I detest playdates.
There, I said it.
Before I go any further, I promise I'm not talking about the playdate I had with you. That was the one exception. You and your kid are the greatest.
And I'm not talking about “playdates" with my existing parent friends — they usually go off without a hitch. Our kids entertain themselves while we adults get in some much-needed catch-up time.
I'm talking about parents, strangers save for the fact that their names are on a contact sheet distributed by a school, arranging for their children to spend time together for the benefit of the children (again, the benefit of the children).
Why do I dislike playdates so much? It could be that your kid (okay, my kid) sucks at sharing and taking turns. Perhaps I don't want to be a cruise director in charge of keeping everyone occupied, or maybe I get too stressed out over your kid's myriad of food allergies. Maybe I'm over parents comparing their kid with my kid. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm extra sensitive about the image I'm projecting as a gay father, and I'm tired of working extra hard to combat the gay dad stereotype.
Nope, it's none of that.
It's O.K.P. (other kids' parents)
In the past few years, I've found myself suffering through an assortment of cringe-inducing playdate scenarios, none similar to the last. I've seriously seen it all. To paint a clearer picture for you, I've broken down some of the more offensive playdates I've been forced to stomach over the years.
#1: The Kid Thief
So here's how it usually plays out. Doorbell rings. Kids make a beeline for our playroom. There, they find all of Max's new toys perfectly lined up with museum-like precision, each one displayed an inch-and-a-half apart. Never get in the way of a boy and his Hot Wheels. Anyway, a few weeks back, Max's friend Gabe and his mother were over. Things seemed to go well. No spills. No blood. No teeth marks. No reason not to invite them over again. Then, after the playdate ended, after the guests had driven away, Max pulled me to the Hot Wheels lineup where there sat two conspicuously empty spots. With eyes full of tears, he says: “Gabe stole my new fire truck Hot Wheels."
Shoot me now.
What was I supposed to do with this information? Is there a civil court for this type of thing? I texted Gabe's mom and asked if he accidentally brought home a few of Max's Hot Wheels?" She responded with:
Backfired.com. But at least it gave me 24 hours to install a baby cam.
#2: The Abandoner
While this next mom and I never met in person, we emailed so many times, our gmail accounts were practically BFFs. So I didn't really know what to expect when she arrived. That' a lie. As the kids' first official playdate, I expected to actually meet her. Nope. She literally dropped her kid off in front of our gate and sped away. I asked little 4-year-old Belle where her mommy went. She answered, “To the nail salon." Yep, she expected me to provide payment-free childcare services. I mean, if she had asked first, I would have said sure … just as I would have expected her to return the favor for me one day. But that never happened. Belle hasn't been back since. Oh, and just to be clear, French manicures are so 1993.
#3: The Insta-friend
Alternately, there was the woman who came to our house determined to become my new BFF. Maybe she got her signals crossed. Maybe she mistook my forced awkward, but cordial, pleasantries at the drop-off line as genuine kindness. Sucker. Either way, here we were planning double dates with our husbands. She came on so strong, it was almost as if she was sent by the school welcoming committee, assigned to “befriend the local gay dads" at any cost. Check.
#4: The Scientologist
I'm afraid if I say anything derogatory about this particular playdate, I will mysteriously disappear like David Miscavige's wife. Let's just say Kaleb's mother was part of “the church" and was not so subtle in her efforts to recruit me. Yep, true story. For the record, I totally respect all religions. God bless.
#5: The Bring-The-Whole-Herders
I've said it before and I'll say it again. God bless single parents, especially single parents with multiple children. That said, if you're planning on bringing three children of varying ages with you to my house for a playdate, let a brother know ahead of time. Such wasn't the case this past summer when one of Max's preschool friends came over with his two older siblings. It was going fine until I suggested everyone go swimming. That's when the oldest in the herd, a husky 12-year-old, asked to borrow one of my bathing suits. Um, no. But that's not even what bugged me the most. The expectation that I'm supposed to provide entertainment and childcare for kids who are NOT direct friends of Max was a bit much, don't cha think?
