The Playdate Paradox

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Ahhh, January. It's that wonderful time of year when, freed of holiday obligations, everyone is returning to the usual social patterns. For the kids, that means that return of playdates. For me, that means the return of sweaty palms from thinking about playdates.

I'm sure you know the problem: There is a certain assumption about reciprocity when you schedule a playdate. No one wants to be that parent that can never be bothered to allow other children in their home. But as someone working full-time for pay, my ability to host kids after school is a bit more limited than I would like it to be. I certainly don't want to say no when my daughter is invited over elsewhere, but I do feel a bit of trepidation about figuring out how to return the favor.

Clearly, I'm not without options:

  • The weekend playdate is always a possibility, though Saturday and Sunday tend to be action packed with high-quality family time and various other obligations.
  • We've finally hit the age where sleepovers can work, too, though we're still at the age where losing a couple of hours of sleep has some not-so-pleasant consequences in the days that follow.
  • And there's the weeknight over-for-dinner gambit, but that makes the 5 to 7 p.m. chaos that much greater (even with the support of the kind people from Monterey's Pizza).

I'm curious about your experiences. For starters, what's the etiquette around where you live? Is there an expectation that an afternoon hosting the kid from down the block gets you an unspoken IOU? Is there a timeline for following up? And how do those of you with more restrictive schedules live up to those expectations -- is there a perfect playdate strategy that I'm missing?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  January 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Childcare , Conflicts , Free-for-All
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Playdates? Kids have to make dates to play with their friends and neighbors? Our kids' friends lived on our block or around the corner or on the other side of the County land. They would just come over and join our kids playing on that land or in our back yard, or our kids would just go over and play with them in their back yard. One neighbor kid, James, who was born overseas (in Nigeria) taught our kids how to play soccer. They taught him how to toss the football around. I did the same thing when I was a kid; the only difference is that we played stickball on a city street, while our kids lived and played in a suburb with back yards. Either way, The idea of "playdates" is foreign to my experience and sounds awfully formal. I mean, these are just kids.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | January 10, 2008 7:46 AM

I have been the Mom at home and the Mom at work. When I was home the kids ran in and out of our house and the neighbors. Sometimes there was a formalized play date for kids that were not in the immediate neighborhood. There was reciprocity but not to pay parents back. The kids just wanted to play.

When I worked I occasionally took a day off for Dr. appts etc. I would work this around a play date that included several kids. It was fun! We did fit in sleep overs and weekend dinners that were pizza with a rented movie. It worked well and no one ever seemed to keep score.

Posted by: Patti.Snyder | January 10, 2008 7:54 AM

Among the people I know (granted, mostly SAHMs with two-year-olds), there's no real expectation of reciprocity. Things are pretty easygoing, with a recogntiton that some people either can't or would rather not host at their homes. No way would I expect a mid-afternoon playdate hosted by a working friend.

Posted by: newsahm | January 10, 2008 8:23 AM

You need to relax. Just let the kids play together if they want to and if it fits into your schedule. Your agonizing over this takes all the fun out of it. "Playdate etiquette"?! Relax!

Posted by: StickyNote | January 10, 2008 8:23 AM

I hate the whole "playdate" concept, but we're kind of stuck with it for now: we chose to send our daughter to school in the next county over, so the friends she made there don't live in our neighborhood. The result is that she doesn't get to see them a lot outside of school, because it means finding a Sat. afternoon that we can set aside for it (still a little too young for sleepovers).

It's easier when we're also friends with the parents -- somehow, those are the ones that spring to the top of the list. :-) We have nice get-togethers with various coworker friends and their kids (who our daughter loves) a lot more frequently.

Posted by: laura33 | January 10, 2008 8:36 AM

Rebeldad, while I think that it is very conscientious of you to mentally keep track and want to reciprocate one-to-one, personally I don't think that it is necessary unless it is obvious that someone is being taken advantage of. Of course, if a parent in your circle is keeping score it may make circumstances more uncomfortable; but they (as the adult) have a choice about whether or not to play nicely.

My experiences to date are very similar to newsahm's, and the playdates we have are very easy-going. Our collective objective is to get the kids together and to wear them out so they'll nap in the afternoon!

Posted by: harerin | January 10, 2008 8:46 AM

I'm a single dad of 2, working full-time. Yes, I host playdates regularly, on the weekend, typically Saturday afternoon-to-Sunday morning, about once a month. It does not cut into family time that much and I believe it is important and good for my girls. Reciprocity. Some families reciprocate as often, some occasionally, and some not at all. We still offer invitations to the 'not at alls' but generally not as often. I do have the expectation that the other family, sometime down the road, will reciprocate in some fashion. It need not be a sleepover playdate. It could be an outing too. I do like to host playdates more often with those that reciprocate than with those who do not. The message I perceive from those who do not is that they are not interested in fostering the friendship between their children and mine as I am.

Posted by: soregan | January 10, 2008 8:55 AM

I hate the whole "playdate" concept, but since we chose to send our daughter to school in the next county over, we're kind of stuck with it for now. And it definitely is hard to get together outside of school, because it means navigating around work schedules, activities, naptimes, etc. It's easier when we're also friends with the parents -- somehow, those are the ones that spring to the top of the list. :-) We have nice get-togethers with various coworker friends and their kids (who our daughter loves) a lot more frequently than her school friends.

