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Ask Sherry: What do I think about “playdates”?

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Hi Sherry, I would like to ask you about the topic of play dates.

  • Would you and/or your partner allow your son to go to play dates at a child’s house (say, classmate) without you being present there while he plays? If so, at what age (if ever)? If no, please explain.
  • Would you go with him to the play date if you were invited too? Until what age?
  • When your son grows, how do you see his interaction with peers after school, without his schoolwork having to suffer? What will he be allowed to do and what not (frequency and duration of outings, where and from what age)?

I have to say that the culture of play dates took me by surprise when my child started kindergarten. There was no such thing when I was a child. I said goodbye to the classmates, went home to do homework first, ate, went in front of my house or in my yard, and the neighbors’ kids came to play outside if they wanted to. (I lived in a house, not in an apartment like I do now; and not in a big city.) My school hours were also shorter and my family didn’t play with me at all.

After my child’s school (kindergarten age), in the afternoon, we like to spend time together as a family, play, go to the park or, if the child is tired (which he often is), have some downtime at home.

I also have to say that, from what I’ve noticed, there are children whose parents don’t play with them and who don’t have activities and plans together as a family, even when the parents are at home. There are parents who have the mentality that adults should be with adults (not playing children’s games) and children with children. Those children are the most emotionally needy and feel bored and lonely every single day (even if they have a sibling or more).

While I sympathize with the kids, our schedule as a family is busy as is, our downtime together as a family is needed by everyone, drop-offs and pick-ups would add a lot to my schedule (who also have a baby), not to mention that I would not feel comfortable at all to live my 4,5 year old at someone’s house (I only know the parents by sight). Besides, my child doesn’t ask for this.

So, other questions would be:
– Do you like play dates or not? Do you have time for this? What about your partner? (I guess he’s more introverted, so I’d be curious.) How do you refuse play dates when you can’t or don’t want to do them and avoid repeated invitations?

Thank you.

My Answer:

No, thank you!

This is an excellent, loaded question for me because I will have to talk about how I grew up, and then the situation now.

Disclaimer

Keep in mind all of this is me racking my brain back to when I was 7 or so, so this may not be the full picture.

Also I am no parenting guru or expert. I am simply stating what I am doing / planning on doing with Little Bun.

How I grew up

Very similar to you, I grew up without my parents playing with me very much. I suppose as a baby, toddler and a very tiny child they did, but from as far back as I can personally remember, I do not recall my parents ever doing things like playing card games, board games, taking me to the park, or otherwise “hanging” out with me.

After school at age 7, I remember walking home (sometimes alone, sometimes with an older sibling), to let myself with my own key into my house, then I’d open a can of Campbell’s soup, dum it in a bowl, microwave it hot, and eat that.

Or maybe I’d make myself a sandwich, throw some spread in between bread, or some deli meats, and munch away. I made my own snacks at that age, and I faintly remember some siblings being around but they were in their own rooms or doing their own thing at home, so I wasn’t technically alone-alone in the home I think.

My parents were not around. Either they were at school, or they were just not around at home when I was there. They were out doing their own thing whatever it was. I never saw my father until maybe around 16:00 when he would mysteriously appear from his morning and afternoon activities and be home to get ready to go to work (he worked part-time in a store).

Some days I’d see my father at home making something to eat for us. My mother was trying to get her degree, so she was never around when I was growing up except on weekends; studying and commuting by bus back and forth each day, working hard.

So.. I grew up very similarly, but with no parents.

I would come home, eat, then start on my homework because I liked to get the work out of the way first (even starting on assignments early or reading ahead), and then when everything was done to my satisfaction, I’d flip on the TV and watch Trading Spaces, or any kind of home design show on HGTV, or watch shows like Arthur.

Then I’d get ready for bed, lay out my clothes for tomorrow, pack my schoolbag to make sure it had what I needed, and make a lunch to bring the next day (usually sandwiches). Or sometimes my mother would make one for me when she came home from school late at night, and leave me a note saying it was my lunch in the morning before she left early again to go to school (the commute was 1.5 hours each way, so she spent most of her time on campus).

I had NO playdates.

Even sleepovers, I can count TWICE when I had a sleepover in my life.

I did NOT go out to other people’s homes without permission or telling anyone, so I never went.

I only went to a neighbour’s home to swim in the summer, but my mother knew them and she knew where I was when I went in the summers.

If I wanted to play outside, I went into my backyard.

I liked to read the most, so you’d find me curled up in a nook I built out of blankets by my bed near my bookcase with pillows, a chocolate stash (lol it started young), reading underneath a lamp. My mother when she had to come and find me, always knew to come into my room and peek around my bookcase corner where I was likely huddled up in a blanket nook.

Candy + Lack of exercise + Books = Chubby weight gain, which I see now… maybe someone should have taken more interest in my health and done activities with me outside or played with me, but no one suggested it, and I never asked / assumed it was ever an option.

