Let’s face it, playdates are more for mommy than the kids. This post is all about how important playdates are for your mental and emotional well being.
First, I’d like to fill you in on a very helpful hint that my mother told me when I first became a stay-at-home mom. Of course, I didn’t listen to her at the time but soon learned for myself, once again, that she was right. Always get up and get ready for the day as if you are going to work. Why? Because, without fail, just as you are about to step into the shower your kids will begin bouncing off the walls or fighting with one another. You can forget about showering, wearing makeup or shaving your legs because you’re going out “as is” that day.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve chosen to snooze an extra 20 minutes thinking that I’d take a shower later that morning and it…never…happens. The day starts to get away from me, I get caught up taking care of the house and the kids and before I know it someone shows up at my door and there I stand wearing my high-waisted sweatpants and my oversized t-shirt with many stains on it that may or may not be poop. Get the picture?! If you get nothing out of this series other than this advice, then all of my hard work will have been worth it.
Now let’s talk about playdates. I was hit with a double whammy when it comes to playdates. First, my son was diagnosed with autism. Everyone from the doctors to therapists and many well-intentioned but ill informed friends have suggested that I get my kids involved in playdates to “socialize” them. Because, you know, kids with autism are socially awkward. It’s true, my two boys are quirky little fellas and they sure can stand out in a crowd at times. Right after my son was diagnosed I would nod my head in agreement to everyone’s suggestions, positive that they knew more than I. I was determined to socialize the crap out of my kids.
Then, as if I wasn’t under enough stress already, I decided to homeschool my children. What?! Homeschool two boys with autism?! They’ll never leave the house. Of course, I never heard so much talk and concern about “socialization” until I brought up homeschooling. Once again, well-intentioned but misguided and misunderstood concern. Needless to say, I fell for all the rhetoric and got to work setting up as many playdates as I could. I was determined to prove that my autistic, homeschooled boys were not going to be socially awkward; well, anymore than they normally would have been.
Anyone with small children was fair game for playdates. I asked them all. I was surprised how many people readily agreed. Only a few looked at me like I was nuts. Within a few weeks I had our days so full of playdates that we didn’t have any time for school and absolutely no down time. I soon found that when it comes to playdates quality beats quantity every time. There were certain kids that my boys just didn’t click with and worse, there were certain moms that I didn’t click with. The playdates became more of a hassle than a fun get together. We’d sit uncomfortably staring at the children playing or fighting and counting the minutes until I could make a polite escape. After those playdates I would often feel more exhausted than refreshed.
Somewhere along this road I met a couple of moms where everything just clicked. The kids got along well, our parenting styles were similar and I actually enjoyed their company. When I left these playdates I always felt more energized. It was during one such visit that it occurred to me, as I watched the kids each doing their own thing, sometimes playing together but mostly apart, that these playdates were more for me than for my kids. As my kids get older they automatically gravitate towards other children. They don’t always play typically but they are drawn to and curious about other children. If nothing else they enjoy watching the other kids play. It occurred to me that my kids are being socialized when they are playing with their grandparents, with their cousins, when they are at the park or a class or a birthday party. Kids will play with other kids. If they don’t like them they don’t play with them. They don’t get hung up on social niceties like us adults. They have a lot of opportunities to be around other children of all ages just by being a child themselves.
As a stay-at-home mom, I’m the one cooped up in the house or car alone with two tiny beings for 10 hours a day. I shuttle them from home to their classes then back home again only engaging momentarily with other parents in passing. Seems to me like stay-at-home moms are the ones that need socialization yet no one ever talks about that.
Having frequent playdates benefits moms in so many ways. First, it’s amazing how good it feels to share a parenting horror story with another mom and have her nod her head knowingly. Even if she doesn’t have any solutions just knowing that you are not alone makes a world of difference. Second, playdates are a wonderful opportunity to see how others parent. How they handle their child’s behavior and how they interact with their child. Third, it’s a great way to watch other kids of similar ages to see if your child is progressing typically. Finally, sharing parenting tips and tricks with one another is invaluable. I’ve picked up a lot of great ideas from watching and talking to other mom friends on how to handle situations with my children.
When you have children with special needs it’s even more important to find another special needs mom to connect with. I can’t begin to explain how good it feels to talk with another mom who’s in the trenches daily, and can relate to the subtle difficulties of raising a child with special needs. When in public with my children, I’m so used to being on guard, watching their every move in order to avoid a million different unpleasant scenarios. It’s such a liberating feeling when having a playdate with another special needs mom to be able to just relax and allow your child to play, interact or not interact as they wish. No explaining, apologizing, prompting or correcting, just playing…it’s heaven.
However, playdates with typical children help me to see that “normal” is a broad term and that typical children can be socially awkward too. It’s good for me to see that some of my sons’ quirky traits are not solely due to their having autism. All kids are weird. Period.
It’s important to hear about the struggles that parents with typical children face. It helps me realize that I’m not the only one with unique parenting struggles. They struggle too. We all are just blindly feeling our way through this parenting gig.
Since I’ve endured countless hours of playdates gone wrong, I thought that someone should benefit from my mistakes. So I put together the following list of rules to help make your next playdate a successful one.
Rule #1: Like in dating, never go all in on the first playdate. Always have an exit plan. I learned this the hard way. Make your first playdate in a central location. Meet at a playground or indoor park. That way if things aren’t going well you can pack up and go without feeling too bad for ditching out early on the playdate. If these playdates go well then you’re ready to move to the next level of playdatedom, going to each others houses.
Rule #2: Choose the best time of day when scheduling a playdate for your child (i.e. avoid playdates during nap time or meal times.) A tired child is a miserable child.
Rule #3: Feed your child a snack BEFORE going. Then bring a snack & drink for your child in case none is offered or there is nothing your child will eat. A hungry child is an unbearable child.
Rule #4: Don’t overstay your welcome. I struggle with this one. One minute everyone is having a great time. I think to myself, we should probably get going but see that the kids are enjoying themselves so I sit back down and the next thing I know the kids are beating each other over the heads with toys and peeing in the corner. Suddenly your wonderful playdate has turned into a circus act as your carrying your screaming child out of their house and everyone is left with a bad impression of the playdate. You know your child best but a good place to start is one hour. Set a timer and at the end of the hour start cleaning up and head home. Even if they are having a great time, especially if they are having a great time. That way everyone leaves feeling really good about the playdate and will want to do it again soon.
You’ll be amazed how following these four simple rules will make your next playdate run smoothly. Good luck!
This wraps up Part III of my Stay-at-Home Mom Survival Series. I hope you found it helpful.