Miss Manners

I found your responses to my poll last week rather interesting, and as always I thank you for playing.  Many of you assumed I was the responder to the email about the playdate.  I was, in fact, the inviter, and I specified the date and time, as well as indicating that the child could be dropped off or she could accompany him.  The other mother replied that she could not do that date and time, but she could do Tuesday.  “We could meet at a park,” she suggested.

This has happened to me several times.  I have tried to make a playdate, offering my house but being willing to go to the other child’s as well, and the parent has busted out with, “Let’s meet in the park.”

Now, what the fuck is up with that?  You wouldn’t respond to a dinner party invitation by saying, “We could meet at a restaurant.”

Is my house not suitable in some way? Have we gotten a reputation for somehow hosting lousy playdates?  Perhaps you have confused my house with some den of iniquity and are trying to tactfully avoid having your kid hang out in an opium den?

News flash here, people.  Not every kid wants a playdate in the park.  Zachary, in fact, refuses to meet kids there.  The other kid is often late, which frustrates him.  The kids rarely end up actually playing together.  And, perhaps most importantly, he cannot keep up with the child.

In fact, now that we’re on the topic, he sort of stresses about outdoor play with other kids he knows, even at school.  He has gained a lot of confidence, but historically, the school play yard has been an anxiety-provoking place where the lack of clear structure and rules, as well as lighter teacher oversight, has often led to teasing or exclusion or sometimes just a misunderstanding that he couldn’t get past.  While people run around saying kids need more recess time and less structured classroom time, all I want to reply is, “Maybe that’s what your kid needs.  Don’t generalize to include mine.”

Granted, Benjamin definitely needs frequent run-abouts.  But Zachary?  Much as he has learned to navigate the school yard and much as he loves a playground when there is no pressure to perform in front of a kid he knows, he sure ain’t signing up to do a playdate there. Quite to the contrary: he sees playdates as a chance to interact with the other child in a calmer, more controlled seting, one-on-one.

One more thing – not every kid wants to go to someone else’s house, in unfamiliar territory, and find a pack of children there.  Yet, several times, I have had people invite him to a playdate, only to mention casually at the last minute that they have decided to invite a couple more kids along.

Yeah, that oughta help with the social anxiety.

Please, when you try to schedule a playdate, feel free to mention doing it at the park or with a passel of children, at which point I will honestly tell you that my kid likes your kid a lot but has a very hard time with playground or group playdates.  But, if I have invited your kid over, either explain to me why that arrangement would be hard for you or your child or just graciously accept the damned invitation.

If Zach wanted a playdate at the park or if he wanted you to start inviting other children along, well, that would be what I would suggest from the start.

Um, and one more more thing.  If you do accept the playdate and I arrange the schedules of three children and two adults to ensure that Benjamin is out of the house and Lilah is napping, please do consider writing in down on your calendar or tattooing it on your forehead.  Whatever you think it’ll take to help you to actually show up.

Thanks, dude.

23 responses to “Miss Manners

  1. I wouldn’t worry about your house being suitable. I think some people are just weird about spending time out of their comfort zone, and don’t know how to express it. Who knows? People are so weird sometimes. I work full time so Caleb and I have never had a playdate, but I can imagine all of the complications. Good luck!

  2. My 4-year-old loves meeting other children at the park, but I totally hate it. It’s sort of miserable for me, since it seems like it always results in two kids running in opposite directions.

    And if I don’t know someone very well I would find a playdate at their home awkward. I wouldn’t want to leave my kid there by herself yet. And hauling myself and my 10-month-old along to a strange place feels sort of uncomfortable.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with you. But maybe being more clear as to why it has to be at your house might help?

  3. ahhh, remember, i was fine with coming to their house if that was easier…

    so what do you do if your kid has a friend but you don’t know the parent?

  4. See, I didn’t think of that part at all. My normal response to a first meeting is to see if I can possibly make it on neutral ground.

    I find going to the home of someone I don’t know well yet uncomfortable. That’s certainly my own issue, and the catch-22 is there’s not really any better way to get to know someone than hanging out with them at their house, or mine. Still doesn’t lessen my panic at that first- few-times-we-meet-tongue-tied feeling I get.

    Now, since I’m shy myself, if it were me, and you confided to me after my park suggestion that Zach did better one-on-one and in a place he felt comfortable, I would ‘fess up to my own shyness right away, ask if I could bring some kind of frozen coffee drink for you and I, and come hang out in your kitchen while the kids played.

    A month later, you couldn’t get rid of me and my kid if you pled cholera and typhoid. I’m like a dog. Once I attach, it’s hard to ditch me. 😉

    My long-winded point here is maybe just tell the other mom? Even if she’s not shy herself, hopefully she’ll get it and the playdate will go off without a hitch.

