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The Playdate Rule Book

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Okay, I've had it with the loosey-goosey playdates.

Woman reading book

Dr. Wendy Walsh: It's bad enough that we moms have to chauffeur our little troops to their social engagements when our own mothers simply opened the back door and yelled, "Come home when the street lights come on!" Today the entire modern moms union has been assigned the task of stimulating their charges with peer-to-peer social lessons complete with driving. So, can at least have some rules here??

I, for one, would like to see some unified structure to the whole business. And since no one has done this yet, I will now take it upon myself to become the Emily Post of playdates and establish an early set of ground rules. Feel free to add your own rules in the comment section below:

1. Playdates should be neither too long nor too short. As much as I shudder at the mom who uses my house for long-term childcare, equally frustrating to me is the mom who shows up before her expected pick up time and tears an angry five-year-old out of a rousing tea party. Stay consistent with the plan, ladies, whatever that is.

2. Unsafe features of the home should be disclosed by hosting moms before the first playdate. I know. This sounds crazy. Why have an unsafe feature in any home with a kid? But, sigh, it happens -- and it is polite even if you have no unsafe amenities, to reassure any new mom that her kid will be safe. My speech goes like this, "I know these things are uncomfortable to talk about, so I'll just get it out of the way. We live on the third floor and no child is allowed on the balcony without an adult present. We have no guns in the house, nor access to a swimming pool. There will be no male teens or adults present. We do, however, eat fattening foods and animals. Would you like me to observe any special diet for your child?" Then I usually exhale and wait for a grateful response.

3. Go easy on the media. Playdates are for playing -- as in, interacting and learning how to deal with peers. I only resort to television when my conflict negotiation skills have been completely exhausted and the kids need some redirection to keep them from killing each other. Otherwise, lay out some toys and let them have at it.

4. Get permission before you put someone else's kid in your car. It's amazing how many moms charge around town running errands with extra kids in tow. Since I live in earthquake vulnerable Los Angeles, I need to know which direction to run to if my world gets rocked. So, if you move my child to any new location, you must call or text me first, please.

5. Never spank anyone else's kid.
Did I need to say that?

6. Make yourself scarce.
If your child is over the age of five and has separated successfully at my home before, please don't ask me to entertain you too. I can't have a coffee-clutch out of every playdate or I'd get no work done. Now if I invite you in, that's another matter. It means I need some adult company and a glass of wine is in order.

7. Exception to rule number 6:
If your child is a girl and there is to be only a dad at home watching them, it is perfectly acceptable to ask to stay. Besides protecting your daughter from the potential for sexual abuse, this also protects good dads from any misunderstandings! Bring a book or your laptop and sit in the other room.

8. If the playdate will involve money spent by the host parent, always send a little contribution along with your child. We are in a recession, after all. A couple weeks back, I took five middle-schoolers to see Avatar. I am humbly surprised to report that every mother sent ten bucks with their kid. I only wish I was not in a position to have to accept it.

9. Be prepared to feed every playdate who enters your home.
It's what moms do best -- feed kids. It is perfectly safe to assume that snacks and meals will be "comped" by the host family.

10. Reciprocate.
While it is impossible, impractical and rude to count the number of playdates and the minutes of childcare that you have extended or received, it is important for your child's social growth to be part of a reciprocal friendship. Try to offer your home sometimes, even if the kids prefer the house with the Wii, or suggest a park playdate for one whose home isn't set up for playdates. Friendships need a change of venue so the balance of power stays fluid.

next: Suri Cruise Braves the Snowpocalypse
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous February 11, 2010, 1:25 AM

Regarding rule 7 - girls aren’t the ONLY victims of sexual abuse. However, I think it’s pretty unfair and insulting to men to treat them all as potential sex offenders. I know you’re trying to protect your child, but it’s extremely discriminatory considering that 99.9% of men are NOT sex offenders. If men did a similar thing to women, women would just lose their minds.

SAHD's Wife February 11, 2010, 12:24 PM

Here we go again. Dr. Wendy bashing men, SAHD’s, making broad generalizations and filling her article with clearly inaccurate statements….Rule #7 is offensive, discriminatory, and outdated. Your anti-Dad policy from your own admission comes from some incident in your childhood - and it’s clearly unresolved. I responded to your last, equally horrifying post about not leaving girls with SAHD’s — you seem to be on a mission to prove that Stay At Home Dad’s (and in this post, men over the age of 13) are all perverts (their either flirting with you or potential molesters of your daughters) - it’s offensive, and frankly, it shows just how unresolved your issues are…or how paranoid you are…either way, leading some readers to wonder if you ned professional help yourself (or what a better writer you need to become). Your posts are full of broad generalizations and inaccuracies. Lets look at a few:
***Do what Mom’s do best - Feed them. (Really - I’m a Mom and what I do best is provide for my family and put a focus on their education, my husband, the stay at Home Dad - he feeds the family, and he’s pretty darn good at it).
*** Let me quote your “pre-play date disclosures of unsafe features of our home” speech, which quite frankly is a great thought, yet equally horrifying to consider what you think is unsafe. There will be no male teens or adults present. YOU ARE LITERALLY CALLING ALL MALES IN A HOME OVER THE AGE OF 13 AN UNSAFE FEATURE OF A HOME. Seriously???? If you believe that, you really do need to check what you’re teaching your girls. I have a 6, and 9 year old boy and a 7 year old girl, does that mean in 4 years - all of my than 11 year old daughters friends parents should be worried about sending their girls to my house, because I’ll have a EEEKKKKS teenage boy in my house?????

