"Mama?" My preschooler tugged on my leg during last Saturday's house-cleaning frenzy. I turned off my vacuum to hear her better. "Are we having a playdate today?"
"No, honey, not today," I told her.
"Then why are we cleaning the house?" she wondered.
Forget for a moment -- if you can -- what that says about my housekeeping abilities, so I can make my point: When preschool friends come over, I'm never really sure if I'll be entertaining their moms, too. Likewise, when we go to a new friend's house to play, I have to decide whether I should stay and visit or come back and pick my kiddo up.
Should I stay or should I go? It's the preschool parent's dilemma.
It's happened both ways for us. Sometimes we'll invite someone new over and mom will stick around, giving us a chance to chitchat awkwardly get to know each other while our kids destroy the playroom. This is why my preschooler now associates cleaning with playdates, because I'm always scrambling to get our house in order ... just in case.
Other times, parents have dropped their kiddos off with a kiss and then asked me when to pick them up. I'll admit I love those the best: House clean, kids entertained by their friends -- I can finally take a break!
Maggie Macauley, owner of Whole Hearted Parenting, director of Redirecting Children's Behavior South Florida and 2008 ABWA Parent Educator of the Year, says that deciding whether or not to leave your child alone during a playdate is "personal and relative." She recently e-mailed some tips to me that might help waffling parents with this common dilemma:
• Trust your instincts. If you are not comfortable with leaving your child -- even if you can't logically explain it -- remain at the playdate with your child, or have the playdate at your house.
• Get to know the hosting family. If you do not know the host of the playdate well, schedule a few playdates where you will be present and get to know the family. Make sure the host is sensitive to any needs your child might have, such as allergies, food preferences and sensitivities.
• Ask your child how he feels about having a playdate without you present. Young children can let you know how they feel, even if it is communicated nonverbally. Give him details on who he will be visiting, and ask how that sounds. If he looks engaged and wants to go, great. If he isn't interested or acts afraid, it may not be the right time. On that note, Macauley says that if your child isn't a natural risktaker and is hesitant, that doesn't mean he's not interested in staying.
• Use communication as your guide. The more your child can communicate with you, the better. You want him to be able to tell you what happened when you weren't there.
How do you decide when it's OK to let your preschooler play on her own? Am I the only one whose kid associates a clean house with company coming over?