The politics of play dates

Marc Lalonde
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Parenting is a brave new world I don't always understand. Can someone help?


Play dates are a staple of contemporary family life. Your child expresses an interest in hanging out with another kid outside of school or some other scheduled event, but instead of waiting for a weekend or day off from school and simply calling up the friend, or  even just walking down the street and knocking on the door – ' Can so-and-so come out to play?' – now, we've got to have play dates.

This is all very new to me, and frankly, it doesn't make much sense. Sure, it makes sense in terms of the over-scheduled child (and family), but it's just another reminder that life has changed – and the experiences I had as a kid are no longer relevant. I'm flying blind, and I don't like it.

So many questions. Who initiates the play date? Is there an agreed-upon length? Could the play date be extended if the kids are having a great time? Who asks? Who picks up or drops off the kids. Whose house will this play date be occurring at? At our house, we have occasionally gone about these tings backwards. Our daughter will come home from school and tell us she'd like to get together with this friend or that friend, and she would just call them up and set something up. Good and independent, yes. Cognizant of her own – and her parents' schedules? Not so much – so we would constantly be in a state of flux with our daughter's whims vis-a-vis her play date.

I've railed against our contemporary over-scheduled society in the past, but once more can't hurt, I suppose. The notion of independent, spontaneous play appears to be dead, and I can't be less happy about it. Spontaneous play forces kids to be creative, to learn to compromise and to learn to socialize. It's not something they can learn under a parent's supervision or oversight, so what benefit –other than somehow convincing myself that it's safer for me to be supervising.

It's not, and it shouldn't be.  Life experience is what makes up our frames of reference, and my daughter is getting a load of it all at once. After several false starts, she smartly put together her next play date by making her call while I was around, checking the calendar and asking permission from both her friend's mom and from me. She was great, and it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I can let my child be independent enough so that she'll move out of my house before the age of 30.

Part of me wonders if my desire to see my kid be able to walk down the street (out of my sight) and knock on her friend's door to see if she can come out and play has more to do with my desire to see things in the world revert to the way they were when I was a child, but I think it's more likely that what we're looking for in this situation is for our daughter to be responsible and take care of her business herself. Which she does.

Then there's the part of me that hears every horrible story that is published, written or disseminated and wants to wrap them in bubble wrap until they are adults. Of course, then they won't know how to act like an adult because they’ve been in bubble wrap. So, I'm out of ideas.

I guess the best bet is to shut off the inner irrationality and embrace my daughter's burgeoning freedom. But how much do I have to embrace it?

Embracing it is far easier when her independence is a relief, rather than a burden, to me. For instance, if she's so independent she said she'd get her dad to pick up her friend at her house and bring her over, then that's a little too much freedom (because it infringes upon my desire to clear my brain of responsibility on the weekend). But if it means my daughter is able to come up with her own plans, execute them herself, safely, then I've given her just enough freedom – and done my job as a parent.

Maybe one day, right?

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Recent comments

  • France
    May 09, 2013 - 17:39

    Hi Marc, I love your article on play dates...i really don't understand play dates either. From what I hear, parents feel obligated to always make their kids busy...they even organise their children's play dates...Personnally I think it's too much micromannagement...Please let kids be kids....and play freely... My kids are now 19 and 17... And I have to say they are pretty independant...and more street wise than most...hang in there, the best year are yet to come...My husband and I can vouch for that...even when people tought we were extra terresteral when we left our kids come home for lunch in 4th grade....