The Most Playdates

The other day I was walking home from school with MyFriendJen, and another mom came over to set up a playdate between her daughter and Jen’s daughter. The other mom was saying that she has fallen behind on playdate scheduling, and that’s a problem because she has found that the most popular kids in school are the ones with mothers who are on-the-ball about setting up their social life for them. Those with the most playdates win.

I had never thought about this before. I am pretty bad at scheduling social dates for my kids. I’m a huge introvert in real life, and I like quiet in my house. Even making idle chit chat with another mom as she comes to pick up or drop off her kid can be too much for me some days. My kids play really well together, and sometimes when we add another kid to the mix the delicate balance of sibling cooperation is thrown off, and suddenly I have four wailing, angry children on my hands instead of three who respond well to threats of never, ever getting cookies again.

So despite the fact that, as a stay-at-home-mom, I have it pretty easy when it comes to making room in the schedule for having kids over, I rarely actually find the energy to do it.

Suddenly I’m wondering if this is a disservice to my kids. I don’t remember my own mother scheduling many playdates for me as a kid, but on the other hand everyone we played with as children lived on our street, or a street or two over. We were allowed to come and go as we pleased; we all walked home from school so sometimes one of my sisters would just bring an extra kid home, and they were welcome to stay (if they called their parents first). There wasn’t any scheduling, but there wasn’t a lack of friendly play dates, either.

Now it seems we have to have a hand in this once natural process. We’re the ones responsible for making sure our kids have friends, have a chance to nurture any budding relationships. I have to admit, even though my kids play well with others at school, none of the three of them have anything like a “best” friend, or even a go-to circle of friends for recess time. All three float on the edges of the crowd on the school yard; they sometimes join in a game with a group, where they are welcomed (for the most part), but it’s a different group every day, and more often than not, they’re observing from the sidelines.

They’re the kind of kids who must ask to be involved, not the kids who are invited. They’re the ones going around looking for a game, rather than starting one up and having others follow.

I’m not saying that’s a problem, per se. They all seem happy enough and they never complain about feeling left out or lonely. In fact, until that other mom made her comment about playdates, I’d never even thought there was any kind of issue here at all. They’ll figure it out, I thought. Some day they’ll find their tribe. There’s always plenty of school friends to invite for birthday parties, and that’s enough, isn’t it?

Is it?

After my post last week about the sleepover thing, I’m now wondering if I’ve been to tight with them, holding them too close. Am I standing between them and their peers? In my quest for a close-knit family, am I making it harder for them to be outside the house, in other groups and situations?

I’m really not sure. But I wonder.

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10 thoughts on “The Most Playdates

  1. A friend of mine in Toronto had a baby recently, so I’ve been down to visit her a couple of times in the last few weeks and have walked with her to get her kids from school. I find the whole experience fascinating because my kids either take the bus home or go to the after-care at the school , so I’m unfamiliar with the whole experience of picking kids up immediately after school. What amazed me was how playdates just seem to happen on the spot. The kids organize the playdates themselves, get the moms to agree and boom–instead of walking home with all three of my friend’s daughters, we have two of them, plus a friend, and one of her daughters is off to someone else’s house. It’s so nice and spontaneous. It’s made me regret that we don’t live walking distance from our kids’ school. There actually aren’t many kids on our street that are the age of our kids, and any there are go to different schools, so they don’t know each other well.

    That said, I do occasionally arrange playdates for the kids, though they aren’t frequent. Maybe once a month or so we have one of their friends over for a couple of hours, and maybe once a month the kids go to someone else’s house. My husband things these parent-arranged playdates are terrible, but that’s because he grew up in the Beaches area of Toronto, on a quiet street, where all the kids would just play in each other’s backyards every day after school, without parents having to arrange anything. Myself, I grew up in a rural area where there weren’t any other kids my age within walking distance. My mom arranged playdates for me (about as infrequently as I do for my kids) because it was the only way I got to play with other kids outside school and Brownies.

    Anyway, I’m also struggling with the whole playdate thing, too. I do think they seem to play an important part in establishing the kids friendships, but I wish we were in a situation where the playdates could be arranged more spontaneously, so that they don’t rely on me planning them. We’ve been talking about moving houses in the next couple of years, for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons is that we’d like a place that’s walking distance to the kids’ school. I feel like the kids are missing out on certain aspects of the childhood social experience, though maybe that’s partly in my imagination.

    Anyway, all that’s just to say that I wonder about the same things, too.

  2. I think this new way of handling playdates is far more about the mothers / parents and less about the kids. I’ve known of cases where playdates / friendships were strongly engineering and steered by the parents (trying to make sure their kids have the “right” friends) and it often ends up backfiring and causing stress – on the moms! There are hurt feelings, awkwardness, worries about who to invite to birthday parties and who to select as the friend of choice on soccer teams, etc.

    We try to stay out of it and let our kids invite who they want, when they want and, maybe I’m doing them irreparable harm and / or making huge social faux pas, but at least I’m not stressed!

    I also agree walking to and from school and having friends on the street makes life much easier. My 10-year-old truly can manage his own social life when he just has to stroll up the block and ring a doorbell. Then, when either one of them is sick of the other, they just go home. No parental intervention required – great for me and a good learning experience for them.

    Finally, I notice a big difference between our family – where our two boys are close in age and get along well – and other families who have only children or siblings separated in age and / or interests. Our boys are each other’s best playmates and having another child over (or one of them gone) can upset our family balance. I can see where, if you don’t have that built in to your family, you’d be looking for more playdates.

    So, I guess I’d say don’t sweat it; I don’t think you have to steer your kids’ social lives. If they ask for a playdate, I’d say support it (within reason) but I wouldn’t start setting goals of how many playdates to hit each month!