With the people I don't know well from school, I am definitely careful not to impose on hospitality. So if we get an invite, I always reciprocate. Luckily, with the folks who are our friends, no one keeps track. Usually the final decision is just a practical one. One couple has a small baby, so dad and bigger kid they tend to come to us to give mom some free time. Other times it's the weather: our house with the big yard and nearby park in good weather; someone else's house with big basement in bad weather. Or vice-versa: since I'm allergic to dogs, we go to one friend's house in the summer, when we can be outside away from the doghair, while they come to us in winter for indoor stuff.

The thing is, you can't just assume that, because someone invited you last time, they want you to invite them this time. Sometimes it can actually be more of an imposition to have to get the whole crew bundled up and drive somewhere than it is to have everyone at your place. I LOVE it when my daughter has friends over -- they entertain each other for hours, which actually makes it a lot easier for me to get stuff done. And I'm more than happy to cook for my daughter's friends, our friends, the Roman Legion, etc. (I seem to be genetically incapable of cooking for less than 12, so might as well have people there to eat it). When in doubt, I generally offer to either host or go to someone else's house, and let them choose whichever they'd prefer.

Posted by: laura33 | January 10, 2008 8:56 AM

Oops, sorry for the double post -- my technological incompetence strikes again.

Posted by: laura33 | January 10, 2008 8:57 AM

If you a full time working parent with a preschooler, don't you have child care? How would playdates be happening during the hours your child is in care--does the parent pick your child up from the child care setting? If that is the case, then you got a freebie. Invite or not invite, but that was the person's choice to do that, and as others have said, no one is going to expect you to take off from work to reciprocate. If it is happening on the weekends or some other time when you don't have child care (and don't need it), if it is too hard to have the child over, then don't. If it is a problem for the other parent, that is their problem, not yours.

If you are using the "playdate" as a way to get extra childcare, then perhaps you owe the person something back (and perhaps not, depending on the situation).

If your children are older than preschool, it isn't called a playdate. It is called friends playing together. If they are playing at your house (inside or outside), you might offer a snack. If something arises that needs adult intervention (swinging from the ceiling fan, kid fell off bike, puking for any reason), you help.

It is possible to overthink these things, and once again, you rich folks will take any opportunity to overthink anything related to kids.

Posted by: janedoe | January 10, 2008 8:58 AM

You work - so after school play date paybacks are not a possibility unless you have a sitter there to watch everybody or you are taking a day off.

Now if you don't have a sitter after school and you are "working" then I have to question how you are putting in an honest day. That's another blog I'm sure.

I think the whole payback thing works better if your kids hang with other kids with similar circumstances. It's one of those things that tends to divide two parent working families from one-parent, or two parent/one working families. Birds of a feather do better flocking together.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 10, 2008 8:59 AM

I generally don't expect the other family to reciprocate, especially if they are both working outside the home. Generally, I'm just happy to have the kids around and other kids keep my kids from fighting with each other. There is sometimes the question about whether the family is unable or they don't want to foster the friendship that can be difficult to sort out. What I would object to is a "playdate" every Thursday until dad gets home from work which would be like being the sitter.

I actually hate the whole playdate idea and can't believe that we are those people, but if we didn't, the kids would never play with other kids. I grew up with a neighborhood gang of mixed genders and ages and we all played together. We'd get home from school, drop our stuff in the foyer, grab and apple and head right back out the door to play with our friends. (We also didn't have an hour of homework in 3rd grade) Now, I don't see any kids after school. I don't see kids knocking on doors to see if Timmy can come out and play. Its like a ghost town. Most kids are in aftercare and others are in scheduled activites. None the less, it makes me sad that everything is so scripted.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 9:07 AM

We both WOH but have an au pair. I really don't mind at all if she has the kids playing elsewhere - or if the kids come to our house after school. I love our neighborhood and that everyone knows everyone, etc.

Many saturdays my son will be bored and say he wants to go to someone's house. So we pick up and go down the block to see who's available that day. I would never mind if the kids came over to our house, but they don't as often. My kid just likes hanging out at other people's houses. :) So we go and he stays at other's houses for a while, sometimes the kids then come to our house (our friends just finished a renovation, so sometimes it was good not to have their kid underfoot).

I'm with you, Laura, I have no problem having everyone over - it ends up being LESS work cause my kid's not bored. And I don't mind feeding everyone either.

I do hope that I do enough to 'reciprocate' but we live in a neighborhood - where reciprocating may happen as me watching someone's house, or something - no tit for tat (i hope) - so that we can all do for each other and not worry about how much we do, etc - if you ARE worrying, then you are probably doing enough. I don't mind doing stuff for people if I can (like picking friend's up from the train station when they're coming back from the airport - which happened one sunday afternoon when we were just hanging around, my neighbor's called, cause they knew we had a carseat, etc).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 9:13 AM

janedoe |

"It is possible to overthink these things, and once again, you rich folks will take any opportunity to overthink anything related to kids."

Hey! My PETS have play dates!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 10, 2008 9:14 AM

I have a related question. It's about the dreaded Summer Camp arrangements. My daughter is 5 now, and for the first time I'll be faced with figuring out Summer care for her (previously we'd been able to just use the Summer session at her preschool). BUT, we only need coverage for 2 days a week because both my husband and I work part-time.

Try finding a high quality, fun camp that lets you choose a 2-day/week schedule! Ha. So, I'm contemplating trying to arrange a home-camp swap with one or two other families - kind of like rotating playdates all Summer for two days per week at other families' homes and two days per week at our home.

I know it would take a lot of arranging and would have to benefit all involved, but I'm thinking it could foster some really nice friendships between kids (and parents) if done right.

