I loved when my kids were small, and I miss it every day. I loved their little friends too. But the social construct that is the modern-day American playdate? I’m shuddering as we speak.
I confess: I hate playdates. I find them way more trouble than they’re worth, in every sense.
There are folks out there who might not consider Tiger Mom Amy Chua the best model for parenting, but I admit to nodding vigorously at the following sentiment from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: “…when Sophia and Lulu were little, what I used to dread most was…a playdate. Why why why this terrible Western institution?”
Her reasons were entirely different from mine, but I wanted to whoop when I read that—why why why indeed?
I don’t have a problem with kids playing, per se. That would be totally illogical, not to mention really mean. Play is, of course, a vital part of their development and I get that. Playgrounds? Bring it on. Spontaneous eruptions of kid-joy? I’m so there. When everything clicks, there’s nothing quite like little kids whiling away the day together sharing toys and stories while the mommies exchange “How cute are they?” glances.
According to all the experts, playdates encourage friendships and they strongly promote the sort of unstructured, imaginative play that are “foundations for success later in life, socially and academically.” Yes, this is true—and it’s why I still do it.
But for the most part, I find it just so…planned. Labored. Contrived. And when it comes down to it, frequently not worth the effort.
Admittedly, much of my disdain is entirely due to my circumstances and personality. We have a very small house and have never had much of a separate play area for kids. It’s never been a huge issue for my kids since it’s all they’ve known, but it’s almost always at least a little awkward and crowded—at least for me—when visitors come.
And all that “unstructured, imaginative play?” That’s never really been my bag either, with boys’ interpretations of such mainly involving running around with lightsabers, toy swords and the like—none of which I can tolerate for very long. So when the weather is too cold for outside play– in New England, all but about three months of the year–the boys and their friends retreat to their room where maybe they find something to do, if moods align. But just as often, they end up bored or bickering.
As for planning them, I find myself just so done with that process. As in, “Hi, it’s Liz? Teddy’s mom? So Teddy was wondering if he and Michael could get together? Saturday, maybe? 11:30, yeah, that works. Do you want him to have lunch here? OK, yeah, we have mac and cheese. Great! See you then!”
Why am I so over it? Because living on a street with no children on it has meant many, many of those phone calls over the past 13 years.
But what I hate the most is how forced the whole scene feels to me. My boys’ structured friend-visits always make me think of my childhood “playdates” in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was lucky because my best friend Jenny lived in my backyard. Really, I hopped the fence and there she was. When I felt like playing with her, I could. And when I didn’t—like the time I kicked sand in her ear—I went home. Our moms never once had to get involved, that I can recall. It was, while not perfect, organic.
By comparison, just a couple of days ago, my 13-year-old—now largely in charge of his own social life, thanks to his cell phone—texted me the following: “rly bord, pls. come get me.” I had to drive across town to fetch him—not a big deal, but once again I thought of the ease with which I would have jumped over the fence if I was “rly bord” with Jenny.
And I’m not totally out of the woods. My almost-9-year-old son’s last day of school was yesterday. Guess what he asked as soon as he woke up today? “Mom, can I have a friend over?” The weather is cold and rainy which means they’ll crowd inside my tiny house, probably with their lightsabers. I wish I could say to him, “Why why why?”
Instead, I’ll say to his friend’s mother, “Hi, Allison? It’s Liz. Is Parker free at about one? OK. Should I give him lunch?”
(Image: Gray Blogger)
Liz is a freelance writer in Massachusetts who spent many years in the trenches as a stay-at-home mom. Currently she writes for several news sites and is the site editor for an online magazine about New England living. She is certain her talent and penchant for writing and editing can be traced to transcribing foreign press stories with Hayley as a college student.