By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
If I had to choose between having a playdate and not having a playdate, I’d choose the former. I’d much rather hang out with another mom than entertain my children by myself at home. I always prefer to be social and develop meaningful relationships with friends. But I’d be lying if I said that booking a playdate wasn’t risky business. It’s as if a friendship disclaimer should be signed prior to any playdate involving children who no longer parallel play.
There is an unspoken understanding that parents of toddlers expect a certain amount of crying, tantrum-ing, lack of sharing and general horseplay at a playdate. And just like there is the obligatory “let me help you clean up” line uttered at the end of every playdate (often met with a “don’t be silly, this will take me five minutes” reply), one mom inevitably says, “Please don’t apologize…It could’ve just as easily been my kid who peed in his pants/on the rug, broke the glass, wouldn’t share, wouldn’t eat, ate too much, made a mess, started coughing, woke up cranky, etc.
I haven’t lost a friend over a failed playdate yet but I’ve been paranoid about how close I’ve come. Fortunately, my children have a good reputation for being sweet, nice kids and I’m truly grateful for that. They’re not mean-spirited or aggressive. You won’t find them hitting, pushing, biting, teasing or filling their friends’ brains with inappropriate language and information. And apparently, they’re absolute pleasures at drop-off playdates, getting rave reviews from nannies and moms alike, and they’re always invited back. That being said, my kids are often the recipients of the “good silly vs. bad silly” speech at every playdate they have.
My five-year-old son, who happens to be a full head taller than most of his peers, loves to run around wildly and hug his friends until they both end up on the floor. He somehow manages to take an otherwise safe toy or activity and turn it into a danger zone (indoor water balloons anyone?). So while everyone is smiling and giggling and having a blast, I’m busy playing the role of Debbie Downer, shouting at my son to settle down or I’m nail biting in the corner just waiting for the tears to arrive. And truth be told, I’m actually relieved when it’s my child who ends up crying.
With my three-year-old daughter, it’s more emotional. If something doesn’t go her way, she’ll dramatically run to the other room and threaten never to play with her friend again. If she doesn’t come back within a few minutes (and she usually does with a smile on her face as if nothing had happened), I’ll tell her that nobody is going to want to play with her if she behaves this way (but I really think this is my passive aggressive way of saying that nobody is going to want to play with US ever again).
Most parents would agree that ‘kids will be kids’ and that they’re most likely going through a developmentally appropriate phase that they’ll eventually outgrow. All parents live by that “been there, done that” motto and it’s rare you’ll find those perfect parents who can afford to be legitimately horrified and judgmental (though if you do, chances are they have all girls). In actuality, booking the next playdate is usually contingent on how the parent handles any negative behavior rather than on the child himself. If a parent just sits there and makes no attempt to correct said behavior or worse yet, thinks it’s adorable, that’s usually frowned upon and it’s the parent that ends up with the bad reputation, not the kid. But alas, if a child gets really hurt, literally scarred for life, regardless of it being an accident or even the result of both children’s crazy behavior, chances are good your phone is going to stop ringing, at least for the foreseeable future.
Friendships between moms are hinged upon one unfortunately placed piece of sharp-cornered furniture or an undetected surprise stomach bug. But hopefully, forgiveness, perspective and understanding will prevail and we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and forgive and forget as easily as our kids seem to do. And here I used to think my dog was my only liability.