Has anyone else done something like this?

Posted by: violinline | January 10, 2008 9:14 AM

We don't mind having our sons' friends over, even if their parents never reciprocate. Our weekends are generally very laid-back and unscheduled, so we don't mind having extra kids around. So send 'em over...

Posted by: barfster | January 10, 2008 9:16 AM

We don't mind having our sons' friends over, even if their parents never reciprocate. Our weekends are generally very laid-back and unscheduled, so we don't mind having extra kids around. So send 'em over...

Posted by: barfster | January 10, 2008 9:16 AM

violinline: it might be a lot of work, but would be fun for your kids.

Another option is to find a college student who would want to work a couple of days a week (although it might be less expensive to go for day camp anyway...).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 9:20 AM

I'm a little surprised by all the people who are "anti-playdate." I mean, we didn't have that term when I was a kid, but it was the same thing. You never had a friend over after school who didn't live in your immediate neighborhood? Maybe it's because I went to an elem. school that serviced a large geographic area, but most of my friends did not live within walking distance of my house.

Posted by: floof | January 10, 2008 9:33 AM

We tried never to "keep score" with playdates, because we recognized that different families have different situations. For example, are there little siblings (or even big siblings) around? Who's home? What other activities are happening?

One family has a son the age of our son, and a daughter the age of our middle daughter, and they were all friends, so our kids would spend more time there. The boys would play, the girls would play, nobody would interfere, and our other two daughters got a break.

With others, activities would be at our house more often. As long as nobody's deliberately trying to take advantage of somebody else, who cares?

(And yes, I hate the whole concept of "playdates", but we don't live in a neighborhood; there's nobody who lives within easy walking distance of us that's the same age as any of our kids. So there's not much choice.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 10, 2008 9:33 AM

Well, when i was a kid, actual playdates (before elem school) was for my mom to have time with the other mom and the kids would play - it wasn't about US it was about THEM. Really.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 9:35 AM

We don't do play dates often because every one is so busy. We tend to do it with families where we like the adults. But I wouldn't imagine there is a score keeping attitude. Like moxiemom said, sometimes it is about not wanting to foster the friendship and that is a little tricky. Most kids seem to be in after school care or scheduled activities. So the need for play date boredom release seems to be less. I really doubt anyone expects a working parent to take time off work to host a play date. Consider the days when school is closed and your off from work. Government holidays, school closing. Considering giving some of the regular hosts a break and take the kids then. Overall, I don't see it as something to fret about.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 10, 2008 9:36 AM

Brian, one was to reciprocate is to do what a friend of mine does. They take the kids on a Friday evening, not for a sleepover, but for a pizza night - generally from 5-9 so we can have a date and not pay a sitter. That is what they offer, which to me is worth tons of afternoon playdates.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 9:38 AM

I work full time and my kid goes to a magnet school so her friends are not in the neighborhood. In elementary she was in aftercare but went frequently to a friend's house for a playdate. Now in middle school she goes over to one friend or another at least 2 times a week. All said friends have SAHMs. I often feel guilty because these Moms are so quick to volunteer to have her and even keep her late or give her a lift home when I am overwhelmed. I can't possibly reciprocate in the same way but opportunities for different favors come up. I sometimes have the whole family over for dinner, offer to do some driving for the soccer/girl scouts on weekends, invite my daughter's friend AND little brother on a Saturday night so the SAHMs can have a nice evening out with spouse. Mainly I try to remind them that while I work, I am always available for an emergency and occasionally they take me up on it.

Posted by: samclare | January 10, 2008 9:47 AM

If you have a child that behaves like a snotnosed, spoiled little brat, you can bet all the other mommies in the hood are keeping score.

Not that the above needs to be mentioned on this forum since most of us who participate in this blog, by virtue of our hard work, college educations, and adherence to righteous family principles are raising kids that walk about God's green earth reflecting a tender golden glow from their halos that can be spotted from over a block away. If this is the case in your family, you will know because the mommies of your child's friends will call you and ask to borrow your child for events such as nursing home visits, recreational activities, and even full week vacations.

Doing without my laundry ferry for a week wasn't easy...

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 9:56 AM

One difference in approaches to playdates that has come up in the group of parents I know is how well the parents of the kids know each other.

I'm pretty cautious about sending my young elementary-schooler to play at a classmate's house when I don't know the parents. My kid's classmate may live across town rather than be an immediate neighbor.

Generally, I want to know the parents a bit before I let my kid go. I usually invite the other mother to stay and have tea or coffee for the first playdate. It's not an interview--most of the moms seem to welcome the chance to get a sense of me too. This does make it a bit harder when my child's friend has two parents who work out of the home. I guess in that case I'll make an effort to invite the family over on the weekend if it seems like my child has really clicked with a friend who's parents we don't know.

Typically, we don't do playdates on the weekend. We really do like that time for family and extended family. There's not that much extra time during sports season especially.

We don't have much yard for the kids to play in so I do find that we tend to host more during colder months (we have a basement playroom). Some of our neighbors have better yards for playing, so we tend to be guests there more in good weather. We also meet friends at the neighborhood playground and at the community pool in the summer. It's definitely not one-for-one reciprocity. I generally feel that if we're not invited after hosting a few times that there's not much interest (unless there's an obvious reason like a younger sibling's nap schedule or other family circumstance).

Fridays are our most typical day for a playdate--no homework and fewer after-school activities to work around. My child is not overscheduled on the weekdays but sometimes on the days my child is free, the friend has an after-school activity planned.

