After years of tentatively eyeing other mothers on the playground, I finally worked up the courage to enter the realm of play-dating. I drew upon my prior romantic dating life to identify pitfalls. (Don’t call 12 times a day; don’t make summer travel plans together if you’ve only hung out once; don’t post photos of you together on Instagram and send it to your exes with #WhatYoureMissing.)
Now that I’m a bit more comfortable inviting people over for our kids to play (and for us to vent), I have a few guidelines of my own that make the whole process more enjoyable for everyone:
1 | Don’t worry about illnesses
Unless it’s a super-contagious thing (I’m looking at you, mono), bring your kid over. If I waited until my kids’ noses weren’t runny to have a playdate, we’d never leave the house.
But if her eyes are looking a smidge, dare I say, pink, or his scalp is unusually itchy, or her back is covered in the Pox, we can always reschedule for eight to 10 weeks from now.
2 | You don’t need to go crazy with the clean-up
I know you want to set a good example for your children, and if your kid spilled every single Lego onto the floor, by all means, you guys can help scoop them up. But there is no need to rinse dishes, wipe down counters, and run a vacuum. I can put everything away in less time than it takes you to stack those three blocks in the wrong bin.
3 | You don’t have to bring food
It’s really thoughtful that you prepared a giant array of snacks and juice boxes. However, as the hostess, so did I. I always feel badly that you brought tortilla chips and my kid hates them, or no one touches the cheese crackers you so artfully arranged. Unless your kid is picky with snacks or has an allergy that I can’t shop for in advance, leave the hospitality to me.
4 | You can hang out with me…or not
There’s a dramatic shift during the mid-elementary school years when parents go from actively participating in the playdate, to a drop-and-dash. I’m cool with either, just let me know in advance so I can avoid being the mom sitting alone drinking Chardonnay while the kids play dress-up (or even worse, the mom without any Chardonnay for when you stay to hang out).
5 | You don’t need to apologize for your kids
I have small children. I know they’re prone to tantrums, can get handsy, and sometimes say the wrong thing. I’m more likely to hear “Mine!” and “Don’t wanna leave!” than “Please” and “Thank you.” You don’t need to reassure me that “they never act like this at home,” when we both know that toddlers are unpredictable time bombs that can go from complacent to psychopathic within a nanosecond. I’d hate to think that my home was the only place that brought out the cranky.
6 | You don’t have to over-discipline
Sometimes in the presence of another mom, we’re desperate to come across as a “good parent” and so jump on our kid for any infraction. “I’ve never heard him use that word before!” “I swear he used to eat celery.” “Gabby, pick up that ball of lint you knocked to the ground.”
You have nothing to prove. Unless your three-year-old stole my wallet or took my car out for a joyride, there’s no need to come down hard.
7 | Let’s set a clear start time and end time
The old adage “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” has never rung truer than during an interminable playdate. Even non-busy kids have schedules, and it becomes complicated when I go to run a bath or start singing bedtime songs, and the aforementioned Gabby is still lingering in our backyard.
8 | Please, please, please don’t judge me
I know the carpets aren’t the cleanest, my couch smells like curdled milk, and I don’t own any video game consoles. I forgot to water down the apple juice first, I let my kids wear shoes in the house, and sometimes refer to the hours from four pm to seven pm as “Screen Time.”
But my daughter really likes your daughter. And when I say “Let’s do this again soon!” I mean it.
As soon as your child’s coxsackie clears up.