Tuesday, May 18, 2010

play date

When I was growing up in the 70's (oh yes, back in the days) I lived in a very safe neighborhood with a nice park right opposite my house, and lot's of children. We used to play everywhere, for hours, without our parent's really knowing where we were. As long as we kept our curfew and didn't break anyone or anything, we were good. The group of kids where very diverse. It was boys and girls, different ages, from different socio-economic backgrounds. Siblings and only children, they goody two-shoes and the ADD's, all playing together, having fun and working it out as we went along. As I said, we were not particularly supervised and sometimes I think our parent's would have gasped in horror if they knew how we resorted to solve some of our more intricate personal or practical issues. But we did OK. And it was part of growing up.
The important thing to remember here is that our parents usually sent us out to play because they had jobs to do, or dinner to cook, or they simply didn't feel like entertaining us and was going crazy because of the noise level.

Today, we don't send children out to play because we need time, instead, the playdate has become yet another thing to cram in to our already busy schedule. it needs to be planned, scheduled and organized with a level of invention and creativity that surpasses even the most clever of pre-school teachers.

I find that we focus to hard on shaping experiences that won't actually provide anything to our children's well-being. We try to hard to find the perfect friendship-match. We select and choose their friends based on soccer-skills, number of siblings, or which company the parent's happen to work for. After a certain age boys have to play with boys, and girls need to stick with girls. We ferry them from one organized activity to the next and cramp in 15 minutes of climbing time on the play structure in between. But most importantly: we don't just let our children get on with it.
I am sad to see that we try to lay it out for them, nicely presented, all details taken care off, without even thinking about whether this is actually going to benefit our kids or not.
I know that today's society looks different from what it did 30 years ago, I appreciate that we can't just open up the doors and let the kids run around to the same extent as we used to do, but why make it any worse than it already is?
Why does every playdate have to planned down to the last cup-cake? Why do we have to organize everything according to a set schedule all the time?

When Leo was born I couldn't keep up with the level of energy required for some of Kate's more elaborate play-dates and so I made an unconscious decision to just remove ourselves from the play date scene. These days, playdates look like this: drop them of at our house whenever you like, and pick them up whenever you like (without pushing it too far....). Please prepare your child that there will be no organized fun or scheduled activities, nor will I step in as play-mentor during the inevitable times of temporary boredom. Your child should be positive, and not expect anything beyond normal dietary food-staples on the snack plate, however, should he/she wish to add a little sugar on top, a nice word goes a long way.
Feel free to reciprocate the invite and in return: my child does not expect miracles!


  1. I grew up exactly like you. And the 'playdate' you describe sounds exactly like what my friends and I did: we 'played at someone's house'. It meant usually staying in that kid's room, and maybe get a snack. But usually not, only if the parents had arranged that and would be home late. The funny thing is that when I was young, my mom didn;t work, and none of my friends' moms did either. But they were busy, and they never played with us. We tagged along to the stores or on other errands, but apart from that, we were on our own.

  2. Hi Lotta, yeah, that sounds like a normal set up to me. What happened in the last 30 years or so, that made us suddenly think that play-dates and child friendly activities have to be run like corporate events? It is worse here in the US than it is in Europe, but they're heading that way too.