Playdates do tend to be more formalized than would be ideal. Traffic-wise, the neighborhood isn't that safe for kids younger than the upper elementary grades to be on the street unescorted by a grown-up.

Posted by: marian3 | January 10, 2008 10:03 AM

One of the pleasant developments of jaded motherhood is that I no longer care about how many playdates my kids go on and who/when reciprocates.

My five year old is good friends with two sets of twins. For whatever reason it always, always works better for her to go to their houses. Fine fine fine.

My 10 year old has a good friend who lives an hour from school. We live 10 minutes from school. So his friend comes here once a week before b-ball practice.

My middle child has a few friends who love to have sleepovers at their houses but they don't like to go elsewhere. That's fine too. Who cares?

I am sure that over my lifetime all of these playdate inequities will get settled.

One snarky comment: there are some parents (ahh -- honestly, some MOMS because I do not see dads engaging at this micro level) who "manage" their kids playdates like it's World War III. Every day a different child comes to their house or does something with them. It's like a social rotation or political race for "most popular first grader." This is okay but I feel pretty strongly that part of childhood is MAKING YOUR OWN FRIENDS. So I only do playdates based on my children's specific requests.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 10, 2008 10:10 AM

"violinline: it might be a lot of work, but would be fun for your kids."

Maybe. Maybe not. You were talking about camp, and then switched to childcare coverage. Camp is not just a bunch of kids hanging around in the house. It focuses on a skill, an activity, an interest. Hanging around in the house in the neighborhood is just that. So, my first question is, are you looking for a camp, or just a safe place for the kids to exist while you work two days a week? If you actually care whether the kids have fun, it depends on the kid.

Re: playdates, I find it interesting that so many commenting, like Matt in Aberdeen, don't seem to understand that not every neighborhood or housing choice is conducive to friendships. There is no child my daughter's relative age within 8 blocks of our home. All the kids are middle school age and my daughter is in first grade. She has developed her own friendships at school and those friends don't live within walking distance. There is no unspoken IOU because playdates are about encouraging friendships, not providing childcare to another parent. Like any social invitation, reciprocity comes naturally and as it works for you. Unlike Brian, though, we always arranged for kids to come over to our house on the weekends, and her friends' parents do the same. I don't understand blocking every weekend out as exclusively family time. Frankly, it's easier to both amuse and take care of your kids and their friends then it is just to take care of your kids by themselves because they don't seek your attention when their friends are over. If we are visiting the planetarium, why NOT invite a friend of each kid? It's more fun for them and part of being a member of the Village.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 10, 2008 10:11 AM

Violine - look for a responsible high school student. They do not necessarily want a full time job and are more available than college students.

Posted by: Patti.Snyder | January 10, 2008 10:13 AM

Samclare,

You sound really balanced! Seriously, you sound really considerate in finding ways to reciprocate--no need to feel guilty. I'm sure that is reflected in your daughter--that's why the other moms are so quick to have her.

One thing that makes a difference in how quick I am to have a child over is whether or not the guest is easy-going or not. As my child gets older, I expect that the kids will entertain each other and not require much direct supervision. Also, how the kids treat the younger sibling matters. I try to keep him entertained and out of the way, but I won't tolerate much meanness at all when he wants to play too. I understand that the older ones need their time together and don't want to be pestered for the whole playdate, but they can't be cruel about it. Luckily, most of the older one's friends have been pretty good about that.

Posted by: marian3 | January 10, 2008 10:20 AM

"My middle child has a few friends who love to have sleepovers at their houses but they don't like to go elsewhere. That's fine too. Who cares?"

This is a great point, Leslie. Our son much prefers to have friends at our house than to go elsewhere. So that's what happens. We host his friends most of the time and we are very, very happy with that because we know what goes on in our house and we like his friends. Our daughter, on the other hand, prefers to go to her friends' homes.

And, as you say, we don't do playdates to encourage friendships we think our kids should have. We arrange playdates with friends our kids already have.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 10, 2008 10:26 AM

Janedoe, yeah people with money do tend to obsess over their children's lives, some of it is because they have the resources (and responsibility) to give their children something better than what they had and some of it guilt because their kids lives are so different from their own childhoods, before gated communities, Amber alerts, and the prevalence of working mothers, when mom was at home all day, kids could ride their bikes all over the neighborhood, and nobody had to worry about scheduling play dates. Maybe we all hate that word so much because it reminds us of all that freedom we have lost in the interest of safety and economic security...
Whatever your economic level, I'd say the important thing is to make sure your kids have some joy in their lives, and maybe that means scheduling time for them to run and play with their friends or maybe it means being a good example of being joyful yourself (and not worrying so much about the details of playdate tit for tat).

Posted by: pinkoleander | January 10, 2008 10:30 AM

I guess I'm a little confused - I thought you worked from home Brian, no? If you can watch your own children after school and work at the same time, why can you not have a friend there too?

And if you're not working from home and your children are in after care, I'm with the other poster about how exactly your children are going on playdates after school, because from what I've seen the after school playdate circle is generally occupied by kids with a SAHP.


Posted by: fake99 | January 10, 2008 10:54 AM

pinkoleander, I know not of the world of which you speak. I grew up on Army posts all over the world, which pass for "gated communities" in some ways; Mom almost always worked (okay, she was a teacher so was mostly around when school was out). My kids have, in many ways, much more freedom and economic security than I did, although I will admit that I was probably safer.

