I've attended way too many lectures on the importance of play and I know that when adults even observe children playing, they change the nature and quality of the creativity and expression. Still, us parents try to impose our rules and boundaries and it spoils the activity. Besides putting a dampener on children's innate ability to play imaginatively without any adult assistance, there are those awkward play date moments that'll turn you into an introvert and have the potential to be super uncomfortable for a whole host of other reasons. In other words, clearly I'm not a fan of playdates.
These meet ups have the ability to go sour real quick, which can only add to the anxiety. The potential presence of judgmental moms in their home environment, our own natural yet destructive habit of comparing our kids behavior, our housekeeping, our parenting, even the snacks we offer can provide all involved with possible situations of contention. If you can get-together with a fellow mom and have a chat while the children play happily, then I am so very jealous and you should indulge as that is the dream, my friends. However, and unfortunately, playdates aren't always that peachy.
When it comes to free expression, research shows that adults can ruin play by intervening, commenting and praising. It's generally best if parents keep their distance during their kid's play and let them get on with it. By all means play games with your child, take them interesting places, run and jump and skip, but feel free to give organized soulless playdates a miss and avoid all this awkward noise:
When My Kid Hits Yours
We can all agree that no child is perfect and they all behave badly from time to time, but there's nothing quite so mortifying as a little one in floods of tears at the hands of your own child's actions.
It also means that your discipline strategy is now on display with a wronged audience waiting for retribution, watching just how you're going to deal with this situation. Should you leave and go home? Do you try to talk about the hurt child's feelings? Should you attempt to administer a timeout? It's such a minefield and predictably your child senses your hesitation and embarrassment and behaves even worse. Gulp
When Your Kid Hits Mine
If anything this scenario is worse. I feel sorry for my child who got clobbered, sorry for your child who is seriously spiraling out of control now that all eyes are on him or her, and I feel really sorry for you; trying to wrestle them into some sort of calm state where you might be able to elicit an apology.
Of course, I also feel sorry for myself that I have to be here, dealing with this garbage of a situation. It's so cringe worthy and makes me want to never leave the house again.
When You Feel Judged
If you find a crew of moms who respect you despite or precisely because of the parenting differences shared amongst you, you have officially found the holy grail of #MomLife. As much as we should all be supporting one another in this crazy journey called motherhood, a lot of parents can (sadly) be extremely judgmental.
When it comes to practically any parenting decision — breastfeeding, formula feeding, cloth diapering, attachment parenting, sleep training, co-sleeping, giving a pacifier, setting bedtimes or a whole host of other dilemmas — you'll hear opinionated voices on both sides of any argument, telling you what is "right" and what is "wrong." For some reason, the worst offenders (usually) seem to think playdates are their own personal venue for getting on their parental soapbox.
If you're anything like me you'll be too polite to shout and will instead sit there silently inventing your excuses for missing next weeks get-together.
When You're Accidently Judgmental
Sometimes you can inadvertently become that judgmental mom, and the finger pointing you're used to doing ends with a finger pointed squarely in your shame-inducing direction. When you presume (rightly or wrongly) that you are on the same page as another mom and make a comment that unwittingly shames them, you become "that mom." The horror, you guys.
I had this experience with a friend when our sons were about 18 months old. I had just finished telling her how a relative had given my little one juice when we were adamant that he would only drink milk or water, and how all that added unnecessary sugar was bad for him. My friend then produced a super size box of juice for her child and, without breaking eye contact, inserted the straw and placed it in his eager little hands. It was a masterclass in passive aggression and I've never backtracked so quickly.
When You Forgot To Clean The Toilet
If you host the play date at your place, you have to contend with the pre-play date clean up. Some mess has to be tolerated when you have small children but playdates can fill you with unrealistic expectations of what your house should look like. I blame Martha Stewart and Pinterest in equal measures, but there is an unhealthy pressure on us to be a perfect mom, and the perfect mom should also be the perfect housekeeper, interior designer, cook, and so on and so forth.
When Your Kid Reveals Something Embarrassing
Children have the ability to make their parents want the ground to open up and swallow them whole with just one remark.
As a child I was famous for these cringe-worthy one liners and my own mom loves to tell tales of how I broke up her friendships by repeating things she thought she had said in confidence (or just generally coming up with comments that were totally socially inappropriate). Like, for example, the time I asked my elderly aunt why she had a mustache. Out of the mouths of babes, dear readers.
When You Forget You Had A Play Date Arranged
Blame it on mommy brain, but sometimes a play date can slip your mind. That is, of course, until you hear that dreaded knock on the door, and it all comes rushing back to you.
Your kid is running around naked or with a diaper on their head, and you are wearing the same pair of yoga pants you've been wearing for close to a week. You haven't washed your hair, your dishes are stacked up in the kitchen, and all the couch cushions are currently being used as a fort. A rather impressive layer of cat hair covers every piece of furniture you own, there are no snacks to offer your guests and no clean cups for coffee. In other words, this is going to be a long afternoon.
When You're A Helicopter Mom
Instead of just enjoying your coffee and gossip session, like a normal person, you feel compelled to get on the floor with the children because running interference before something potentially disastrous happens just seems like a smart move.
However, just as observing play changes the nature and quality of that play, interfering purposefully and inventing all sorts of adult rules and interpretations completely stamps out children's ability to be creative. They start to behave in ways they think will elicit praise rather than naturally playing.
When Someone's Kid Is Sick
People who turn up to playdates with sick kids in tow should be forced to live on their own island. It really is an unforgivable sin, usually made worse if you have an infant or you're pregnant.
As soon as you see that snotty nose or hear a hacking cough, you know your friend has committed a terrible parenting social faux pas. So, repeat after me, "Never, ever knowingly attempt to infect others." It's just not cool.
When The Gossip Turns Ugly
Playdates can be a good opportunity for moms to get together and put the world to rights. While it's pretty damn nice (and necessary) to have a bitch and moan about our partners, our bosses or other friends, it can also be super awkward when those gossip sessions turn ugly.
When You Have To Ask, "What's That Smell?"
There is nothing worse than being in someone else's home and feeling uncomfortable, especially when you just can't put your finger on exactly what could cause that foul stench?
I once babysat for a family that had the smelliest cat, it just seemed to emanate a terrible pong from every part of its old body. Its litter box made one entire floor uninhabitable, its breath could wilt flowers and with one foot in the grave it really did smell like death. Still, the family seemed completely unaware of the smell. I guess if you live with something long enough, you just don't notice it anymore.
When It Starts Getting Political
It's natural to presume our friends share our views, but playdates are often arranged with new friends or people you know solely as your child's friends parent. In other words, it's wise to keep your views fairly neutral on contentious issues, until you are sure you have an ally.
I once spent a very uncomfortable play date with a woman who had presumed (for I don't know what reason) that we supported the same political party. She was very animated and I didn't fancy spending the entire morning defending my position so, instead I allowed her to prattle on unchallenged. I didn't arrange another play date, though, because her presumption offended me (as did her political opinions, to be honest.)
Playdates can be awkward and uncomfortable if, like me, you are naturally inclined to hibernate. A bad play date experience can turn you into an introvert pretty quickly. However, it's so important to find your mama tribe, so try not to let a bad experience put you off entirely.