Raising Mary: Play Dates – Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?

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Stay-at-home mom Tracy Cooper welcomes playdates as an opportunity to spend time with other adults.

When I was little, I lived in a small Newfoundland town. My mother worked full time and my grandparents looked after me – well, kind of. I spent a lot of time playing in the rocky beach below the steep hill behind the house – my own awesome, natural playground. My grandmother, a workhorse of a woman who raised 14 children, would simply send me out to play and get back to baking the daily bread and keeping the house clean. I assume she glanced out the window from time to time to check on me, but my grandfather trudged to the bottom of the hill periodically to check that I hadn’t fallen into the waters of the harbour. I was also allowed to walk on the side of the town’s only street by myself, with the understanding I would go straight ‘up the road’ to my cousin’s house to play, several minutes in the distance. That was acceptable supervision at the time. It was the 1970s. It was a small community. Everyone knew each other. Whether those criteria meant children were safe is anyone’s guess. Now that I’m a parent, I know I wouldn’t let my child walk away from me outside, out of sight, at her age. (I doubt many of today’s grandparents would, either.) Whether that means we’re too paranoid or just less naive is, again, anyone’s guess.
Playdates for my kids almost always mean playdates for me, too. Being home with a four- and a two-year-old often leaves me with an adult-time deficit, and playdates have provided me a much needed respite. They’ve also playdates helped our kids get more practice forming friendships. And, I’m not going to lie, it’s a little bit about trying to influence who they become friends with while we still can. On one recent playdate, Mary and I met three of her classmates and their mothers at the park. The girls were very nice and it helped that I could imagine being friends with their mothers. Playdates are great when they go well. The kids go off and play together without incident for a good while, and you enjoy a coffee and a chat with the other parent. There are lots of smiles and giggles. You decide to do it again.
Then there are the playdate where the kids just don’t ‘click’. It’s to be expected really; you can’t assume they’ll get along just because they share the same birth year. That’s like setting up two adults for a date and expecting them to get along just because they’re both  single. One time I hosted a playdate and the other mother knotted my curtains up and off the floor and put Mary’s dolly crib on the kitchen table instead of just telling her child to stop destroying the place. One time I really liked the mom but her child was mean to mine. And as much as I hate to admit it, there have been times when Mary had a meltdown or didn’t behave so well herself.
Today, Mary is almost five. I’m opening my mind to leaving her at someone else’s house or having someone else’s child dropped off at ours. I’ve left Mary at two birthday parties for a few hours. Her social skills are better, she’s articulate, understands safety and voices her needs. I have to wonder whether I have a harder time leaving Mary with others because I’m so used to her being with me. Hmm.

Published in November 2010.

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