From the time I was fairly young, my little brother and I had a whole lot of freedom. We’d ride bikes around the neighborhood for hours on end, run in and out of neighbors’ homes like we owned them, and were enjoying drop-off play dates as far back as my earliest childhood memories. By the time we were school aged, I really don’t think my parents knew the families they were dropping us off with all that well. They had kids who went to school with us, and they lived in our same neighborhood — which I think was enough for them.
Now, don’t get me wrong: That type of parenting was the norm back in the ’80s. I mean, we still hear about those “good old days” all the time, don’t we? The days of shoving the kids out the door in the morning and not welcoming them back until dinner. And we blast anyone who doesn’t embrace those same ideals as being a helicopter parent.
Well, call me a helicopter parent if you must, because I seriously just can’t with the drop-off play date.
My daughter is a month shy of her 5th birthday, and in the last year especially, the requests to simply drop her off to play have increased exponentially. Most of these requests come from people whose homes I’ve never been in, so I hem and haw and try to find a way to politely say, “Nope. Let’s figure something else out.”
For the record, I have no reason to believe there is anything at all amiss in any of the homes my daughter has been invited into. But I also know that statistically, 1 in 5 little girls will become a victim of childhood sexual abuse. And of those who are victimized, 3 out of 4 will have been molested by someone they knew. Someone their parents trusted.
My daughter and I also live in an extremely gun-friendly state. In fact, among my circle of close friends, I am the only person I know who doesn’t own a gun.
I come from a police family and my dad was an avid hunter, so for the most part, I have no issue at all with personal gun ownership. But what I do get uncomfortable with is guns that aren’t safely and properly stored.
Now, in my circle of friends, I am 100 percent comfortable with how they store their guns. I have no concerns at all with my daughter playing in their homes without my hovering over her. But I also know a lot of people in this state don’t store their guns in a way I’m especially comfortable with. So it’s not crazy uncommon for guns to be left in a place where children could access them. And I’m not at all comfortable leaving my kiddo someplace where that might be a possibility.
Then there are the litany of things I experienced in my own childhood, both in my own home and in the homes of friends. Things I would never in a million years want my daughter exposed to.
My childhood experiences taught me that there can be things going on behind closed doors that you would never suspect of someone you casually know.
Couples whose fights can get violent. Otherwise successful and friendly people who are hiding serious substance abuse issues. Porn addictions that play out in a way that is not kept nearly as concealed as they might think. These things (and so much worse) take place in the homes of people you would never expect. I know because I witnessed them firsthand myself.
And that is why I will not be dropping my 4-year-old off for a play date.
Of course, I will still feel like a jerk every time I hedge for excuses when you’re just trying to be nice. Because the truth is, you could be totally wonderful and my child could be perfectly safe and happy in your home.
But if I just don’t know you well enough, then I don’t really know for sure.
That’s not to say I never leave my daughter with anyone — I have a close-knit circle of friends who I was tight with before kids. I’ve spent countless hours in their homes, enough to feel more than comfortable with what my daughter might be exposed to when I’m not there. These are people I know well enough to have built up the trust necessary to leave them with the most important person in my world.
But even then, it doesn’t happen often. Maybe because I’m also not the mom who craves a ton of time away from her kid. I get a girls’ night with my friends once every month or so, and I’m usually more than content with that. I’m not looking for someone to take her off my hands for several hours on a Saturday when I’ve been working all week and she’s been at preschool. I like having that time together, even if means I’m sticking around for her play date.
Look, I fully understand that not all parents feel this way. And I have no judgment for those who look forward to the drop off play date. But for me? It’s all about trust. And that kind of trust doesn’t just happen because we see each other occasionally and have kids around the same age.
So far, my daughter doesn’t seem to mind — she likes having me around, too. And I do recognize that won’t always be the case, and that the time is coming when she’ll be begging me to just drop her off and leave her. When that day arrives, I’m not totally sure how I’ll handle it, because it’s not like all my concerns will just disappear at the point when she’s ready. I suppose that’s a hurdle we’ll have to cross when we come to it.
In the meantime, though … thank you so much for the invite to take my kid off my hands. But how ’bout we meet you at the park instead?