The other day, I was getting ready for my son’s first play date. You would have thought I was hosting a wedding. I cleaned the house like I’ve never cleaned before, purchased gourmet coffee, baked Paleo muffins and woke up a half hour early to curl my hair. Yes, I really did that. Before heading out the door to work, my husband stopped to ask if the play date was for Blake, or for me? He had a point. Blake isn’t even a year old. He can’t talk. He’s barely even crawling. So, why the gourmet coffee? Maybe it’s because I enjoy hosting company, and I do. But deep down, I also feel since Blake is not yet capable of making a proper first impression, it’s my job to do so on his behalf.
Even though I know that this logic is silly, I argue that the first play date can be one of the most nerve-racking rites of passages we as mothers face. Each one is different and their successfulness often depends on the environment, the mood of the children and perhaps the most important factor, whether or not your child has had a nap beforehand. We all know the disaster that can ensue if this doesn’t happen. I’ve been doing the mom thing for 5 years now, and after hundreds of play dates under my belt, some of which have gone more smoothly than others, I have found that these simple guidelines can make for a smoother play date for both you and your child.
Try to Arrive On-Time
Kids are creatures of habit. If a parent has asked you over at a specific time, particularly if the child is under 5, it’s most likely because it is between naps and picking up their older children from school. Your hostess/host has most likely gone out of their way to prepare for your child/children. If you are going to be more than 15 minutes late, it is always a good idea to call and give a heads-up.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set up my daughter’s tea party set at her table complete with individual tea sandwiches and organic juice, only to have her and her friends immediately run to the basement to play dress-up or go outside to dig in the mud. While it’s nice to have a game plan, particularly if you have older children, planning everything to the last detail will just cause more stress and unnecessary preparation for you. Remember, playdates are a chance for you to sit back as well, so if your children want to play hide-and-go-seek for an hour instead of playing Enchanted Princess Party, trust me; it’s in your best interest to go with it and take a breather while you have the chance.
Have an Open Mind
If you and/or your child eat only organic fruits and veggies with lean protein, and your host/ hostess serves chicken nuggets for lunch, unless there is a legitimate dietary restriction at stake, go ahead and let your child eat the chicken nuggets. Each family has unique rules and habits. Try to embrace and learn from different customs within each new family you and your child meet.
…and an Open Home
We all know how nerve-racking it can be to visit someone’s home for the first time. Adding children to the mix can take the stress to a whole new level thanks to the wide range of unknown variables that accompany kids, particularly younger ones. If the play date involves babies or toddlers, offer the use of a changing table, blankets, or anything that your guest may have forgotten. Understand that children aren’t the only ones who may be nervous going over to a new house. Tired moms are the easiest of guests to entertain. While it may not be appropriate to offer wine, offering a cup of coffee or tea may be the best thing you can do for her.
It’s Okay if things go Awry
Not too long ago, I hosted a play date which I had to end early because my daughter, for whatever reason, was not up to the task. It was one temper tantrum after the other, and after several efforts of pulling her aside for a “chat,” we decided it was best to call it a day. I was mortified. The other mom was more than understanding as I did my best to hold back tears, thanking her and her daughter for coming over and suggested that we’d try again soon. I thought for sure my daughter’s behavior would be the talk of the town after that day, and she’d be blacklisted from all future play dates. Of course that didn’t happen. We’re moms. We get it. Kids have good days, and they have bad days. While my daughter’s behavior was not acceptable, trying to rectify the situation during the play date was a lost cause. Later that night I talked with my child about how we behave when a friend comes over to our home. Long story short, the girls got over it well before I did.
Keep it About the Kids
While serving gluten-free scones to accommodate a parent’s taste is a lovely gesture, try to remember that this get-together is ultimately for your children. Sure, meeting and getting along with the parents of your children’s friends is important, and no doubt makes for more enjoyable gatherings, the happiness of your children and their friends is what matters most. If a parent sees that you are putting an effort into making the play date an enjoyable and happy experience, they will no doubt be grateful and most likely return the favor.
In the world of Pinterest, it is easy to get caught up in the details. As moms, we put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves to always be “on.” I’m not sure what happened to the days of “Here’s a juice box and a peanut butter sandwich. Go play and see you in an hour.” Somewhere, a cultural shift occurred where having a child come over to your house requires as much prep- work as hosting high tea. We’ve all been there, but let’s all remember that a play date is exactly that. A chance for your children, and maybe even us moms to play, grow, learn, live and love.
-Susan Madden; Member, Mom, and Guest Blogger