Awkward Mom Moments: Setting Up a Play Date

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play dateI had heard the stories of the awkwardness of having children. But before I had children, those stories were really just tales of pregnancy and delivery. Moments when dignity was placed to the side in the interest of the little person growing in the depths of my body. I could deal with these. I understood these. But these are not what I want to talk about.

What I’m here to discuss are those moments of motherhood that are uncomfortable. They’re awkward, if not downright embarrassing. And it seems that by not discussing them, it’s just justification that they are, indeed, awkward, and we all have them. I’m here to put an end to it. These things happen (among others), so be prepared.

One of the events that seem shrouded in awkwardness are play dates, especially those of young children. It’s even more so when it’s the first play date with a particular friend or the first time meeting a friend’s parent. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good playdate. My kids are occupied, which means I am a wee bit less occupied. It’s actually pretty perfect. Except it isn’t.

I don’t mind meeting new people, and I can handle a “small talk” situation (I’m an oversharer). I get this can be awkward for some, but it doesn’t really bother me. As a stay-at-home mom with three young children, two of which are on two different nap schedules, I rarely get to leave my house and basically find myself so desperate for adult conversation during the day that I’d chat up any stranger anywhere willing to listen.

And if you happen to be another parent trapped in my house, I will probably assume we are best friends and chat you up appropriately. So play dates themselves? Just the expected uncomfortableness of meeting, perhaps, someone new. It’s getting to those play dates, though, that serves for the most awkward moments of all.

There comes a time in every mother’s life when it’s ok for her child to have a play date without her. Right? But how can this be best communicated? Do I state it outright in the text (because let’s be honest, I don’t actually call anyone anymore)? Like, “Hey, you can drop your child off. No need to hang out.” Does that seem tactless, though? Like I’m telling the other parent I just don’t want them at my house? Like I’d rather be cleaning my floors than entertaining? When in reality, I’m desperate for a mid-day glass of wine with another grown-up. I can’t say that either.

I certainly don’t want to guilt an adult into staying just because they have some pity for me. So, do I just say, “If you’d like just to drop them off, you can?” That seems to be my go-to, which means I never know if I will actually have the chance to clean my floors (and then we get into the “Don’t mind my house; it’s a wreck” territory, which is a class of awkward all its own and best saved for its own post) or the chance to have some midday wine.

This form of awkwardness, thankfully, is short-lived. Honestly, I don’t usually mind if a parent stays or goes. I plan for them to stay, and then I just savor the “quiet” if they don’t. It becomes awkward if I can sense how awkward the dropping-off parent feels, unsure of what I would prefer, which brings me to the next sweat-inducing aspect of play dates: when the play date happens at someone else’s house. 

This is, perhaps, an even more awkward scenario. You know, whereupon leaving my house, I yell to my husband, “I have no idea if I’ll be back,” as he frantically tries to figure out how to manage to start dinner and to take care of two tiny (probably crying) children. At the same time, simultaneously trim hedges, all the while praying that I do, in fact, come back.

And then there are the moments of drop-off. Do I stay? Do I go? Do I just assume I can go? Do I just assume that the preference is for me to stay? Is that presumptuous? Do I have to “ask permission” to go? Is that weird? Does that make this other parent uncomfortable if she had thought that I’d be staying? If the other parent tells me that I can stay if I’d like or leave it I’d like, what does that even mean? Do they actually want me to stay, so there are more adults in the house? Do they not want me to, but don’t want to be rude? 

I never know. I never understand.

Things only started to look up when my daughter began Kindergarten, and her friends came home with her on the bus. Then it was clear: it was a drop-off play date. No questions. No confusion. No reading between the lines. I think it would be in all parent’s best interests if there were some fourth-grade-esque note worked out: 1) Does your child want to play at my child’s house. Yes or No. Circle one. 2) Would you like to stay with them? Yes or No. Circle one.

Even that wouldn’t do the trick. So far, what I’ve found, is to just be straight from the beginning. Would you like to drop (insert child’s name) off for a few hours on (insert day here)? You’re more than welcome to join, or feel free to get out on your own. And if a parent asks if one of my children would like to play, I try to be as straightforward as possible in my initial response. She would love to come over and play. Do you want me to stick around too, so you have some company? It seems to open the door for the other parent to either say, “That’d be great” or “Oh no. Feel free to take the time to run errands/have some time to yourself/etc.” (Seriously, though, even then, I’m like…Did they really mean that?)