  3. I had never thought of the whole playdate issue this way before either… I definitely don’t think that having playdates has anything to do with popularity. We are terrible at inviting friends over for a playdate, probably because with my type-A personality I feel that I would have to arrange it days in advance, but we don’t always know how the weekend will go so I never do. As a result B.G. doesn’t often have playdates and it doesn’t seem to impact her school experience at all. I’m always surprised when parents call and invite B.G. over at the last minute, which does happen now and then. As a result, we “owe” quite a few playdates to a few girls. At first this stressed me out, but then I decided to not worry about it. As harsh as it sounds I figured if they didn’t like the fact that we don’t reciprocate, they just won’t invite B.G. over again. So far, B.G. has never asked me to invite a friend over, it just doesn’t seem to occur to her. I think that once she starts asking for certain friends to come over, then I’ll be much more inclined to make the effort. (Of course, I hope she asks to have the “good” friends over! :)

  4. I’m kind of mixed on this whole thing. We do walk to school and most days on the way home the kids’ best friends (who are also our neighbours) end up running around our yard for awhile before we all go in and start homework/supper prep etc. so they do get some good playing time in with their friends that way. For us, after school is quite busy as all 3 have piano practice, some have homework, and we eat usually around 5pm or so because the kids all still go to bed fairly early. On most days, there simply isn’t enough time to throw a playdate in there as well. Plus, they’ve just spent the whole day with their buddies at school, so it’s not like they don’t ever get to spend time together. We have done weekend playdates and that is sometimes better, but at the same time I can’t help feeling that it is cutting into our time as a family….but the kids sure do love it. When the kids were smaller, it seemed more important to schedule playdates just because we wanted to ensure that they had a chance to socialize with other kids, but now that they are older it doesn’t seem as necessary and we just let the playing kind of happen rather than schedule it in.

    That said, it’s a completely different (and necessary!) thing when we set up playdates with your kids because they really don’t see each other very often, and yet all get along so beautifully. Plus, it’s a great chance for you and I to get all caught up.

  5. Oh, so similar to how I negotiate my daughters’ social scenes. I just don’t have the energy for it all. On a quiet Sunday afternoon when everyone is relaxed and content, the last thing I feel like doing is organizing some social time.

    I feel kind of bad about it, and I’m hoping that my girls are getting the social interactions they need at school. Can it really be a bad thing to have down time at home? I sure hope not.

  6. I’m probably just talking out of my ass here, because my kids are older now and we all know I can barely remember how to find my way back home after getting groceries, but I think if you have to force it, it’s not worth it. Let it happen organically, and if it doesn’t, don’t stress about it. Whatever the people with the most playdates win, I don’t think it’s the kind of prize that interests you.

  7. I am the worst play date Mom. We live in a rural village, but a large portion of the school lives here as well so finding some one to play with is rarely an issue. The problem is with the kids that live outside of the village. Neither girl has really expressed much interest in organizing playdates with the kids who aren’t within walking distance. Also, to be honest, setting up that sort of thing is outside of my comfort zone. Occasionally I feel guilty about it, but on the other hand…. if it ain’t broke…..

  8. I am an introvert. Partly because of this hearing loss which makes it hard for me to join loud crowds (and where there are kids there are always loud crowds), and partly because I just don’t have this incessant need to be social. I did however give birth to a social butterfly. She’s 5, she’s blond (does this matter? I’m not blond….) and she flits here and flits there, she holds hands and gives hugs, she attaches herself to whatever crowd is having the most fun right now, she plays equally well with her big brother’s 8 and 9 year old friends as she does with her 4 and 5 year old friends….if it were up to her she would have playdates every day. Mostly at their house, sometimes at our house.

    Me? Meh. Why do I need so many kids around? I make other efforts to have her ‘playdate’ craving satisfied. Ben finishes school at 3:35 but the Kindergarteners in the afternoon class come out at 3:20…so we go there at 3:15 and she plays with them first, then the older kids come out and she plays with them next, and finally after an hour I don’t see any reason why we can’t go home where I can have a nice glass of wine and some quiet (relatively speaking) while cooking/supervising homework.

    That’s my playdate scheduling for her on an almost daily basis…. :)

    I hear ya, is what I’m saying!

  9. I have to admit, I’m a bit guilty of being one of those play-date organizing moms.
    Mostly because Lulu is an only child- so it’s more out of necessity than desire.
    But I do love watching her interact with other kids- especially ones that I kind of steer her towards.
    Might as well take advantage of that power while I can.
    Let’s just hope she sticks with those nice kids all the way through school..

    But it is paying off as she has a pretty happy & healthy social life.
    Bonus that over the years she’s all about sharing and being a good hostess to her little pals.
    I also have to admit that I kind of use the play-dates as a bit of a reward for good behaviour.
    the deal is if she is well behaved, polite, practices piano, doesn’t torment the dog etc.
    she gets to have a friend over for lunch once a week. and if she’s exceptionally good she can have friends over on the weekend.
    If not, then she’s on her own.
    Lucky for her, she’s pretty great 99% of the time so I tend to have kids over here often.
    Truth be told- it’s a lot less work for me when she has a friend over.
    But she doesn’t have to know that ;

    I guess the days of just playing on the street and running to the neighbours are kind of over (at least here in the city) so as parents we feel the need to kind of organize these things in advance.
    But I totally know where you are coming from, as it can all get so political and dare I say competitive.
    I know one mom who always has a car full of kids, lunch, after school, weekends- 24/7.
    It makes me feel a bit like a slacker at the best of times.

  10. V loves having her friends over, the issue I have is that I don’t know most of the parents, nor do I interact with them (she goes to daycare in the school) so I have no idea how to go about arranging these things. I’d love her to have her friends over more often, I’ve just got to figure out how.

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