As I got older, I sometimes biked on my own, or if I saved enough, walked to the convenience store on my own to buy candy, but I always came back and never talked to strangers.

I didn’t really wander out of the home alone, nor felt an inclination to.

As I got older, my siblings also got jobs and they were no longer in the home any more when I came home, so I was really on my own from age 11 onwards.

As a result, you can see I did not have parents or siblings to take me to prescribed “playdates”.

No one suggested “playdates” in my day, and if I wanted to go to a friends’ house, we had to plan way in advance, and it certainly did not happen on the fly or even within the week. Maybe once every 6 months I’d go home with friend instead, hang out there, and then their parents would drive me home (what happened most of the time) or my parents would come pick me up (rarely.. if ever did my parents do this).

My mother did express regret as I got older saying she wished she had had more time to spend with me, as she was in school so intensely studying, but I told her it was fine, I never felt like I missed anything much. The only thing I sort of wished I had was more people to play with me. It was lonely as you said, being alone even though I had 4 people around me on and off.

I made up my own games, and one of my favourite memories was playing “Risk” with my siblings, the first time I ever remember all of us ever sitting down to hang out together.

I did a lot of jigsaw puzzles alone as well.

Now fast forward to today

I have had a few ‘playdates’ with Little Bun. My partner has never done any of them but this is not unusual because fathers generally don’t bother with playdates, as they would have to set it up with another likeminded father to have their kids meet together at the same time, and so the dads can talk.

My partner is an introvert, so he doesn’t make ‘dad friends’, and he couldn’t care less if he did playdates with other people because he never had any concept of this stuff as a kid either, and thinks that Little Bun doesn’t need such things (he’s partly right, it’s mostly for desperate parents to meet other parents to fill their days with things to do…).

So your questions:

Would you and/or your partner allow your son to go to play dates at a child’s house (say, classmate) without you being present there while he plays? If so, at what age (if ever)? If no, please explain.

I would. I would totally leave my son at someone else’s house, but ONLY IF I KNOW THE PARENTS, and I have been present there at the same time, watching them play together and how they interact. Only then would I feel safe leaving my son, and they in turn should feel safe leaving theirs with me.

I did that once when I had to go for an interview, I had a last minute call, absolutely no babysitter I could trust (I never used them), and I called a stay-at-home mother in desperation whom I had known, and I dropped my son off for two hours while I raced to my interview.

I think he was 3 or so. And when I came to pick him up, he didn’t want to leave because she was feeding him, and he’s a Little Glutton. He had a blast (and he had no food or any other kind of allergies that I knew of at the time).

I also felt comfy leaving him because he knew her and the kids. He already played with them many times, so it wasn’t like I abandoned him, and he seemed to understood “Mommy will come back“, and she distracted him quite well to keep him from wondering: “Oh is Mommy back now?

My partner would be fine with it too, I think. Never asked.

Would you go with him to the play date if you were invited too? Until what age?

I have, and I did until … now. Age 7. I mean technically age 5 because .. Covid.

Actually, it really just depends on how much I trust the parents or know the ones who have him. Today, I’d be fine leaving him with more people I know and just saying goodbye.

I guess I’d be okay doing it starting at age 5 because he would be old enough to understand that I am coming back, and he is there to play and have fun, but to take care of himself as well.

As a baby or toddler, I’d be less cool with it, but then again, I used to leave him in daycare so I don’t see much of a difference.

When your son grows, how do you see his interaction with peers after school, without his schoolwork having to suffer? What will he be allowed to do and what not (frequency and duration of outings, where and from what age)?

Ideally, he decides all that.

I will guide him in saying: When I was a child, I used to do my homework first, and do it well before I went out to do things because getting our work done first is more important so we can play with a free heart and mind.

I do not want to impose a strict structure on him because kids who get that, end up growing rebellious or resentful as my friends have indicated. Sometimes it works, most times, people are just angry they couldn’t do anything or their parents weren’t fair. I am not a dictator parent, I am more authoritarian, meaning I set rules, structures but within that, you decide what you want.

I will have some sort of routine that will be in place from the time he’s starting school, such as: We come home, wash our hands, have a small snack, get started on homework. When that’s done, then we can do something else. Ideally he would follow that naturally as a “well this is how we get things done“….

I want HIM to plan HIS day and his time on his own so he understands that: Hey I can’t go out to the park today because I have that math test tomorrow, but I can do it tomorrow instead because I won’t have a test.

If I don’t do this, he will end up relying on me to tell him and help him figure out what to do, and I am not about to do this when he is in his early 20s, telling him: “Did you remember to….

THAT IS NOT MY DESTINY.

It is not my style of parenting, to be helicopter him and do things for him. I have my own life and I am busy with my own activities to worry about him unless it’s major things.

