Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when a playdate feels more like you’re babysitting? Have your own question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My friend K has a son who is my son’s age and our kids love to play together. But every time we go anywhere for a playdate, whether it’s the park or one of our houses, I’m on edge the whole time because her son runs rampant and she just ignores him. It’s like she sees the playdate as her own personal free time where she can relax and not keep an eye on her kid — like at all. Meanwhile I’m the one who is up and down for this and that, half paying attention to our conversation so I can stop her son from climbing up the damn walls. And K just sits there, totally checked out from parenting duties. Our kids really are the best of friends, so I don’t want them to stop playing together, but these playdates just feel like work for me.
The great thing about playdates with mom friends is that you get to hang out with other grownups and maybe talk about something that isn’t children’s programming. But it should be a bit of a break for both of you, not a one-sided mini-vacay for your friend. That’s just inconsiderate, and something you shouldn’t have to put up with.
The only time it’s your duty to correct someone else’s kid is if they’re in immediate danger — say, getting ready to run out into the street to chase a ball or something. Otherwise, it should be up to the kid’s parent, which obviously your friend doesn’t grasp.
You could just flat-out talk to her about it, of course, but I get that it can be awkward and you don’t want to take the chance on mucking up your friendship. So there are a couple of more subtle tactics you can start out with in the hopes that she’ll get a clue.
When the playdates are at your place, you can start them out by announcing (in front of your friend, before doing anything else) your house rules to the kids. It may be as simple as that; once K’s son has a clear picture of how he’s expected to act, he may not even need to be corrected (or redirected) as often. It could be that his typical rules are pretty different, and things that he’s normally allowed to do in his own house are no-nos in yours — which is why your friend may not be batting an eye, because to her, whatever he’s doing is a nonissue. If she allows it in her home, she won’t even notice it’s not allowed in yours unless you explicitly state that.
Your second option is to just default to her every time her kid acts out: “K, can you please stop Michael from messing with Grandma’s urn?” “K, can you please stop Michael from chasing the cat?” By holding her accountable for her kid’s actions, you’re sending the message that it’s her responsibility, not yours, and she’ll likely get the picture. But nothing will change if you don’t change it; after all, if you keep remedying the situation yourself, why should she?
If your hints don’t make it glaringly obvious to her, you could arrange your future playdates at a third-party location where the stakes are lower. At a trampoline park or a ball pit, for example, there are no urns to smash or cats to chase. Or just go to her house exclusively, where her kid can act however the hell he wants; she may be more apt to discipline him if she’s in her own jurisdiction, so to speak.
A playdate should be at least reasonably enjoyable for all parties involved — not an occasion where you feel put-upon by a friend. But by refusing to take on what should be her job, you put the ball in her court. What she chooses to do with it is up to her.