Life was so much simpler when your children were little and you got to choose their friends. At least you were able to choose their friends by finding other nice moms who didn’t drive you insane, likely from the same neighborhood as you which made play dates convenient if nothing else. Now they are free to make decisions for themselves on who they like and want to play with and you are mostly forced to suffer the consequences.
The first time your child comes home from school and asks to invite a friend you have never heard of over to your house, you become afloat in the parenting dating sea. Sadly, play mates with school friends can be tricky! Obviously, at this point your child is too young to handle the details of this event on their own, which means you have to call and speak to the other mother. This means introducing yourself, making small talk, trying to make her feel at ease so she will allow her kid to come to your house and setting up the details. Frankly, that is the easy part. Once you invite the stranger-friend over, you are in charge of knowing everything about him or her. Does he have allergies? Is he afraid of spiders or allergic to bees? Do you have plenty of phone numbers to get in touch with the mother should you need to? Is he allowed to watch certain television shows or have a soda pop as a treat? The last thing you want to do is ruin your child’s chances of friendship by breaking some secret rule while their friend is over at your house. Worse is that you won’t know you did it until you try to invite him over again. Your child will probably say something like, ‘mike is not allowed over here anymore because his mother said we are devil worshippers, but could you call anyways?’
You also have to worry about reciprocating. Decent parents try to do that. In other words, if you had little Sara at your house last Saturday then Sara’s mom should invite your child to her house. And this is where things can be scary. Many moms are perfectly fine having the party at their house, but are not okay with sending their child to someone else’s house. Be honest, you drive by the house a few times, maybe even raid their trashcans to make sure its not full of whiskey bottles or cigarette butts. You probably ask your other mom friends about the new mom, just to make sure that she hasn’t been in jail or there isn’t something that you should know before you send your kid over. You hang around too long when you drop the kid off hoping to get a glimpse of the bathroom to make sure it is clean. The whole drive over, you are rambling about manners, rules and safeguards worrying about every little thing that could happen.
The next step in scheduling playdates with school friends is learning about the other parents touch and go behavior. Now, this is important! This is tricky and you may not believe it, but there are many parents in this world who teach their child to get invited over to as many houses as possible. Especially on Fridays after school. They also teach their child to start asking your child if they can stay the night right before dinner. ‘my mom won’t mind!’ Then, your son comes downstairs and asks you if Mike can spend the night, putting you on the spot of course. As much as you try to ward it off, since you weren’t prepared for a sleepover, you cave and say yes. You call his mom and almost as if she was expecting it, she says yes. There’ you just became free childcare so mom and dad can go out to dinner or do whatever it is married folks do when they go out. Another word for a lollipop is sucker! And look, even though you say you don’t mind, you DO. And why not, your kids friends mom just pulled the touch and go with you. The nerve? Parents who do this will also not pick their kid up on Saturday until late in the afternoon and you will begin to feel sorry for the kid for being left behind so often. If this new playmate really enjoys your house, be prepared for frantic calls from his mom to see if he can come over. Note’ she will NEVER reciprocate.
Another tricky part of play dates with school friends arises when you decide that you don’t necessarily like your kid’s friend choice. Not all kids are that sweet and cute once you get to see them in action and if they seem to bully your child you will be unhappy. Disciplining other people’s children is difficult, but remembers at your home the rules fly. If it is a child that you would rather your child NOT play with, your best bet is to tell the mother that things didn’t go well, at all! Seem firm, roll your yes a bit and seem perturbed when she comes to pick up her child and you can deem the friend relationship as good as over. (Unless she is a touch and go mom)
The good news is that you while you cant pick your child’s friends; you can have an influence on who they pick. Play dates with school friends gives you a great chance to get to know things about your child that you may not have known otherwise. When they are young, it is wise as a parent to give some guiding advice about how to pick friends and how to be a friend. It is also wise to set the standard pretty high and welcome your kid’s friends into your home at any time. The older your child gets, the more important it will be for you to meet and greet their friends and get to know each and every one of them which is much easier when they are at your house! So as you transition from the state of total control to that where your child begins to gain free will and socialization, do so with etiquette and grace.