February 12, 2013 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

The Playdate Minefield

The Playdate Minefield

A few years ago, my husband and I were at a party where we were introduced to a couple that lived in our neighborhood. As we chatted, they quickly managed to turn the subject to the unrest between the Israelis and Palestinians, and for the next 10 minutes (until one of them took a breath and we were able to extricate ourselves from the conversation), we stood clutching our drinks as they went off on the Jews in Israel. Their eyes literally gleamed with maniacal fervor as they took turns detailing all of the political reasons why they COULD NOT STAND the Israelis.

Not the best cocktail party conversation, as it turns out.

Once we got away, we exchanged uneasy glances, both grateful that we’d never have to endure that pair again.

But we were wrong.

The couple had a son who was Bruiser’s age and once they had been introduced to us, they decided our sons should become friends. I began getting voicemail messages from the wife, asking if Bruiser could come over to play. Not knowing what else to do, I didn’t return them. After a week or so, the husband showed up at our front door with his son in tow, asking if Bruiser could come with them to the playground. I made up an excuse. It was incredibly uncomfortable and I felt bad for their son, but there was no way in hell I was going to let my child hang out around two people who spewed so much negativity — and I didn’t know how to tell them that to their faces.

After a few weeks of unreturned calls, the wife decided we were dead to her, which would have been a relief if it weren’t for the fact that her son ended up on the same soccer team as my son. Consequently, each week at practices and games, she stared right through me as if I wasn’t there. Good times. Meanwhile, my husband walked past her husband each morning while taking my daughter in to school. When their paths crossed, they’d exchange stonefaced “hellos,” the hurt and resentment plainly visible on the man’s face.

Welcome to the parental minefield of attempted playdates.

The case above is an extreme one for sure, but we’ve all been there to some extent. Kristen Howerton brought up playdate etiquette yesterday on her Facebook page and the topic garnered dozens of comments. I realized then that most of us are muddling through this whole playdate business together.

Once our kids start school, they understandably want to start meeting up with their friends, and we often don’t know those friends’ parents. At all. Sometimes, as in my case, we know enough about those parents that we don’t want our kids in their homes under any circumstances, but other times, as in Kristen’s case, the parents seem perfectly lovely — “seem” being the key word. How do we know for sure? How do we find out? What’s a socially acceptable way to do that? What’s not? Everyone who commented had a different take on it, from the parents who didn’t let their kids go over ANYONE’S house without them, to the parents who pretty much always did unless their gut instinct told them otherwise. I think we all encounter the same reality- On paper, it seems like an easy thing to ask a parent if they have guns in the house, if they’ll be watching the children at all times, if they monitor Internet activity, if their kids have free rein of the cable TV remote. But try doing that in person, face to face with a woman you’ve never met… a woman who SEEMS lovely.

It’s awkward. Too awkward for most of us.

I always feel like I need to send out a resume and list of references when I call a mom to schedule a playdate for the first time. I want her to feel confident that her child will be cared for, fed, and watched over while he or she is here. As for sending my own kids out on playdates…. that’s where I’m really in a quandary.

Yes, I want to know if the parents have guns in the house. Yes, I want their assurance that my child won’t be allowed on the Internet without parental supervision. Yes, I want to know that someone will be watching them and paying attention to what they’re doing, particularly if they’re outside beyond their yard.

But no. I have never worked up the courage to say all these things to the mom at the front door.

Instead, I go over all of these rules with my kids before they go to someone’s house. I let them know what they can and cannot do, and tell them that if I find out they disobeyed me while at the friend’s house, they’ll be in big trouble. REALLY big trouble.

And here’s my dirty little secret–  I Google the heck out of the parents before I ever let my kids go over to their house. There’s a lot you can find out about a person online, and I generally can learn how long their parents have lived in their home, what they do for a living, which friends of mine are their friends on Facebook, and plenty of other relevant information before my kids pay their kids a vist. Nashville’s not all that big, so I can almost always find a friend or co-worker in common that puts my mind at ease. A little.

Ultimately, though, I do rely on my gut. I also keep the first playdate short and sweet and I ask a lot of questions when my child comes home. I know that despite all my questioning and planning and… Googling, my kids will probably have at least a few experiences at friends’ houses that I would rather them not have (didn’t we all?!) but I want to minimize that as much as I can.

But I could always do more, right? We all could. I want to know your tips when it comes to allowing your child to go on a playdate or sleepover, whether your kid is 5 or 15. One of my favorite tips is from a girl who came to play a few years ago. Punky wanted to go next door to see if her neighbor could play and the friend said, “I’m not allowed to go inside anyone else’s house when I’m on a playdate.” I’d never even thought to tell my daughter that when she went to a friend’s house, but you’d better believe I don’t want her going over to someone’s house who I don’t know while she’s there. That’s been one of our rules ever since, and I think it’s a great one.

What about you? How are making your way through the playdate minefield? Any advice you can share?


Image via Eden Pictures/Flickr