  5. Interesting — the post and the responses. I have never had someone react that way to the invitation for a playdate, and I would have found it a little strange also, but we didn’t tend to do playdates with people we didn’t know well until the kids were a little older.

    I agree about the park thing. The park is for people you’ve known forever and you can park your butts and yell at your kids from afar. Zach’s anxiety on that front is completely understandable. When Eve was three and we took her to the park, she figured she should be the only kid on the play structure, and if someone else ventured on she would scream “she’s coming, she’s coming!”

    If someone had invited me to their home — me, with my bundle of insecurities and assumed inferiorities — I would be incandescent with joy that they thought I was worthy, and wild horses couldn’t keep me away.

    Maybe I should have just said “what Coco said”.

  6. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Do moms regularly have playdates in each other’s houses there? Some places I have lived in the US, people just didn’t invite other people into their homes. You met at neutral ground, like a restaurant instead of a dinner party at a home. The South is definitely not like that. We love to invite people into our homes to show off, for better or worse. I have gotten over the showing off bit, unless weedy jungles of lawns and piles of laundry are the new Southern Living look 🙂

  7. HI, folks. I do just that now, Coco. I simply say he doesn’t do well at park playdates.

    The families in this preschool do playdates, but there are a very large percentage of families that are part of an insular ethnic group. They tend to just do things with each other, which is fine. I don’t need the friends if they don’t want to invite me for coffee when the kids are in school. Frankly, I am more than fine with that, since I am not a fan of sitting in coffee shops. BUT, Zach is close friends at school with several of these kids, and he wants to play with them out of school. So, it is not that they are uncomfortable with playdates, as they drop their kids at each other’s houses all the time or get together with their kids. It is partly just that I am not part of their social scene… Not on the social circuit, I guess.

  8. I avoid playdates like the plague. They exhaust me. I’m looking forward to kindergarten so there will be NO DAYS LEFT for playdates. We have had two total in the last 6 months. One was at the park…
    I asked the mom, and it was awkward enough, I don’t remember which one of us suggested the park – it was a neutral ground thing. She asked if we could go to lunch after, but I had to decline due to my son’s naptime. She said “Oh, right. He’ll be there too.” Yeah, becuase I’m not getting a sitter so we can go to the PARK.

  9. When I was in the moms club, no one ever liked to come to my (small, but clean and very kid friendly) house and no one ever gave me the courtesy of saying why. Later, after my second child, when I was in a playgroup with a different set of moms, I found out they were ostracizing one woman (who I though was the most interesting of the bunch) because her house was dirty and her cats got up on the counter. Having never been there, I can’t make a judgment, but to just cut the person off totally with no explanation was too close to what had happened to me.

    Anyway, that’s my story. In your case, I wonder if some people think it’s easier (i.e., less work for the parent) to meet at the park.

    So here comes summer in a neighborhood with no kids other than my own, leaving me to arrange playdates or end up sending the kids to their rooms every day. Maybe I’ll have more solid advice at the end of August.

  10. For me, park playdates are for just getting to know people, and then for old friends, in which case it’s mostly for me and the mom, and the kids probably don’t even play together. I’ve never had anyone so dramatically change a playdate plan. Maybe this is a regional thing. I LOVE GOING TO OTHER PEOPLE’s HOUSES and so does my little girl. And except for the extra cleaning, I like them over here, too.Park playdates aren’t that fun for me since the kids drag you all over and you can’t chat. Sometimes you need the A/C, too. I think this was a weird response you got, but I hope clearing up why you invited them for what you invited them for helps.

  11. Gah. I hate social politics. (oops, we don’t say “hate”)

    Why is it we have to dance around the idiosyncrasies of our children’s friends’ parents? It is SO not fun. You would think if you and your child like another child, it would be likely that you’d like the parents too, right? Genetics and all that (for families made this way, of course). I think what having a kindergartner has taught me is that great kids can come from strange parents.

    I prefer a home too, not the park, but get the neutral ground/no prep-work thing. In some ways I am relieved that The Snake has one steady friend that we’ve developed “the drop-off” situation. Much easier to just deal with the child (although I do like these parents). In fact, they are at our house today … for a water balloon fight (belated birthday to The Snake). Wish me luck!

    (sorry for the long comment, I’ve been meaning to comment on so many of your posts lately!)

  12. I didn’t drop my kids off at houses where I didn’t know and hadn’t met the parents. Yes it was uncomfortable for me, but I was upfront about needing to come in for a while and make sure my children were comfortable (euphamism for I was!) first. My older daughter was shyer and needed me to stay for the whole playdate the first few days. My younger daughter was fine with me leaving, but I wanted to have a sense of who I was leaving her with. Even now that my kids are school-age I want to stay for a bit. With my older daughter now that she’s 10, I’m fine with her going to a friend’s house without me scoping it out, but not if it was a sleepover.