Generalizations are fine, but they don't always apply.

Off-topic aside re: safety of military posts: when I was teaching there, the US Air Force Academy was reported to have the highest crime rate of any college campus in the state of Colorado. Umm, that's because they reported every freakin' missing fountain pen as a possible crime!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 10, 2008 10:56 AM

Violinline: I don't know where you live, but around here, there are MANY day camps that take kids by the day. I suggest looking around at tennis clubs, neighborhood pools, community centers, horse farms, art centers, Ys, JCCs, etc. All of these have pick-your-day options as long as you sign up early. I remember my son was once asked by one of his friends to attend a two day/week camp at one of the local tennis clubs with him because this kid wanted to make sure a friend was with him. That ploy is a good one for parents to remember too...sign up your kid with a friend. And usually one doesn't have to be a member to attend camps at clubs, though you will have to pay some kind of surcharge (5$/day at our local tennis club: big whoop).

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 10, 2008 11:02 AM

I second teenage babysitters. At least the uber-responsible ones, who are easy to spot. They are fun and want/need the money.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 10, 2008 11:04 AM

I guess this is off topic, but when you have a child coming over to your place, do you disclose to his or her parent if you have a firearm in the home? Is this a question you ask parents when your child is going over to a friend's house for the first time? Or is this not an issue that anyone talks about when scheduling a playdate?

Posted by: lucykat | January 10, 2008 11:18 AM

Leslie: you are kidding, right? I don't think any teens need the money anymore - that's why I'm paying upwards of $15+ per hour for babysitters! Cause kids today don't need the money.

Well, there's also the parents who won't trust their little darlings to teens - they have to have 'experienced' and older. But most parents WOULD hire teens if they could find them...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 11:20 AM

That's one of the nice things about moving to Arizona--we don't have a "playdate culture" here. Kids go knock on each other's doors and play.

Now that my daughter is in a charter school, she does have friends all over the metro Phoenix area (very large area; we are the 6th largest U.S. city). So, when she socializes with friends from school, it usually takes place on weekends or school breaks.

Posted by: pepperjade | January 10, 2008 11:27 AM

Luckykat - I had one parent ask me if we had weapons in the house. Evidently she heard we did... The school was preaching to all parents to ask. The weapon was an old army sword handed down in the family up on the wall in my husband's office. She was horrified. Needless to say, I cracked up. We're friends now, but I have to say, it was difficult at first. I mean, really...

Then there were the parents who didn't want their kids exposed to toys that were weapons...and their kids were the one picking up any stick and going "pow pow" !!

full disclosure: I grew up in a house with guns. The first lesson was to never touch a gun. They were also placed where I, as a child, could never get to them. Teach your own kids basic rules like that and they'll be fine.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 10, 2008 11:36 AM

This isn't as big of an issue for us, since we have twins and they are still toddlers. We just go to public places that tend to have kids (family-friendly cafes, parks) and let our kids play with strangers. Or we meet up with family or friends with kids, people we already know where the rules are different.

There's also reciprocating with gifts like a home-cooked meal. But I also think some people feel uncomfortable if you work too hard to reciprocate, and might be put off by this.

Posted by: ethele | January 10, 2008 11:40 AM

Thanks for the insight, dotted_1 :)

Posted by: lucykat | January 10, 2008 11:46 AM

I always thought the playdate concept was kinda weird. I'm 33, and as a child in the 80s, once I hit elementary school, if I wanted to play with somebody, I had to make the phone call *myself*. Then the other child would ask her mom, and we'd have to work out arrangements. Nobody was quite close enough to walk to--closest was about a mile. Once I hit 9 or 10, I could bike to friends' houses and knock on the door.

I'm kinda glad Mom made me do that--I'm much more comfortable on the phone and with unfamiliar situations than my little sister. We lived in a different neighborhood when she was in elementary school, and the kids came out of the woodwork--she didn't have to work for it at all. I think it helped with social skills.

Same thing in middle and high school--I could do whatever activities I wanted, but I had to arrange my own carpools.

Posted by: marseille | January 10, 2008 11:56 AM

Lucycat - at the risk of stirring up a hornet's nest here. Yes, we ask about guns and no we don't allow our children to go to homes where they have guns. I also do not drop off my children at homes of pepole we don't know. I will stay and visit for the first couple of play dates in an effort to try to get to know the family and the household. That's how we do it.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 12:02 PM

armybrat, we'll I certainly wouldn't presume to speak for someone who grew up in a military family, a very different world, and one that maybe hasn't changed as much in the past 30 years. I'm talking about my own childhood, we literally rode our bikes all over town and most of the kids got home from school and immediately hit the streets and backyards. No after school care because for 75 percent of us mom was at home waiting. Having a childhood like that stimulated my sense of discovery and imagination and I worry about kids being raised on video games and structured play. I guess whether you worry about this or not depends on where you are coming from and where you live now.

Posted by: pinkoleander | January 10, 2008 12:13 PM

"no we don't allow our children to go to homes where they have guns."

Too bad you'll never have a cop for a friend.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 12:27 PM

luckycat, I agree with pretty much everything dotted said.

I grew up in houses with guns - umm, that's sort of a basic tool in the Army. Dad hunted on occasion, so we also usually had a couple of shotguns in the house. On the other hand, from day 0 I was taught about gun safety. Guns were never, ever left where kids could get at them; they were locked away in cabinets and locked down within their cabinets. From as young an age as I can recall, I was taught about the impact of putting a round down-range. So it was just never a big deal. (I also have a number of uncles and cousins who were police officers, so their service revolvers were in their houses when we visited them, but we didn't consider those little pea-shooters "guns".)