Think play date planning awkwardness is done there? Oh no. It isn’t. It’s like an onion, layers upon layers of awkwardness to peel away. The next issue facing play dates involves the older child when there are still preschool-age, nap-needing little ones at home. Play dates at my house are easy. I can still nap the little ones, let them run around freely when they are awake (well, freely for toddlers), feed them the endless supply of snacks needed, and not worry about breaking any fine china found on a toddler-accessible shelf. 

But when someone asks if my older one can come over for a play date? Let the awkwardness ensue. I don’t want to punish my oldest for having two younger siblings, so I’d prefer not to respond with the outright, “It just won’t work.” So, then it becomes a matter of “She’d love to play, but only under these special circumstances,” and I proceed to provide a litany of the obstacles I am working with to get her to this play date. And, the result is I basically have to create a scenario that works around my schedule even though the play date isn’t even at my house. I mean, seriously. That’s pretty pushy. And I know it. So putting all my needs out there just to drop my oldest off at someone else’s house to play feels a bit…well…awkward.

Ultimately it plays out in one of two ways, both pretty amicable. (I think. But again, how would I know? I seriously doubt another parent is going to call me out and expose me as some awful person who thinks only of herself and her family’s needs…so I may not even know if this has been a headache for other parents…yikes).

The first result is my oldest gets to go on her play date, and the other parent seems to be ok with the time constraints I’m working with. Usually, when I’m arranging for my daughter to go on a play date, I try to provide several options so that the other parent doesn’t feel trapped in unwanted babysitting. For example, I may text, “I have to put my littlest down for a nap at one, so I could either drop her off before or I could drop her off after, probably around three.” 

Of course, to console my fears over becoming the insufferable mother, I consider my own actions in the reverse situation. Since I am neither the person dropping off nor picking up said child, I don’t mind when they come over. Again, I am pretty upfront with any special circumstances we have that day (“We have to be at dinner at 5 o’clock in town,” for example). That way, there are just no questions. It’s all out there. We have open hours between time A and time B; come any time in between.

The other outcome of explaining the younger sibling situation is that the siblings often get invited along. (When this happens, it’s pretty clear it is not a drop-off play date.) This kindness is appreciated, but if there aren’t similarly aged, younger kids still in that household, it is an awkward nightmare. Once the fancy bowls and vases make their way back to the lowest shelves of the fancy hutch, there is no way anyone wants my younger children in their house. This turns into a constant game of chase and fear.

I chase them away and live in constant fear they will break something. Oh, look at that lovely frame etched with your wedding date. Noooooo! Don’t touch it! Then I have to look at the other parent and sort of chuckle and explain that my young son, who is currently acting like a T Rex, is actually quite a gentle guy, not prone to breaking anything (because I know my younger child has managed to make the other parent rethink their invite of the other children). 

If younger children still live in the house, we’re living on easy street. They get it. All objects of value are at least four feet off the ground. Tiny toys that are perfect for swallowing don’t live in toy piles. Now I just hope that my younger ones don’t do something like throw out a random curse word. But again, I’ll save that awkward moment for another time.

Being a parent is filled with awkward moments, but some of them I just didn’t see coming. I mean, play dates are supposed to be all about fun, but setting them up? Not fun at all. But I’ve figured the good news is, they get easier. Easier to navigate all the obstacles. Easier because children get older. Easier because, as parents, we get more skilled in areas we never knew we needed skills (like setting up play dates).

And I hope, by the time my youngest gets old enough to go to Kindergarten and play dates involve taking the bus home from school, eliminating the awkwardness of setting up play dates altogether, I too may have mastered those play-date-setting-up skills that seem so unnatural to me now (probably not, but, I’m content just to fumble along anyway).

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Jen is three-year resident of Westchester County and a five-year resident of Mommyhood. She enjoys writing, reading, coffee, wine, Disney World, and traveling with her husband, five year old daughter, two year old son, and 13 month old tiny son. She used to teach high school English in the city, but she decided to give up that stress for the stress of being a SAHM. Her least favorite things to do are laundry and dishes, but those seem to be the two things she puts the most energy into, hoping that one day, someone will create a Roomba-like device that will gather, sort, pretreat, wash, dry, fold, and put away the now clean clothes that her children shed like snakeskin around the house. Aside from dishes and laundry, Jen also occupies her free moments traveling and writing for her blog Three Kids and A Car where she provides travel tips and stories she’s collected since she first started bringing her daughter with her while she traveled the world.

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