  13. oops–meant first few times not few days!

  14. This always confused me. Even if your kid is a major playground enthusiast, every kid needs to learn to play with other kids in one-on-one settings and indoor playdates are good with furthering attention, spans, too. I often do the “let’s do my place instead of yours” admittedly, but if either is an option, one of those at least should be acceptable. I don’t get it.

  15. I think a lot of parents like parks and other ‘neutral’ territory with little ones because some kids don’t share “their” toys well when someone else comes to visit and play with them. Possessiveness can really kick in with Child A when visiting Child B wants to play with Child A’s toys. I’ve watched a Child A repeatedly remove any and every toy from Child B’s hands, with a “That’s mine”, or a “I want to play with that”, until Child B gave up and said he wanted to go home on too many occasions.

    Child B has been mine on several occasions, and it can be quite frustrating for him.

  16. I don’t have playdates so I’ve got nothing.

  17. i wonder if moms suggest the park, because then they don’t feel like they have to reciprocate and invite your kid to their house (not against your kid, but just because they don’t like to have other kids over in general) that was just my first guess. I hear your frustation, though.

  18. Speaking as an ex-California mom, we have read that fresh air is good for our children so we try to get our kids to park at least twice a week. It’s part of being a ‘good mom’. Very important. Although personally I hate park and would rather do a playdate in someone’s nice air conditioned kitchen while sipping wine or cappucino. Anyway, sounds like the other mom had other non-park plans on the day you mentioned and was trying to fit you into her schedule. I also know plenty of ‘the more the merrier’ moms but never thought about it much because my kids don’t seem to mind more kids. I’ve probably even been the culprit a few times.

  19. Aww, you’ve let the response hurt your feelings, but there’s no need to assume at all that you or your house have been shunned here. There are so many possibilities:

    a) the mothers are fresh air freaks determined to get kids to the park and can only tempt them there with the promise of friends.

    b) the mothers are afraid of kids breaking things in other people’s house or throwing up and have had previous bad experiences they don’t want to see repeated.

    c) the mothers find it easier to put an end to a playdate and persuade a child to come home from a neutral zone like a park.

    d) the mothers have other errands to run around the play date and the park takes them to the right vicinity.

    e) the mothers have an unnatural liking for the park that is without logical basis.

    f) the mothers have other children who they feel could be easily kept an eye on in the park.

    g) the park as a location is closer to where they live so they can walk there which is less hassle for them in their own minds.

    Well, you get the idea. There are all kinds of possible interpretations that would have nothing to do with you and everything to do with the park being a kind of comfort zone for some mothers. Don’t take it to heart!

  20. We don’t really have a lot of playdates. My condo is small, and it can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, when we’ve known people for a while, we’ll have a whole family over, which can be fun, but that isn’t how I’d start out. My boys *definitely* need the running around time, and I would be more uncomfortable in a place like a restaurant because they’re wild at times. My nine-year-old daughter would, of course, be fine either way.

    Of my social group, which is really the parents of my children’s friends, I have the house that is the least comfortable. But we’ve rarely been rejected for our home. That would be so hostile I have to think that if it’s happened multiple times there must be another reason.

    Insular ethnic group?

  21. Oh. Em, I’m sorry if I offended.

    I was responding based on my own experience, and should have added that I felt you were already trying letting the other mom know when I posted my reply.

    Based on the additional info you provided, if the mom persisted in asking for park play dates, I would feel slighted.

    Hope things work out well.

  22. I missed the poll, so I’ll say that I hate the politics of playdates! As a room mom, I saw it with my own two eyes how some moms stuck to their clique and got together with and without their kids all the time and would outright shun others, even if their kids were great friends in school.

    I stayed far away from all of it. Fortunately, I lucked out and had my neighbor and three friends I’d known for years all have boys the same year as me. So, we just took turns going to each other’s houses.

    Since I’ve never met either of you, I’m not saying this mom is like those moms, but she could be, and you seem to have that feeling. The other thing it could be is that she’s a control freak and wants to do everything on her terms. I know plenty of those moms, too.

    As for the park, no good comes from meeting at the park. I’ve found the kids usually go play with other kids or just don’t want to play at all, and someone’s feelings get hurt.

    In the end, if you really want this playdate to happen for Zach, you might just have to go to her house or think of a less stressful neutral ground. Take a valium before you go 😉

  23. I have come to believe that people just don’t want others in their homes & aren’t super comfortable going into other people’s places either. We just don’t have very contextualized community life around here – everyone belongs in a box. We are very, very rarely invited to anyone’s home – some folks I have known for years – there seems to have been some sort of cultural shift in this area. I’d love to understand it more. A woman I know who moved here from the south complained that people insisted on asking her to meet up for coffee, as if that was a nice thing, and no one ever invited her to their home for dinner. We’ve lost the art of playdates in every age group it seems.