Playdates might be a symptom of over-scheduled helicopter parenting that obliterates spontaneity and destroys fun. Or they might be a last-ditch attempt to create the villages we desperately need as modern parents. (I’m going with the second one.)
I never had playdates as a kid. My brother and I picked up the landline and called neighborhood friends and ran around like hooligans until the streetlights came on. We also lived on a cul-de-sac in an upper-class neighborhood about half a mile away from the nearest busy street. I’m just going to spitball here and assume that many American kids don’t have that kind of privilege these days. My kids can’t run outside and play unsupervised in the neighborhood because it’s not safe — and I say that in a straightforward way, with nary a special snowflake to be found.
Are playdates really the problem?
Chris Bernholdt, daddy blogger and special snowflake, recently suggested we banish playdates. I think the stay-at-home-dad should banish his kids’ friends if he seriously feels pressured to come up with elaborate schedules and activities. Playdates aren’t about transforming your home into a theme park or making sure your kids have dozens of educational yet exciting activities scheduled. Playdates are about not losing your mind.
We all agree that kids need to socialize outside of the family unit and the soul-sucking nature of school. Can they really do that without any guidance at all?
Kids don’t know how to pick up a landline and call other parents because most people don’t have landlines. I don’t even know my own phone number — I only have a landline to keep my alarm system running. You know what my 8-year-old says when they want to have a friend over? Hey, can you email Zachary’s mom? We live in an age of texts and emails and cell phone calls. Kids who aren’t old enough to be connected need our help making playtime happen. Kids who are old enough to be connected just scheduled a playdate on Kik, and it might involve heavy petting.
Playdates are for parents
The last time my kids had a playdate, I spent hours enjoying the company of other adults while my kids played with another set of siblings their ages. Fights happened. Kids got hurt. Kids cried. Kids went to time out. We ordered pizza and intervened when necessary, but mostly let the boys play. All the good things that come with unstructured play — the brain-building creativity, the social skills development — came naturally. The kids benefited, and that’s great, but the playdate had a lot more to do with finding something fun and free to do on a Saturday that wasn’t going to make me feel like I was taking one for the team.
I say we need more playdates. Not the kind where we check Facebook while the kids play in the other room. We need playdates that involve parents complaining and laughing and yeah, I’ll say it — connecting. It’s easier than ever to find kindred parenting spirits online, and harder than ever to find them in person. When I schedule a playdate, I want to meet the parents of my kids’ friends in the off chance I’ll make a friend of my own. And after that? We’ll have playdates at that bar downtown that has a playground. All problems solved.