****Regarding play date structures You wrote: I, for one, would like to see some unified structure to the whole business. And since no one has done this yet.****** Really? No one? EVER?? Has written down rules for play dates??? Please google this, because I found 35,600 entries. I’ll assume some are mismatches - so I put in “playdate etiquette” and came up with an excess of 4,000 entries. The first rule of being a valued writer is to be a reliable source of information - when you leave your reader to question your motives, and your reliability in even 1 area, a discerning reader won’t trust you anymore (myself included, and yes, by the way, I am a published writer, and a former contributing editor of a magazine).****

Frankly, Wendy, you owe your readers, and all of the males over the age of 13 an apology. Additionally, might I add, you may want to consider the effect that such public man-hating statements, in accuracies, and broad generalizations will have on your reputation and career.

Douglas (Dana) Goncz February 11, 2010, 10:19 PM

I found Mom Logic from a citation at Loving More.

I have a story to tell:

I was riding the bus and for three miles or fifteen minutes, a very young mother struggled with her *screaming* toddler son. Removing clothes, adjusting posture, letting him have his way, trying to guide him, sitting him down, standing him up. It was like he was someone else’s kid, and of course, that’s entirely possible.

I could read in her body language the fear in her belly, that for some reason she couldn’t hold him close. I’ve heard that a fear of spoiling a child is common in Hispanic child rearing practice. Tough love, that kind of thing. They were Hispanic, both. Parents who have been repressed or abused can show this tension in the belly, too; a fear of sexualizing their relationship with their children.

As we neared my stop, I considered whether I had the courage to intervene, and if so, how. I found my moment when she said “Callate” (Quiet, you, or shut up) to her toddler, who, of course, was not accepting commands. Repeated, with taps, not whacks, as an order. I took a breath.

I stood up, and touched her hand gently. I shook my head, which means, in almost every culture in the world, “No”. She looked at me with a questioning look and I made a simple gesture, palms facing, slowly approaching, meaning “bring him closer”. She did, and it didn’t work.

The wailing continued. I held her gaze, shook my head “No” again, and moved my palms all the way together. She held him tighter. He wriggled and screamed. Then I touched my heart and gave a gentle nod, trying to say in whatever language “It’s OK. You have permission. Bring him all the way close.” I said “corazon”, also, which means “heart”. There was a moment of doubt in her eyes, but they brightened, and I could hear her breath as she took what might have been for her the ultimate risk; that she would give her heart to her son, and be rejected, that even her heart wouldn’t be enough.

The crying stopped instantly. He looked at her, at me, then around his little bus of a world with wide eyes, quitely, and they held each other as I left the bus.

Rule 5 is:

5. Never spank anyone else’s kid. Did I need to say that?

Yes. You did, and I think there was probably someone out there who needed to hear you say it, but there are actions that speak louder than such words, although I don’t know in this moment what they might be.

Rule 11, maybe?:

Never let another parent and child be drawn into the black pit of child abuse while you are present. Either leave it behind you, or intervene. Either run from it, or stand against it. It’s your choice.

Cheerfully Child-free by Choice,

Douglas (Dana)

Chris March 10, 2010, 12:51 PM

I’d like to echo the comments that Rule #7 is offensive and alarmist. Suggesting that every man is a danger to your child is an incredibly broad - and false - statement. On the one hand, I thank you for showing your bigotry so clearly, on the other hand I think you should do some thinking about your assumptions about this.

phauna March 10, 2010, 1:35 PM

Yes, I’m also not fond of this automatic guilt of feeling like a paedophile around some mothers. Being a stay at home dad, I do meet women like this daily. Thankfully most women are trying to further the equality of the sexes, not set them back 40 years.

BF March 10, 2010, 1:38 PM

Ridiculous. Why are teen males inherently unsafe? As I teenager, I made money babysitting. Granted the neighbors knew me (I picked up gigs my sisters outgrew or couldn’t do).
Women sexually abuse women just as men do. They are not inherently safe, and men are not inherently dangerous.

Becky March 11, 2010, 11:18 AM

The only molestation worries are men molesting girls? Women can’t be predators? Boys are never victims? WTF?

As for the unsafe features of the home, I’m not sure which is more laughable — male teens or fattening foods.

If someone started talking like this when arranging a playdate, I would run far away. And not just because my husband and I split the childcare duties.

Anonymous March 15, 2010, 12:39 PM

You are seriously disturbed, yet unfortunately you represent such a large portion of the population now it is regrettable. All you yuppie parents out there need to get a grip. If you need all these rules for letting your kid play with another, maybe you have the wrong kinds of friends. Never mind the fact that when someone comes over to my house it naturally will not be their house (in whatever way you like, be it the food we have available, TV watching preferences, toys we have to play with, etc), if you are so distrusting of the parents of other children then maybe you shouldn’t allow your child to visit that home (or any).

Susan April 4, 2010, 8:09 PM

“Now if I invite you in, that’s another matter. It means I need some adult company and a glass of wine is in order.”

How about rule #11—if my kid is at your house, don’t drink? I do not expect the person in charge of ANY child to be under the influence of alcohol, but ESPECIALLY if you are in charge of someone else’s child, then you should be 100% in control of your faculties.

Susan April 4, 2010, 8:23 PM

I was so upset at the suggestion of ingesting alcohol during a playdate that I forgot to mention I totally agree with everyone who is protesting your assertion that all males teenage & up are an “unsafe feature of the home”. I am guessing you are not married, because apparently, the father of your children would automatically be considered “unsafe” by virtue of his gender. I sure the h*ll hope you have no boys, because if so you are are going to do a real number on their head as they grow up, & they are going to have to struggle to have a healthy self-image.

When I come to momlogic I really don’t expect to find people being bashed because of their gender.

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