where'd they go?

Do Kids Even Have Playdates Anymore?

Maybe packed schedules leave little room for low-stakes meet-ups.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

I was fresh off a very chaotic and argument-filled afternoon with my four kids ranging in age from 10 to 3 when I called my mom to vent. On and on I went complaining, about the kids' constant bickering, needing to be entertained, and how I felt exhausted, frustrated, and confused.

As she tried to offer helpful advice, she pointed out something that floored me: my kids barely do playdates. As a kid, I did them constantly, multiple times a week, at our house and with my friends. And so I’m missing out on the kind of brief break where the kids entertain themselves and each other, which saved her sanity.

“Playdates” maybe sounds more formal than what we were doing, which was regularly convening after school and on weekends for low-stakes casual fun that our parents didn’t aggressively manage. My kids do that much, much less. So I have to ask: where the heck have all the playdates gone?

My first instinct was panic — maybe I’m just raising terrible houseguests who never get the invite? But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t really hear about kids getting together at one another's house after school. I think the old-school “Hey, Mom, can I have Jack over after school today?” doesn’t exist like it used to. And even if the kids ask, do we even have the room to fit some downtime in?

I wonder if some of it is Covid-related. Living through a multi-year pandemic where gatherings were limited and so carefully curated, maybe we are a bit out of practice, and we are all a tad more introverted. I know I can certainly get stuck in my ways. And since so many of these kids (mine included) spent formative years living in a pandemic bubble of rules and limits around gatherings, maybe they, too, are out of playdate practice. Or they never even had a chance to start them! So they’re not asking. They don’t really know a world with them.

And then there are the packed schedules. My kids are older, and there’s been an enormous increase in organized activities like basketball, soccer, and football. Many of my kid’s elementary school friends are on multiple teams per season, with practices and commitments every night. So it makes sense that their parents wouldn’t want to cram a playdate into an already jam-packed day. There are not enough hours in the day when you have kids in sports.

And we can’t ignore the impact of an increased number of dual-income families, either. Kids are with babysitters or at paid-for afterschool programs to bridge the afternoon childcare gap. So, duh. Of course, my kids aren’t getting multiple weekly invites for after school at-home fun.

There’s also something that didn’t even exist when I was a kid: virtual playdates. I think my 8 and 10-year-olds are getting their playdate fix online with Fortnite and Roblox. Sometimes I prefer it — they’re getting the social interaction without me having to entertain another kid or prepare extra snacks. And it definitely is the easiest way to squeeze friendly connections between school and other activities. Ultimately though, I am not sure it can replace the real thing.

So I guess I understand it, but the impact is still the same. Fewer playdates mean more time where all four of my kids are home together, without the friend buffer that my siblings and I so often had to help soften the interaction-annoyance caused by siblings. Let’s see what happens if I throw invites out there a little more frequently, though. Maybe somebody just needs to get this ball rolling.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.