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Notes from the How Not To Do It File

February 26, 2017 - Jen Zbozny
When I became a mom, I was, ahem, old. K-12, college, grad-school, a professional career and lots of life exposure schooled me in how to make friends. I'm lucky because those experiences brought me life-long friendships. Imagine my surprise when motherhood brought me the challenge of "hmm... how do I approach the idea of friendships for my daughter?"

Choosing friends for yourself and managing your relationships as a private individual is super different than sorting out the simple, yet possibly toweringly confusing dynamics of "how do I teach my kiddo to play with the other kids? what goes on at a 3 year-old's playdate? what am I supposed to do there? what are the social norms?"

Starting out as a new mom I asked another mom "what do I do at a 3-year old's playdate? am I supposed to bring anything? baked goods? a book that I read so the other mom doesn't feel obliged to entertain me?" The other mom hilariously said "oh, you take cash and you give it to the other mom." Funny funny Lori. So here are some ideas about play dates and friendships for and with your littles.

1. You have to be in places where there are other moms and kids. Going to places where you are comfortable and interested will probably put you in the context of other like-minded moms. If you can't stand crafting, don't go to the Stampin' Up moms and babies group playdate so often that you can't go hiking because the other moms you just picked up are always coming over with their cricut and stamps and stuff and filling your basement with little paper hole-punch relics.

2. In complete opposition to 1 above, note that variety and diversity are good for you and your kids. Also just because you don't want to become a Stampin' Up consultant doesn't mean your kid might not have mad talents in that area. You have to find balance. Test the waters by gently turning conversations to stuff you enjoy and exposing (in a not pushy or obnoxious way) your sense of humor and your interests. It's a non-threatening way to find kindred spirits for you and your kids.

3. Don't force social situations. If you want to try to set up a playdate but you've never met the parents of a child your kiddo wants to hang with (think elementary school here), don't just appear in their doorstep one day, unannounced and assert your need for a play date. That places the other family in a crummy position because now you've inserted yourself into their lives and put them in a really uncomfortable social situation. Here's why it's uncomfortable. Maybe they'd like to say no, but they feel bad because you're so desperate you just appeared and created this somehow pushy yet pathetic dynamic in their living room. I promise you people have done this. I promise you it will make you seem like the very last person the other child's family wants to leave their child alone with. That's because you made that family uncomfortable with your demonstrated lack of attention to social cues. Worse yet the other family could get the idea that if you don't pay attention to simple social cues and behaviors like that, you might do a bad job of paying attention to your kid who might get hurt on the trampoline because you're also not paying attention to that.

I'll summarize.. Don't be pushy. Don't show up un-announced. Don't purposely put other people into uncomfortable social structures. I know how much we want to help our kids make friends. I know how lonely motherhood can be at times. Even if you're used to being the alpha dog and always getting what you want, think differently. It will go much better.

4. Distributing your personal information unsolicited. Are you laughing? I know. I would too but this is serious. If you want to set up a playdate, don't go dropping off index cards with your address, all your family's phone numbers, all your children's names and ages, and all your email addresses into the hoped-for family's mailboxes - with a note that says "we'd like a play date. Here are the dates we want one." I think you get my drift here but I'll explain. It's not safe to give out all your demographic intel. No one needs that information at the outset of arranging a playdate. Lastly in additiong to upping the risk of your demographics accidentally ending up in the wrong hands you've destroyed your "she thinks responsibly" creds in the face of someone you'd like to have trust you with their kids.

One of the things you might do instead is have your kiddo (while at school) ask the other child about a playdate. If the other kiddo is interested, tell your kiddo to ask the other kiddo to have mom or dad write down an email address and give it to your kiddo. Then you email that parent. Identify yourself as your kiddo's mom, or stepmom, or grandma who has kids in the summer or whatever, and see about a playdate. Don't start with your house. Suggest meeting at a park with the other mom present or a trip for mini-golf or something. That lets the other family get to know you in a way that they can feel comfortable. Get it?

5. About identifying yourself. If you're Dad, say you're Dad. If you're not Dad, say you're the step-dad, or whatever. Find a pleasant way to say what kids and parents can call you. Do that early so you don't have to go back and be "correcty" later or any other awkard thing.

6. Don't be a pest. Just because you had one successful playdate, don't assume that your child and theirs will be permanently joined at the hip or that you're invited to anything that other family other does involving kids. Take it easy. Be congenial. Never be pushy. Pushy is where relationships go to die.

7. Speaking of being pushy, don't play FOR your kids. It's not your job to do that. Sometimes kids need help starting a game or puzzle and it's great to go shoot some hoops, or even play a little tag (you have to handicap yourself though). Go ahead and do that, but don't insert yourself into their playing. And don't play with the things FOR them. If your little one and his playdate buddy are happily not making the legos into what it looks like on the box and are getting along - leave them to it. If you feel the need to make the thing on the box, wait until after bedtime and do it by yourself. It's not your play date. Again, being pushy and making it about you will be a death knell for more playdates for your kiddo. Remember, it's not about you.

8. Along the same lines, if your child is playing with others but you suddenly find yourself feeling bored or needy and you don't have another grown up to chat with, now is not the time to produce your phone and convince your kid to start playing pokemon with you. Your job is to let them play with other kids while you be an unintrusive observer who keeps children from harm or injury. It's not about you. If you ignore this advice, you'll notice playdate opportunities drying up left and right.

8. One last thing. It's not about playdates, but it is about safety. Don't go putting all your information on an index card in a kiddo's coat or backpack or anything at all. Ever. (Yep, seen it). Think about what that could do. Right. It could get into the WRONG hands. Bad plan. Instead, put your child's initials into the backpack (use a sharpie and consider using a middle initial. A stranger wouldn't know a middle name - get it? And put it in an inside, not obvious location) and one phone number. That's it. If the item is found, that's enough information for a right-minded person to contact you and arrange its return. Its not enough intel to jeopardize your kiddo because you've just given a potential bad-guy enough information to convince your kiddo that he knows your kid, you, your address, your phone number, the names of all the siblings, etc. You get the idea.

Further, work on teaching your kids your phone number and address - cuts down on any need you might think you have to write it on index cards or in coats or backpacks anyway.

Note well, rest assured, I've never been the pushy, index card, mom, but being the mom-blog lady, I get to hear lots of horror stories!


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