I Don't Let My Tween Have Drop-Off Playdates

by Rachel Garlinghouse
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“We should totally get our girls together,” my daughter’s friend’s mom gushed as we stood side by side casually chatting at the skating rink. “What’s your cell?”

As I gave her my number, I knew the reality. I wasn’t going to drop my daughter off at their house.

I am “that” mom, the one who is generally labeled as overprotective. I need to “just let kids be kids.”

Though some mean the overprotective label as an insult, it doesn’t offend me. I’m proudly cautious when it comes to my kids.

When I was growing up, my mom did the same. I wasn’t allowed to attend a slumber party until I was in middle school and my mom was well-acquainted with the friend’s parents. I wasn’t dropped off at the mall or movie theater until I was in high school.

While some of my friends were allowed to meet up with their boyfriends in the sixth grade, my parents didn’t allow me to date until I was a sophomore in high school. And even then, there were strict rules. If they weren’t followed, my privileges were revoked.

Of course, in those moments, I was furious. Why were my parents so incredibly uncool? What was the big deal? Everyone else (in my dramatic mind) was allowed to have fun but me. I would slam my bedroom door, blare my Boys II Men album, and furiously write in my diary that my parents sucked.

What I realized is my parents’ strict rules regarding my social life was their way of being good parents to me. They weren’t being helicopters. Instead, they were waiting until I was mature enough to make good choices — including knowing when to ask for help to escape a bad situation — before putting me in environments where things had the potential to go wrong.

This started when I was quite young. When I was in third grade, I got my first slumber party invite to which my parents responded with a hard no. I was a sobbing mess. I imagined my friends watching the newly released Beauty and the Beast VHS while giggling and eating Pop Qwiz. Why couldn’t I be included? My parents allowed me to hang out with the group for a few hours before I was picked up at ten.

Later, my mom would explain to me that a lot of my friends had older siblings or moms whose boyfriends stayed over, and those people may or may not be safe. It was, in fact, better to be “safe than sorry.”

Now that I’m a mom, I can look back and see that my parents made the right decisions. I had friends whose parents allowed them to have too much independence too soon and thus, made terrible choices or had bad and undeserving things happen to them because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Recently, when my tween daughter asked to have a friend come over and hang out on a Friday night, I agreed, found the mom on social media, and sent her a message. She promptly replied that of course her daughter could come over. In my mind, the mom and I would sit at the kitchen bar and chat over a glass of wine while the girls played.

When the mom and daughter arrived, we introduced ourselves and exchanged pleasantries, and then the mom smiled and said she was off to dinner with her fiancé, and she’d be back in two hours to get her daughter. Then she was gone.

She never walked into my house beyond the welcome mat. She didn’t ask if we had guns and were they locked up? Did my daughter have older siblings? What types of things would the girls be doing? Would they be watching or listening to anything I needed her approval for?

I asked if her daughter had any allergies I should be aware of in case the girls wanted a snack. Beyond that, all we had were each other’s first names and cell numbers.

I was shocked. Not because my mind goes to drastics like serial killers on the latest Dateline special. Rather, she knew nearly nothing about us and left us to care for her child. I’m guessing the cell phone she left her daughter with provided all the relief she needed.

The girls played happily together until the mom returned. We chatted for a few minutes by the front door, and then the mom offered to have my daughter over to her house. “Let’s pick a date!” she encouraged.

In that moment, I didn’t know what to say. How would I share “there’s no way in hell I’m dropping my tween off with people I do not know” without offending her? Without insulting her for the very thing she just did?

I absolutely do worry for my kids’ safety. I worry that the friend’s four older, teenage siblings are going to listen to or watch things that aren’t appropriate for my daughter. I worry they’ll have their own friends over, and what if one of those friends tries to harm my child?

I worry about gun safety. I worry about drugs. I worry about sexual assault. Why? Because preventable incidents happen every day to children.

We live in the real world with real threats. And because I’m my daughter’s mom, my number one job is to ensure my child’s safety and well-being.

Our compromise is that I offer to meet up with another parent and child for a date in a public space like a park or the skating rink. I want to get to know the parents. If I get an OK vibe, I’d be up for meeting up at their house while the mom and I chat over coffee. But I’m definitely not going to drop my daughter off with nothing but an exchange of pleasantries, names, and phone numbers.

Trust takes time and experience. And I want my kids to learn that it’s perfectly OK to take their time getting to know someone and to listen to their instincts. I do not care how unpopular or uncool that is. I’d rather my children feel temporary anger toward me, just as I did with my own parents, than deal with the forever trauma of a horrific and preventable event.

I’m sure I won’t always make the right call. I’m certain that at times, I’m too protective. But I’m OK with making the occasional mistake of being too careful.