Three Into Four: Play Date Etiquette

You know you've entered a new phase in the parenting game when your child starts going on play dates with their friends instead of yours.

On the one hand, this is thrilling. Diana has social skills! She has friends! Every time we get asked to one, I get a feeling close to butterflies in my stomach - I am just so happy and excited for my daughter. Then again, maybe it's the sick kind of butterflies - the ones that foretell of danger to come.

The truth is, play dates kind of terrify me.

Before, when I'd organise play dates purely based on my friendships with women who conveniently had a small person of D-ish age with whom D could have a ball while I drank coffee and gossiped, I knew that my parenting agenda and interests were more or less in tune with the other family's. Also, since it was a play date for the adults as much as the kids, both mums were always present.

The main new phenomenon I've been introduced to of late is the idea of play date swaps - you take my child for a morning or afternoon, then I'll take yours. The idea of this is brilliant: happy child + essentially free childcare and one less meal to cook in a day = a relaxing morning or afternoon.

In theory.

However, when one parent is neurotic, alarmist and thinks she's being quite "relaxed" about things when she lets her child scoot alongside her, holding her hand while wearing a helmet (hint: I'm talking about me here), delivering my child into unknown territory - which I'm sure will be fine, in theory of course - just isn't something I'm comfortable with yet. I want to be there - not in her face - but quietly, in another room, just in case. Is that creepy?

On the other hand, while the control freak in me rejoices at being responsible for another individual on my home turf, challenges are quickly presented. Younger sister Liv- delightful normally, difficult in terms of coveting everything Diana has - wants to play with the big kids, and will likely bulldoze her way through a princess puzzle. Bolshy the bulldog - also wonderful, also with an agenda on play dates - spends the entire time truffling around for dropped food and licking tiny princess feet from under the table.

In these at-home play date scenarios, I am a servant of all trades, ready to pour drinks, proffer art supplies, assist with the many numerous costume changes, offer manicures when begged for them and press Play on the Frozen CD. I just hope the parents in question don't freak out over having their daughter come home wearing gold sparkly polish, donning a sticker-embellished cardboard tiara and singing 'Let it go' at the top of her lungs.

Of course, my main prerogative is the health, safety and enjoyment of all concerned. I just hope our idea of enjoyment is the same as theirs. (Surely, tracing hands and feet onto large canvases and colouring the outlined nails with multi-coloured glitter pens is everyone's dream plan of how to spend a thrilling Wednesday afternoon?)

When we go elsewhere, the play date itself is usually lovely.


It's the getting-out-the-door part that I dread. Even when I warn Diana in advance that we will be leaving in X amount of time, Diana inevitably sobs incessantly and refuses to get dressed as the appointed hour approaches. She also often ends up screaming and crying the entire way home, a combination of over-exhaustion and over-stimulation and the temporary sadness at being separated from someone she will not see for a staggering eight to 12 hours.


It is on that journey home, clutching one of those three-year-olds in a full flagrante tantrum that has strangers running across the road to avoid us, dragging D's paraphernalia (scooter, helmet and whatever clothes she's refused to put on as I've escorted her kicking and screaming out the door), that I think play dates are best served up with a strong, strong cocktail.

And I think: Why do this? Diana's social life be damned; my sanity is more important than this.

But then, the next day, one of Diana's little friends sweetly approaches me after nursery and asks if she can come and have a play date with Diana.

And my heart swells, then melts (I'm feeling as emotional as a Frozen song right now!), especially when I look over and see my beaming daughter light up with excitement at the prospect.

And I start planning play date ideas - crafts day! board games! more dressing up! - and thinking up menu selections, all within the safe, easy and unlikely-to-cause-allergies range of complex carbs...

You know what? Sanity is over rated, anyway.