Lately, I feel like the burnt-out social coordinator for a C-list child celebrity, and I think I’ve pinpointed the origin of my stress: planning and implementing playdates.
I hate everything about them, including the name. Do the kids always play? No. Are they dating? Hell no. Most often, the kids just mess with stuff around the house. They jump on furniture, ask if they can watch TV, or play on the iPad. They leave crumbs and spills. They argue over toys. There might even be an injury or screaming. Yet, I’m expected to schedule these headache-inducing get-togethers about five times a week for my children. And I am supposed to act all love and light about them?
Let’s be clear. No one is forcing me to schedule these, but I know that playtime with pals is a natural part of being a kid. And I want to help solidify my children’s friendships.
It’s just…I hate to bake. I hate to come up with crafty ideas. I hate playing kiddie cruise director. And, unless you’re a good friend, I loathe the banal adult banter that typically takes place at these gatherings. I would rather undergo a root canal (actually, when I underwent a root canal, my dentist let me put on headphones and watch episodes of Project Runway so it felt sort of like a vacation) than speak with a mom/nanny/babysitter/dad about the best organic produce/co-sleeping for dummies/whether kids should be tested in schools/if I should consider making my kids try a musical instrument/pick up gymnastics/become vegetarians/vegans or more free-range.
Then, there are those dreaded times when these playdates lead to one of my children asking—no, begging—for so-and-so to stay for dinner. I’m so NOT the mom who can throw together a meal for a bunch of kids out of what’s in my fridge. I know there are women and men who can do this. They basically look at an apple, a pepper and some cream cheese and they are all like, “Who wants springtime alfredo pasta???” But, me? I want to say, “Sure, I’ll cook dinner for you and all of your friends as long as I can down two glasses of wine and hire an au pair first.”
Of course, not all playdates are equally awful. I am lucky to live in a community where I feel very connected to many great parents like me. Currently, my favorite after-school meetups are with an ex-pat family that recently moved from a giant farm in Sydney to New York City. They believe in just “having a play” post-school. The kids build forts (yes, forts!), play cards or board games (cards!!) and get their own snacks from the kitchen while the grown-ups have tea and chill. This is my dream playdate.
Though as a parent to young kids, I know I’ve still got years of playdates ahead of me. So in advance of what I know will be inevitable future play dates (cringe), I’ve come up with a few playdate ground rules:
- Kids must go outside for at least part of the time. I don’t care if you have to suit up in snow pants and Arctic boots; you will get fresh air and make up an outdoor game.
- I will not bake under any circumstances. I will not make cute organic muffins in the shape of hearts and let the kids decorate them with their own bespoke frosting and sprinkles. Not my style.
- I will not craft or create a craft project. I will not set up art supplies or crafts. I may, however, toss a box of crayons and a pile of paper on a table.
- I will not worry that your child’s not eating vegetables or fruit at my house. When I host, it’s a cracker-and-chip affair. Oh, and I am a fan of popsicles.
- I don’t want to hear how easy you think it is to be a mom. I don’t want to hear how effortlessly you’ve managed to implement a gluten-free diet, juggle a full-time job, tackle home renovations, file all your school applications on time, or lead the PTA. Motherhood is not a competition. Let’s hang out without keeping score. And while we’re at it…
- We’re also not going to talk about how much sugar or screen-time I give my kids (or anything else like that)—so please don’t ask. Playdates should be a judgment-free zone.
- If the kids aren’t getting along, I’m calling off the playdate. And, no, you are not allowed to feel offended. Kids are kids. They are tired after school. They get moody just like we do. It’s not personal.
- Finally, I am not the hostess with the mostess. Please don’t expect me to be. I am a normal mom with the same fears and anxieties you have. Motherhood’s hard enough without the pressure to be perfect playdate host or guest. I worry all the time that I’m falling short; something that’s supposed to be fun for our kids shouldn’t exacerbate that feeling.
If you think these rules are okay by you, then by all means, let’s talk over chips and crackers–and maybe some gummy bears–while our kids jump on furniture and argue over toys in the other room.