Wanna Play? Navigating Playdate Etiquette

How do you get started in the world of playdates? When babies are small, if you have an established community of your own friends with similarly aged babies, playdates are straightforward. They’re basically mom coffee dates with tag-a-long snuggles. Low-stakes library story times and similar walk-in events can make things easy, too. 

But once school starts, the world of playdates seems to shift dramatically. Suddenly, mom is no longer calling the shots, although she is still required to initiate the actual social contact. 

Maybe for more extroverted people this comes easily or naturally, but as for me it’s been work, and I’m never quite sure I’m doing it correctly or to the benefit of my daughters. I started thinking about and drafting this post pre-pandemic, but I think my questions still apply in our current weird time and space.

As my oldest started second grade, her teacher was very concerned about her socializing. Consultations with the school guidance counselor–and advice from other veteran parent friends–suggested more playdates, specifically with her classmates. One teacher friend suggested we should be with a classmate at least every weekend, an idea that made me want to dissolve in a puddle. Taking care of my own children and balancing all our family activities was enough without adding in others!

But anything for my girls. First up was the deep end–a sleepover. This wasn’t a complete disaster, but none of us got much sleep. We were SO BUSY pre-COVID, and our weekends became jam packed. I know other families in our school are too. Add in multiple children, and the simple time availability for playdates shrinks considerably. 

How do you go about asking the friend from school to come over for a playdate? What about carpool? I don’t have a minivan or any extra seating to safely haul other children home from school or between activities. Should I get a minivan to help my elementary student’s social life?!

When I was a kid growing up in Nowhere, Oklahoma, playdates weren’t a regular occurance. We might play with a friend, but it would always be at the convenience of adults–child care assistance or similar. There were neighbor kids, but no other girls our ages, and I had my sister as a constant playmate. My daughters have each other, and for the most part do play together despite their more than four year age difference.

Now the world is upside down, and playdates look so different. Different families are at varying comfort levels when it comes to playing together in person. Our family tends to be more on the outside-playdates-are-preferred side of things, and I’ve certainly come off as rude by sharply saying, “No you can’t go inside and play in Daughter’s room.” 

As with everything, time changes things. Now a third grader, our oldest is a bit more socially fluid and has found friends even if she doesn’t see them in person much beyond school. Girl Scouts has been a boon to us as well, allowing us to connect with other families in our school.

How are you managing pandemic playdates or just playdates in general? Do you have any advice for this introverted mama who needs help navigating the social worlds of two littles? My four year old seems to be a social butterfly powerhouse and begs regularly for playdates, but I know her friends’ parents even less than my big girl!

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12 Nov 2020

By Mari Walker

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