On the other hand, I do not have any guns in my house and haven't for years; I have no reason to. I'm not in the military or law enforcement; I don't hunt; I don't participate in shooting sports and I don't believe I need one for protection.

My kids are all older now so it's not an issue, but when they were younger if somebody asked about guns I gave them the complete safety brochure: this is how we've "childproofed" the house. As long as I didn't get a lecture it didn't bother me.

I never asked anybody my kids went to visit, but as moxie said, my kids didn't go to the houses of people I didn't know. To be perfectly honest, I was more worried about drugs and unsafe behavior than I was about guns or other weapons.

("Unsafe behavior" ran the gamut, from teen siblings having sex in the house while the younger kids were playing - yes, it had happened - to letting the kids climb a ladder and jump off the roof, onto the grass about 15 feet below.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 10, 2008 12:29 PM

marseille,

I'm with you! I guess I hadn't really thought about this before (no kids yet). When I was a kid, in elementary school, if I wanted to hang out with a friend, I asked my mom if it was ok, then I called the friend, she asked her mom, then I got my mom to drive me over.

Good God. Are you helicopter-parents personally calling third-graders' parents and asking if your child can come to their house?!! Am I the only one who finds that completely outrageous?! What if the kids don't like each other? Do you even know? Or do you go down the class roster and try to make sure your child has as much "peer socialization" as possible?!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 10, 2008 12:30 PM

Dandy Lion -

"In 2003, 102 children and teens aged 17 years of age or younger were killed by firearms unintentionally--more than eight children every month, or one child every four days. For this age group, in 2003 an additional 805 youth were killed in firearm homicides, and 377 took their own lives in firearm suicides. More than four times this number of children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year for non-fatal gunshot wounds. Taken together, these numbers add up to a Columbine massacre every four days for America's youth.

After motor vehicle deaths, firearms are the second leading cause of death among all teenagers."

Just saying - to contrast about 150 children are abducted by strangers each year. Yet which threat are parents more obsessed with?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 12:50 PM

Re the guns debate--in my experience and from reading comments here, people I know who were raised with guns in the house (and had responsible parents) had gun safety drilled into their heads from a very young age and are much more aware of gun safety than people like me who weren't, does that agree with others' experience? I'd also be curious to know how many of the 102 kids were taught gun safety.

Posted by: teaspoon2007 | January 10, 2008 1:02 PM

If teaching your kids about different risks eliminated them, and kept kids from making poor choices; we would have no drunk driving and Jamie Lynn would still be a virigin. Just because you talk to them does not mean they will not make a poor, often fatal choice.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 1:05 PM

"Well, when i was a kid, actual playdates (before elem school) was for my mom to have time with the other mom and the kids would play - it wasn't about US it was about THEM. Really."

Yep. Maybe that's why none of us worry about reciprocating. But I've also found that the more time we moms have spent together, the more comfortable we are with dropping our kids off at each others' homes and getting some free time in. It's actually been pretty interesting watching how things are evolving.

Posted by: newsahm | January 10, 2008 1:06 PM

Teaspoon2007 asks: "I'd also be curious to know how many of the 102 kids were taught gun safety."

Sad to say, sometimes the victims aren't the ones wielding the guns. I had a schoolmate whose teenaged cousin was showing her a new shotgun that supposedly wasn't loaded. My friend died at the hospital a few hours later of a blast to the abdomen.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 10, 2008 1:07 PM

I have grown to be so "over" the playdate thing. Its not that I don't value my kids playing with other kids, but as a county dweller with kids in private school, that invariably means driving. When I am done with my work day I do not want to orchestrate pick-ups from various locations when my kids could have just come home to my store after school and we all head home after that. If I am attacked for being selfish, I honestly am imperious to the charge as I know my privileged, educated, well-traveled kids have had enough treats to last them a lifetime and they don't need another "playdate" to make their lives complete.

Now my girls are 10 and 12, but frankly, the playdate thing lives on. No matter how many times I have told other parents we are too busy and my life too hectic (single mom doing it entirely alone) to do playdates I still get cornered after school with the invitation, while my child is right there. Not accepting the invite seems to me as much a breach of etiquette as not reciprocating with an event at our home. But I don't care anymore because I've told all these people my needs--to have a simple end of day procedure--and its like I am just beiong ignored.

My policy is, if they live on our street, play all you want. If it involves driving, or invading dinner/homework time or our weekends, its out. To anyone who thinks this is a serious damage to social life, I say, no way. The kids have school, after school classes, and the occasional party. They are definitely getting out enough.

Posted by: lindsayhowerton | January 10, 2008 1:12 PM


teaspoon2007

"in my experience and from reading comments here, people I know who were raised with guns in the house (and had responsible parents) had gun safety drilled into their heads from a very young age and are much more aware of gun safety than people like me who weren't, does that agree with others' experience?"

No, Mrs. Cheney.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 10, 2008 1:14 PM

"I'd also be curious to know how many of the 102 kids were taught gun safety."

I suspect a faily high number. I have a hard time envisioning a parent bringing a gun into the house and not giving appropriate warnings and cautions to the kids. Over the past 2-3 years, I have read about several instances where police officers' children have been injured or killed by dad's service revolver, despite all of the dad's efforts to teach the kid not to mess with the gun.

