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The Playdate Waltz

bee“Charlie,” one frazzled mother says, “You need to give the truck back. Ben had it first.”

“Ben, it’s Charlie’s turn.” the other mother notes. “You’ve been playing with the truck for awhile now.”

“No, Charlie, give the truck back.”

“We’re teaching Ben to take turns, it’s OK.”

“Yes, but we’re teaching Charlie to share.”

And so it goes. By this time, both children are whining and stomping, causing more reasons to discipline (“Charlie, don’t throw tantrums.” and “Ben, inside voices please.”) until both mothers are exhausted from the play date they’d originally set up to exhaust their children.

Why do we do it, the play date waltz? When did we become so involved in our children’s lives and so weary of the judgment of other mothers that we were over-disciplining and under-enjoying the presence of others? Yesterday, I chatted with an older (read: way, way wiser) mother who offered the best advice for the situation:

Set some ground rules before you set the play date. Say things like, “I know you’re a great mother, so please don’t feel the need to discipline your child on my behalf. I trust the kids can work it out on their own (and I trust your parenting decisions), no judgments here.”

Then sit back, sip some coffee and enjoy your grown-up time. Do you notice your kid isn’t sharing particularly well? Make a mental note to work on it later – this is his/her time to blow off steam and socialize (and yours!). Chances are, the other kids will find a way to correct the behavior before the play date is over, by tattling to their own mother, or simply asserting the rules he/she obeys at home. (Of course, the exception to this rule is if your child is being destructive to someone else’s property, or is in danger of harming themselves or others, but you already know that, because you’re a great mother.)

The reality is, when we step in to correct our children’s minor mishaps in front of others, it’s less about our children and more about our parenting. Sure, no mother wants to raise a bully who doesn’t share or picks fights or throws tantrums, but every mother has – at some point in her life – attempted to have a conversation with a non-rational 2-year-old and has been a recipient of all of it: kicking, screaming, whining, stomping. It happens. It happens in our homes, it happens in public. No child – or parent – is immune.

And that’s perfectly fine. A child’s behavior is not always an immediate reflection of parenting, and even if it were, we’ll never have a reflection without smudges here and there. We’re all just kind of doing our best to get by, whether we’ll admit it or not.

Mamas, let’s save the waltzing for that ballroom dancing class we resolved to take this year. It’s far better on the calves than the one we’re doing now.

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