When I was a new mom, I was pretty clueless about all things parenting. Thankfully, I got a crash course in motherhood from friends (and the Internet). One thing I learned very quickly was that play dates were the new happy hour. It was a way for moms to get out of the house and hang out with other adults, while keeping the littles entertained. They were a thing. So, I joined in. I brought my baby to the park and to the library and the zoo to meet up with other parents and their babes.
And play dates were great … until they weren’t.
You see, my first child was fairly flexible and loved trying new things and interacting with other kids. Planning play dates with her was a breeze. We would show up somewhere and the kids would play amicably while I got to socialize with other parents. It was a win-win situation, really. Once I had my son though, I quickly realized that juggling the needs of two children with very different temperaments made things much trickier.
Obviously, there was that whole napping situation. At 2.5 years old, my daughter was able to postpone her naps until later if an outing called for it (or we could forgo them on special occasions). Not so with a baby. Of course those first six to nine months when he was content to be in a baby carrier were pretty great. He could nap on-the-go and I could keep him contained. But after that, all hell broke loose.
My friends with older kids (or tiny babies) didn’t have houses that were baby-proofed for the likes of my miniature tornado. He has always possessed an uncanny ability to find anything and everything dangerous within minutes of entering a new space. As a result, much of my time was spent keeping him from opening drawers and cupboards or breaking precious family heirlooms. The time that used to be spent socializing was spent doing baby damage control, while also attending to the occasional needs of my daughter. But I mean, they were still totally worth it, right? Sure, there wasn’t much adult conversation happening, but surely getting out of the house and exposing my child to new things was worth the effort … wasn’t it?
No, no it wasn’t. But I didn’t realize that yet, so I kept at it.
I started planning play dates more frequently at my house (because: baby proofing), but after awhile even that got tricky. My son is not a tiny boy, and when he plays we like to say that he “loves aggressively.” When he initiates play, he does so by hitting other kids in the face. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well with other parents. I found myself hovering over him all the time, trying to keep him from inadvertently injuring other kids. It would’ve gone alright, except for the fact that my almost-4-year-old is going through a terribly bossy stage where I’ve had to help mediate conflict resolution between her and her friends. Doing that while trying to keep my 1.5-year-old from terrorizing the other babies was becoming terribly exhausting.
But then one day, my kids both got a nasty, stomach bug at the same time that left us homebound for nearly two weeks. During that time I realized how relaxed I felt. As much as I love seeing my friends and their kids, and as much as I love being able to expose my kids to other kids and fun experiences, the simplicity of an empty calendar and no play dates was really quite lovely.
It took a bit of reflection and honesty with myself (and a stomach bug) to finally come to the realization that play dates just aren’t for me. When I just had a single child, they made sense. But with more kids added to the mix, they had become a dreaded chore.
So I decided to kiss play dates goodbye, and I am so much happier for it.
My kids are just fine and still get to play with other kids at Sunday school every week and a couple of other kid activities we participate in. As for me, happy hour has once again replaced play dates, and it’s magical. I’ve made it a weekly routine to plan something with a friend one night a week, after the kids are in bed. It is refreshing and relaxing, and the adult conversation flows like wine (because often there is wine — so much better than cold coffee and stale goldfish crackers).
Play dates can be great, and I know plenty of parents love them, but if you’re like me and play dates just aren’t your jam? Well that’s OK, too.