Problem is that kids aren't infallible. Even the best kids don't always understand the potential magnitude of the consequences -- they can't, that part of their brain hasn't fully developed yet. Which is why we don't let kids drive cars until 16 (or 17, or 18), or vote until 18, or drink until 21. Kids get caught up in the excitement, the allure of the forbidden. Or they want to show off for a friend. Or they don't want to be the wuss when their friend wants to see it. Etc. etc. etc. And (almost by definition) they are sure that nothing can happen to them. They're immortal, right? All that bad stuff happens to other people, not them. So they can break the rules just this one time, right?

Which is why the kinds of precautions ArmyBrat was talking about are so important: training, yes, but also locking the guns away, so that if a kid is hit with an attack of the stupids, he doesn't pay for it for (or with) the rest of his life.

Posted by: laura33 | January 10, 2008 1:19 PM

Funny play date anecdotes -- 1) about a year ago my cousin was invited to a play date with her twin boys. She is a WOHM who took the afternoon off -- thought she'd get to know this other mom. It ended up that after the hostess' nanny made lunch for the 3 kids, the hostess asked my cousin if she minded staying with the kids/nanny while hostess went to the gym. We laughed as she retold the story but it was definitely awkward. 2) Even 5 year olds are capable of initiating their own playdates -- last year one of the twins came home with the phone number of 7-year old girl from the school playground so a play date could be arranged.

Posted by: tntkate | January 10, 2008 1:20 PM

"Drowning is the most common type of injury death among children younger than 5 years old, and the second most common cause for adolescents,
accounting for an extimaged 1314 child and adolescent deaths each year. Children younger than 5 years old have the highest drowning rate of
any age group, including adults." From Pediatrics: Just the Facts by Green, Franklin and Tanz, 2004

I agree with laura: the best approach is to talk to your kids AND remove temptation wherever possible, at least for potentially fatal accidents. I grew up in a house with guns, and those guns were *always* stored in locked cabinets that I couldn't even reach as a kid (in addition to knowing I would be in HUGE trouble if I ever tried to touch them; I never did).

Same goes for fencing and locking pools. Our parents were furious when my sister and I wiggled under the fence to the neighborhood pool, which was practically in our backyard. Sure, we knew better, and we thought we were fine since we both knew how to swim. We never considered what might happen if one of us hit her head, or fell in the pool and got wrapped up in the heavy plastic cover. Our parents didn't just punish us, they made them fix the fence.

Posted by: mhonley | January 10, 2008 1:39 PM

There is a girl from my son's PreK class that he got along with well (and I get along with the parents). They are not in the same class in K but the same school.

She is extremely shy and doesn't like to go to other people's houses. So the playdates are always at their house - and since I work, I have the au pair take DS to their house (actually, during this past winter break, i got home from work early enough to pick him up). They don't mind, we don't mind, they enjoy having her have friends (as I said, she's very shy) - that they get along together and they do well, etc. My son, as I said, will make anyone's house his own, so he has no problems going there at all...

*shrug* it works out - and if it didn't, they wouldn't be so happy to have him over - I actually think, Brian, it's more how your kids act (are they bratty? do they pick fights? etc). If they're well behaved, no one will much care if they're at their house all the time, really!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 1:43 PM

When my kids' have their friends over, I'l ask them questions like, "Do your parents fight?" and "Who's fault is it?"

I learn a lot about other family's life from grade school kids, they have a bad habit of telling the truth.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 2:26 PM

Dandy, maybe the parents of some of your children's friends ask the same questions about you and your spouse.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 10, 2008 2:33 PM

"Try finding a high quality, fun camp that lets you choose a 2-day/week schedule!

Violinline,

I know of at least two. Are you in Maryland?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 10, 2008 2:34 PM

Speaking of summer camp. Does anyone know about licensing and safety at summer camps? Who is in charge of licensing. Do they require background checks on staff. Do the staff have to be trained in CPR? Is there a body that keeps track of injuries and fatalities at camps? We are considering it this year for our kids and I'm at a loss as to how to best evaluate the camps. Thanks.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 10, 2008 2:37 PM

moxiemom1

"Do they require background checks on staff. Do the staff have to be trained in CPR"

Fred does the background checks on the applicants - he is tough!

ArmyBrat does the physical exams on female applicants- he is thorough!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 10, 2008 2:58 PM

When I was a kid, in elementary school, if I wanted to hang out with a friend, I asked my mom if it was ok, then I called the friend, she asked her mom, then I got my mom to drive me over.

Good God. Are you helicopter-parents personally calling third-graders' parents and asking if your child can come to their house?!! Am I the only one who finds that completely outrageous?! What if the kids don't like each other? Do you even know? Or do you go down the class roster and try to make sure your child has as much "peer socialization" as possible?!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 10, 2008 12:30 PM

Did you take a drink or two in between the first sentence and everything that came after? Your first sentence describes a playdate. The kids ask, the parents connect, and it either works out or it doesn't. What's with all the hysteria and label-throwing?

Posted by: mn.188 | January 10, 2008 3:03 PM

Moxie: Last summer, I dealt with camps from organizations I knew about - so the botanical gardens, the local jewish organization, the zoo.

We also have a parent's email list in our neighborhood, so we get tons of information (as well as the - does anyone want to carpool to such and such with us?).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 3:03 PM

When I was a kid, in elementary school, if I wanted to hang out with a friend, I asked my mom if it was ok, then I called the friend, she asked her mom, then I got my mom to drive me over.

