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Brett Berk: While in Alaska last week, giving a reading from my stellar book The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting, I had the opportunity to engage in a Q&A with some parents up in The Last Frontier. Turns out that they generally have the same questions as folks in the lower 48 (though they tend to have more bear meat in their freezers).

father holding baby

One universalizable issue that surfaced up north revolved around playdates. In a small community like Anchorage -- where everyone seems to know each other, and where (like everywhere) some folks are annoying, intolerant, or insane -- parents worried about engaging their kids in friendships with children whose parents they didn't personally like.

Hear me now, people: you are not required to be friends with the parents of your child's peers. In fact, I believe it can be beneficial to forego connections to them and let your kids make friends ON THEIR OWN. Why? Here are five good reasons:

1) Un-smother: You're already hovering over your child's every move at home. Giving them a break from your parenting style for a quick sec by not being present when they have a playdate will allow them the opportunity to explore where you end and they begin.

2) Synthesizer: Being exposed to other ways of doing things and solving problems -- even if they involve raised voices, religious invocations, or buckets of bear fat -- will help your child learn how to respond to and integrate other behavioral standards: a key tenet in synthesizing an understanding of the world. If you've provided a clear and consistent foundation, you needn't worry about exposure to external influences.

3) Quid Pro Quo: If you host a playdate at your house without the odious parents around, you're due the solid of being able to dump your offspring at their place for a like amount of time in the future, thus liberating you for mani/pedi madness, reality show immersion, or the afternoon delight of your choice.

4) Next Topic: Getting away from socializing with people who you know mainly through your kids will push you to explore subjects beyond poor eating habits, animated princesses, and the grotesque symptoms associated with a recent illness. Remember, you are a parent and a person. You're allowed to have and revel in grown-up interests.

5) To Each Their Own: You are not your child's best friend, and they are not yours. If you think otherwise, you're doing it wrong. (And by "it" I mean parenting.) Maintain separate peer lives, and divest yourself as much as possible from over-involvement in your kid's.



next: Cruel Treatment of Special Needs Kids Must Stop
28 comments so far | Post a comment now
jennifer May 20, 2009, 9:05 AM

agreed. i only will have the other mom over if she is my friend. there is nothing worse than having to make small talk with another parent for 2 hours that you have nothing in common with. i also agree that we hover way too much over our children.

Shari May 20, 2009, 2:42 PM

this is one topic i am too familiar with. after being that mother that hovers - i was dumped by the mother’s of my child’s “friends”. They were only my daughter’s friends because of me. It breaks my heart for my daughter since she is still trying to find her way and its been a year (she’s only 9). I WILL NEVER do it again. My husband told me from day 1 not to get involved with the parents and I didn’t listen. I beat myself up everyday over this situation. Sorry so long - it’s just so close to home.

MarcomMom May 20, 2009, 3:27 PM

I have the opposite problem: girls who are mean or fair-weather friends to my kid who have really nice parents. Something’s fishy about that…

Caryl May 20, 2009, 3:30 PM

OK, in some circumstances, I do not agree with this advice! There were times when I quickly prejudged certain parents of children my daughter befriended; out of a natural sense of unease around them - an intuition of sorts. I ignored the feelings and allowed my daughter to play with these children anyway - for most of the reasons listed within this article.

I later discovered that one parent attempted to introduce my daughter to alcohol (at an elementary school age). Another told the children, who would visit, it was okay to cuss in their home - they wouldn’t tell their parents. And, another household sometimes had acts of domestic violence happening in the presence of my daughter.

Parenting entails responsibility for protecting our children, as well. Sometimes when we personally dislike certain people, it turns out to be with good reason.

The statement, “If you’ve provided a clear and consistent foundation, you needn’t worry about exposure to external influences.” - in my opinion, not entirely true. Children are still vulnerable, regardless of what they’ve been taught at home.

My daughter is 19 now, and I’ve had to deal with many problems throughout those years, caused by being lenient about the types of families and friends I allowed her to associate with.

I understand the main objective of this article, and mean no disrespect toward the writer or MomLogic. But, I wish to impress upon your readers - please do not strictly abide to this guideline. Listen to your intuitions too!

Jean Rubinson May 20, 2009, 5:27 PM

Where were you when I needed you?!!!!!
Just kidding. You were a kid, yourself. I could have used this advise when I was raising kids. I didn’t have enough “self” time or fun adult time when I was married, with children. Bless you for your suggestions…better late, than never.

Steve May 20, 2009, 10:50 PM

Caryl, even if you consider these people to be friends, you still have no idea what goes on behind closed door. I don’t think the writer is saying to let your kids go off with just anybody. I think he’s saying that it’s okay not to be best pals with every parent in the class.

Kirstie May 21, 2009, 8:08 AM

Sound advice! I don’t have children yet myself, as I’m still young - I’m only 20. But I’m wondering if people can clue me in to when this “playdate” thing came into being?

I don’t remember ever having a playdate in my life. As a small child my best friend lived directly upstairs, and when I moved to my houses at about 8 my best friends lived across the street and one two doors down. If I wanted to play I went ‘MA, going across the street!’ or another girl showed up at my front door, at which point we went outside to play. My mom is extremely close with one of their mothers now, but that didn’t happen until long after the girl and I were friends.

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