I have already started that kind of planning structure in his head from when he was 3 or 4, telling him: We have to go to X, we need to have A, B, and C. Shall we make a list for tomorrow so we know what to do so we do not forget?

Then the next day arrives, and I say: Okay first we need to go to the post office, then the pharmacy and then we can go to the park. We need time in both places, plus time to get ready to go out.

This means if we want to go to the park for 10 a.m. to meet everyone, and it takes half an hour to get ready, we should allow another half an hour for each stop so we do not rush to find parking and so on, which equals 1.5 hours before 10 a.m., which means we start getting ready at 8:30 at the latest.

Usually, he sees how I work backwards to organizing and planning our time, our schedule, and he checks the clock and informs me even at 8:30 a.m. — “Mommy, time to get ready!“.. and I wrap things up, and we get dressed, go to the bathroom and get ready LEISURELY to leave at 9 a.m.

Even today, I will tell him I am ready to play a game at ______. And he checks the clock, or sees that he has to get cutlery wiped or towels folded. Sometimes he whines: But I won’t have time to play then if I do the cutlery because it’ll be time for Quiet Time! (“Nap” time at 13:00)

I tell him: Then you should have planned your time better and not wasted it wandering around the living room playing with blocks.

He harrumphs, but he gets my point. I’ve been driving it home from day one to organize his time and plan his day because he’s in charge of his time.

I follow the clock, he follows it, we make lists. He is always checking the clock to see how much time he has before Nap / Quiet Time (at 13:00), before bedtime, etc.

Here’s the planning we used to do:

All of this is to day, I am raising who I hope will be a Planner + Organizer because it is how I have managed to keep my life under control and be successful, I think. I make lists, I don’t forget things easily (if I do, I get very angry at myself and I change my procedure/process), and he is following us in the same manner, as he observes everything.

I very much dislike being late, being inconsiderate of other people’s time, paying late fees, forgetting things, etc.

I think a good chunk of our issues in life (administrative ones), can be solved by being organized, planning it, and being efficient, while focusing on true priorities (e.g. don’t waste your time planning for things that do not matter). I am hoping to teach him the same attitude/mindset that it took me years to learn/hone to this point.

  • Playing with my son? = Important
  • Folding laundry THIS VERY MINUTE? = Less Important …. I mean unless not folding it means you have to spend an extra hour ironing it or you are walking around naked

There are things we can put off, like folding laundry are generally not critical, and others like playing in the moment with my son that I consider more important. I need him to understand what his priorities are and to focus on that.

As for the frequency and types of outings:

Obviously, if I see him going out every single day, not focusing on schoolwork and being what I term “lazy”, I will call him out. He will still get restrictions imposed on him if I see things veering off, and we will adjust it as we go, but I think I can see the beginning seeds of him not being like that at all.

I want him to feel trusted, and responsible, and you can’t do that if you constantly restrict them to the point where you dictate who, where and how. Set a structure, let them be free within it.

The main rules I will have in place would be simple – stay close to home, do not go off with strangers, check in with me every 15-30 minutes, come home when it starts to get dark (?).

Even as he gets older, I expect him to be home within the same time frame. Nothing good has ever happened with children staying out late in the park at night, in my opinion.

Other than that, he decides whether he wants to go to his friends’ house, or not, and decides if he can or not (e.g. he has to do extra work on Saturday to make up for taking off on the Friday to go with his friends).

How to refuse play dates…

I just keep saying “yes, some day”. Eventually they get the hint. Or we do one play date and then that’s it, I don’t go back if I do not want to / I do not see any point (he and I are not having fun).

Honestly, I am the same as you. I like having time to go do my own things, and not worry about pick up, drop off… it’s exhausting to try and get everything done any do that on top of everything.

I would prefer playdates on the weekend only, like Saturday mornings, and then I have the whole weekend to do other things. Or Sunday mornings / afternoons.

I would limit any sort of outing to once a week, if that. I truly hate the planning before, after, missing those hours in my day to do my other things. I like knowing 2 weeks in advance if I have a party or a playdate to go to.

Also, as Little Bun gets older, I’ll rope his father into going with him on and off instead, because I can’t be the only PlayDate parent. OR.. if I go to Play Date this stuff, he has to do something else with him while I take MY break (I do enjoy talking to other parents so this is likely more suited to my personality).

I am also aware as he gets older he will have maybe soccer club, music lessons, etc. I mean, this stuff for me, all counts as “play date” time because I have to take him there and back, and I think I’d like to go once a week AT A MAXIMUM for these kinds of kid outings (myself personally), and my partner can take one of these outings (maybe a swimming or soccer one).

So we are planning outings and learning, but keeping it to a minimum because I enjoy lazy, free days and time to chill and do whatever.

I hope that helped.

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