Good God. Are you helicopter-parents personally calling third-graders' parents and asking if your child can come to their house?!! Am I the only one who finds that completely outrageous?! What if the kids don't like each other? Do you even know? Or do you go down the class roster and try to make sure your child has as much "peer socialization" as possible?!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 10, 2008 12:30 PM

Did you take a drink or two in between the first sentence and everything that came after? Your first sentence describes a playdate. The kids ask, the parents connect, and it either works out or it doesn't. What's with all the hysteria and label-throwing?

I strongly disagree. The first does NOT describe a playdate. The first describes two children arranging on their own to spend time together, then separately working with their own parents on logistics. The second describes parents talking together on their own, leaving the kids entirely out of the process. Leaving the kids out of the process is fine when your kids 2. It is NOT fine when they're 10. Are you going to arrange their job interviews for them too, when that time comes?!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 10, 2008 3:11 PM

"I strongly disagree. The first does NOT describe a playdate. The first describes two children arranging on their own to spend time together, then separately working with their own parents on logistics."

Actually, that is exactly how my elementary age kid(s) describe a playdate. They conspire, they ask the parents, we discuss it amongst ourselves and then a child is/isn't delivered. My youngest kids friends are not within walking distance, as it turns out.

So what is your definition of a playdate?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 10, 2008 3:22 PM

I would set up activites such as a trip to the zoo, community pool, or something away from home and let the parents of my son's friends know when and where we were going to be. If they showed up, fine, if they did not, fine. We did not have money so most of what we tried to do was free or low cost. We would also set up picnic hikes. Most of the time the parents stayed, many times we had older siblings beg to come and they helped keep an eye on everyone.

Typically, out of every group there is one or two people who organise everything for the kids (the Kool-aid mom/dad) and they don't mind doing it. If you are not one of those people, try planning an adventure at a local park. Nothing fancy, just a nature hunt and a snack. You never know, you might find out that you have more fun than the kids.

Posted by: skramsv | January 10, 2008 3:22 PM

"Did you take a drink or two in between the first sentence and everything that came after? "

Today's topic would send a lot of 12-steppers off of the wagon...

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 10, 2008 3:40 PM

I strongly disagree. The first does NOT describe a playdate. The first describes two children arranging on their own to spend time together, then separately working with their own parents on logistics. The second describes parents talking together on their own, leaving the kids entirely out of the process. Leaving the kids out of the process is fine when your kids 2. It is NOT fine when they're 10. Are you going to arrange their job interviews for them too, when that time comes?!

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 10, 2008 03:11 PM

uhhh. newslinks. Step back from the ledge. I don't plan to arrange any job interviews for my kids and highly recommend that you don't either.

Why are you so entrenched in this need to redefine a play date in a way that pisses you off, LOL? I mean, really. Why the need to create a strawman over something so inconsequential?

Posted by: mn.188 | January 10, 2008 3:47 PM

"Are you going to arrange their job interviews for them too,
when that time comes?!"

Sure I would, not a problem. Whether it be a babysitting gig, or a position in a software development shop that my kid is seeking with people I've networked with, I think that would be a good thing for a parent to do.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 4:06 PM

From "Parents Who Can't Resist Smoothing Life's Bumps" by Lisa Belkin, New York Times, 11 Feb. 2007:

...Helicopter parents -- so named because they hover over their children -- have reached the workplace. The same generation that turned parenting into a competitive sport, prepping 3-year-olds for preschool, then replacing the umbilical cord with a cellphone once they reached college, are pulling up their virtual Aeron chairs and 'helping' them at the office.

Yes, we are still talking about a minority of parents. But a survey last year of 400 respondents by the career Web site Experience Inc. found that 25 percent said that their parents were involved in their jobs "to the point that it was either annoying or embarrassing..."

Career service directors were the first to feel the tide of parental love. Julia Overton-Healy, who runs that office at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, tells of a call from a parent demanding to know the time and place of her son's on-campus job interview, so she could be there, too. Seniors at Roanoke College in Virginia freely acknowledge to their career director, Toni McLawhorn, that their résumés were actually written by their parents.

"Employers are having a nightmare with this," says Stephen Seaward, director of career development at Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn. 'I've heard of instances where parents were calling employers on their child's behalf and asking why they didn't get the job or where they've called to negotiate salaries. Meanwhile, the employer is thinking, "Can this student handle himself if they have to have someone do this for them?" ...

Posted by: mehitabel | January 10, 2008 4:50 PM

Oh please. Calling another parent to figure out if you should drive your ten year old to their house or they should drive their ten your old to your house is not even remotely similar to calling their employer to complain when they are twenty.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 10, 2008 5:54 PM

Oh, please. When I was teaching college calculus, I had a parent call the head of the math department because she was unhappy with student's grade.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 9:47 PM

funny story, tho, when i got home, i found out there was an extra five year old over. they were playing well - and then they came up from the basement and were hungry so they started eating an apple.

So the dad comes to pick up the kid - and watches as his kid's eating our food and says something like: oh, we'll have to have your DS over to reciprocate (or something like that). When I really could not care less if a neighbor's kid comes over and eats our food. Really.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 10, 2008 9:52 PM

Oh, Atlmom, I so sympathize with you re your account at 9:47 PM. A college professor I know told me that just before his first class meeting this semester, the mother of a student phoned to ask him in which room her daughter's class was being held, because the little precious couldn't figure it out for herself (rolls eyes).

Posted by: mehitabel | January 10, 2008 11:10 PM

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