do kids really learn if adults are always solving their problems for them? I mean, if you’re micromanaging a kid’s playdate, it’s no longer “play;” it’s an adult-run and sructured activity.) But if you do stay, just know that you’re responsible for wrangling your own kid at all times if they get too loud, too rough, too mean, too whatever. My kid is enough for me to handle, and I don’t like the awkward feeling of attempting to redirect your child in front of you.
3. Don’t expect me to feed & entertain adults at my kids’ birthday parties.
When I was little, I don’t remember the parents of any kids lingering past drop off at my birthday parties — or anyone else’s. But today there seems to be a trend not only of a few parents lingering a bit here and there, but of every single parent staying the whole duration of every single party. Kinda like kids’ birthday parties are the new cocktail hour. And as I learned the hard way, if you’re the one parent who does “drop and go?” You tend to get judged and/or labeled as either the “snob” who can’t be bothered with staying, or worse, as a “neglectful,” bad parent.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of disposable income. And kids parties certainly aren’t cheap. Now, I’ll gladly suck it up and pay the extra money in exchange for a kid’s party place that is expert at what they do — decorating, coralling/feeding/entertaining kids, managing a short block of time, supplying cake and small goody bags for the party guests, cleanup, etc. But that bundled package price tag? It usually just covers the six (or however many) invited kids who are in attendance. That’s just enough pizza, punch, and cake to feed six kids, not six kids plus their siblings and cousins and parents who all somehow forgot to eat lunch before they came.
I’ll never forget the one year we had my youngest’s 10th birthday party at an indoor trampoline park. There were ten kids in attendance. By pickup time, we had somehow accumulated fifteen kids — who, later I came to find out, were party crashers! Based on past experience I just assumed they were cousins or siblings who’d managed to sneak in late, but it turns out nobody knew them, and everyone was wondering where they came from. Granted, this place was busy, it was during peak hours and open to the public, but where the hell were the parents of those kids??
Six kids are one thing. Six kids, plus twelve adult parents, plus my own family, plus at least half a dozen various siblings and visiting cousins all adds up to one, giant, way too expensive bill. You want six extra pieces of pizza for your spouse, older son, and toddler who will take exactly one nibble and then waste the rest? Pay a la carte, pay on your own.
And on that note… no, you cannot have an extra goody bag for your younger toddler. I really hate to sound like the grinch, but this party package covers the six kids who were invited and who RSVP’d that they’d be there. Your twenty two month old may experience some level of emotional pain over not getting a goody bag like big sister. But I promise, your toddler won’t need therapy — at least, not for this. When they do get upset, maybe take that as a good reminder of important life lessons to instill (like teaching your child how to handle disappointment), or perhaps a reminder of why you might be better off hiring a babysitter if you’re going to insist on staying at the party next time?
4. Tell your kid to help clean up, or at least offer to help clean up yourself.
Yes, I know it’s a playdate and it’s going to get messy. But if you notice that my entire downstairs looks like a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare — especially if you don’t recall it looking that way before the playdate — you need to make your kid help my kid clean it up, or at least offer to help clean up yourself. No, I probably won’t take you up on either of those offers, but I need to at least hear you attempt to make an offer. It’s the polite thing to do, and if you fail to realize this, I’m going to make assumptions about you that may not be fair and kind. Enough said.
5. When adults are talking, please don’t accept your kid rudely interrupting (unless someone’s hurt or bleeding).
If your kid walks up and interrupts the adults who are clearly in mid-conversation, please don’t indulge their every whim. Especially when it’s the fourth time in five minutes. And when that’s the case, why are you and your child even here? It sounds like you enjoy each other’s company so much that you don’t need a playdate.
Regardless, this disturbing trend seems to happen way too often. Or maybe I’m just too old-fashioned on this one. Hear me out: I’m in no way whatsoever of the mindset that children should be seen and not heard, but it does bother me when I’m mid-sentence and your child appears out of nowhere, tugging at your sleeve whining “Mommy! Mommy!” and your immediate response is to turn away from me (while I’m mid-sentence), without even saying “excuse me,” and then respond, “Yes, baby?” to your child, only to have your child respond, “See my pretty necklace?” And then you spend the next three minutes ooing and aahing over it and how brilliant your child is. Look, I get that kids need validation. But this is not the time.
Your behavior here leaves me in a very awkward position. I’m right there looking at you, my mouth still open from having just been cut off, my voice trailing off into what is now a void, and I’m the one who’s forced to now patiently wait until it’s my turn again. Don’t put another adult on an even playing field with your child. Just don’t.
It bothers me even more when you don’t apologize for this behavior, or when you finally get back to me, but so much time has passed we’ve both forgotten what we were even talking about. This is rude behavior; it’s not cute. Look, I get it — I know your child is the center of your universe, as they should be. But you don’t have to prove it in this manner. Another important life lesson can be learned here. And you know what? Chances are if you take the time to implement this small, teachable moment — where you redirect your child to either place a gentle hand on your arm as a subtle way of saying “I’m waiting for a turn to speak,” or just wait for a natural break in conversation — it’s very likely that I’ll gladly recognize your child’s outstanding social skills and offer to stop talking specifically so your child can have the spotlight.
6. Your child doesn’t decide when the playdate is over. I do.
If we agreed upon a playdate from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m., then it ends at 4:00 p.m. Not 4:15, not 4:30, and certainly not 7:30. I chose 4:00 as the cutoff time for a reason. I totally don’t mind you running late if you’ve done the drop and go method; I understand traffic and whatnot. I’m way more lenient with time when I’m not having to feed and entertain you the adult, while my housework sits there, not getting done, again. But if you’re intent on staying for the duration of the playdate? Then you better be ready to scuttle at the designated cut off time. Set the alarm on your phone if you must.
And when 4:00 comes and your child begins whining and crying, or even begs to stay longer, your answer should always be a firm, no-nonsense, resounding “no” (unless the adult host has specifically invited you to stay longer). Your child should also understand that once the clock strikes four, any subsequent begging for my child to now come over to your house will not be tolerated. Maybe you think it’s endearing how much your child considers herself the new BFF in our lives, but perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that perhaps my child needs a break from all this one-on-one time.
And while we’re on the topic, regarding you and your child… you’re the adult in that relationship; don’t allow your child to prolong the playdate by 30 minutes or more because she’s putting on a melodramatic show of please, please, please don’t make me leave yet! Put your foot down and set some damn boundaries, especially when you’re the guest in someone else’s house. And for God’s sake, please, at least pretend like you’re embarrassed when your child invites herself over for dinner and a sleepover… okay?
I know, I sound like a horrible curmudgeon. I promise, I’m really not that bad. I’m actually very kind in general. But to me, these things all seem like common sense, basic parenting and social skills that we should all just know. So why are these things still happening (or not happening)? What am I missing? Maybe it’s that I’m just too old-fashioned for the modern equivalent of playing at a friend’s house. Maybe playdates just aren’t for me.