#6: The Non-Reciprocator
I have no problem hosting repeated playdates. Though, I do think it would be fair to reciprocate. I mean, there's this one mom who has yet to host a playdate at her house. It's not like I want to go steady or anything, it's just that my son really wants to play with Jonah's toys too. And if you can't host for whatever reason, just be upfront about it. Otherwise, I take it personally and freak out over all the made-up reasons I've concocted in my head, like the fact that Max likes to practice writing his name. On other people's white sofas. Or how he's recently learned to blow his nose. Without using a tissue.
#7: The House Tourers
Those nervy, nosey parents who show up expecting the grand tour of every inch of your home. And not just the play area and kitchen. I'm talking about the parents who want to see it all, the whole enchilada. Every bedroom including the master. Every bathroom, even the quarter bath in the basement. These are the parents who totally judge your decorating skills, people who have no hesitation to invade someone's personal space so they can then look up the house's worth on Zillow. I just realized I'm describing myself. This is me to a T on every playdate. I like real estate. Sue me.
If I haven't completely unsold you on the idea of playdates, here are a few basic ways to make your next one more bearable:
- Stick to an hour. Ninety minutes tops. After that, you're practically begging for a meltdown. And after you pick yourself up off the floor, chances are your child will follow suit.
- Let your child pick their friends. Stop trying to force playdates with kids your child has no chemistry with ... despite how handsome their Dad is. If not, you'll probably end up being embarrassed when your kid refuses to play with hot dad's kid. Then the playdate inevitably gets cut short. Hot dad goes home. Nobody wins.
- Don't overdo it with the snacks. There's no need to prepare an elegant cheese plate in preparation for a 5-year-old playdate. They don't eat Gouda. Once you do this, an uncomfortable precedent has been set that makes your guest feel the need to live up to your unrealistically high standards next time they host. It's not about us; it's about the kids. Keep it that way. Oh, one more thing — if your kid has “food allergies," pack him or her a snack! I shouldn't be expected to have fresh organic versions of every possible food scenario currently in the pantry.
- Set up a playdate at the park instead of your house (especially for first time playdates). That way, the self-induced pressure is off. No need to go food shopping. No need to clean the house and remove any incriminating evidence. Plus, fresh air is better than whatever Glade plug-in you typically insert before guests arrive.
- Hide favorite toys. The biggest cry-inducer is when both kids want the same toy. Now's not the time to have a reasonable conversation about sharing. One way to avoid this is to go around the house before your guest arrives and literally put away your kid's most cherished toys. This works well until they decide to show their friends the hidden toys — so hide them well!
- Most importantly, like the Seinfeld show, quitting while you're on the top is the way to go. All good things have an expiration date (RIP Whitney). So always end playdates on a high note. Because even if the kids fought for the first hour, if it ends on them laughing and having fun — that's all they'll remember. When things tend to turn ugly during our playdates, I slip in with an amateur magic show or silly tickle chase. Works every time.
As anti-playdate as I may come off, I'm certainly not alone. A lot of the parents I talk to avoid playdates like the plague. But for them, it surprisingly has nothing to do with O.K.P., the aforementioned Other Kids' Parents. Many feel that playdates desensitize a child's spontaneity for play and that pre-scheduled playdates make kids lose their ability to think outside the box.
With all due respect, I call bullsh*t on that theory. I don't think playdates are dumbing down our kids' ability to be kids. If you're too lazy, overly judgey or super introverted, chances are you're not a good candidate for playdates. But own it. Don't put on the self-righteous “back in the old days, kids had to entertain themselves" act. Nobody's buying it.
If done correctly — with reasonable, fair parents and their non-klepto offspring — playdates could be a great option for you and your kids.
Emphasis on the word “could."
*Names changed to protect the guilty.