From the hassle of finding a mutually convenient time, and the awkward small talk with a parent you don't know, to suffering the company of a badly behaved child with no table manners, having kids over to play is a parenting task I avoid as much as possible. Here are five things I hate about play dates:
Pretending to like other people's children
There are times when I find it difficult to like my own children, so it's hardly surprising I find it hard to get along with other people's. I like some of my kids' friends a great deal – they're funny, interesting, and well behaved – but others make Attila the Hun look like a welcome dinner guest.
I wouldn't entertain grown-ups in my house if I didn't like them, so why do have to put up with the pint-sized ones?
To make matters worse, sometimes my own children don't like their guests, and have only invited them because they were invited to their house first (see point 5, below). It's insane. A spot of honesty would go a long way: "Thanks so much for having Katie over. I'd love to return the favour, but actually Katie can't stand Molly, and nor can I." Bliss.
The messIt's not that my children are exceptionally tidy but nothing quite compares with the mess made by visiting children eager to see what's in the toy box, especially when combined with my own children being equally anxious to show off what's in there.
Within five minutes the entire house looks like the aftermath of a Toys R Us ram raid.
I am not a bad cook. I might not be Jamie Oliver, but I'm no Bear Grylls, either: everything I put on the table is edible, properly cooked, and relatively appealing. So when a child turns up their nose at a tea I've produced, I take it personally. Like most parents, on play date nights I put aside our normal repertoire of shepherd's pie, spag bol, lasagne and so on, and lay on a crowd-pleaser like fish fingers or pizza and chips. Not the healthiest of options, but it's not every day, and besides – what kid doesn't like fish fingers? Well, quite a lot it seems, along with those who don't like peas (what on earth's wrong with peas?), sausages, carrots, or bread. One wonders what they eat at home. I don't cook three different meals for my own tribe, so I'm certainly not about to do it for someone else's: if they don't want what's on offer, they go hungry.
Children with no manners
I don't ask a lot from people who come to my house (I know you find that hard to believe), but I do at least expect guests to be house-trained. Taking shoes off at the front door, saying thank you when given a drink, using a fork to eat spaghetti instead of your fingers... these are all pretty basic things, right?
The manners displayed by play date guests vary, but I'm continually amazed by how many children behave badly. I don't know what the etiquette is on telling off other people's kids, but judging by the response one child gave me when I reprimanded him for snatching a biscuit, it's possibly not the done thing...
Having to organise a return match
It's the final kick in the teeth. You've endured an ill mannered, fussy eating, badly behaved, messy child for three hours, and just when you think the play date is over, someone mentions 'next time.' Because there is always, always a return match. And sure, next time your child will go to their house, and you'll be spared the sight of his fingers cramming spaghetti into his mouth, but then you'll have to invite him back! And so it goes on, back and forth like a tennis match because we're far too British to stop the invitations.
Must we really put up with it? There's more than enough on television to keep kids entertained, without having to endure the agony of other people's children.
I call an amnesty on play dates. Who's in?
Do play dates make you crabby or are they the perfect way to organise ad-hoc childcare?
What's your worst plat date experience?
More on Parentdish: Are we allowed to tell off other people's children?