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Why Do We Mix Play Dates and Politics?

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A friend recently disclosed that she’s been going out of her way to avoid setting up play dates with a specific group of mothers in her town. "They’re boring as hell, and their kids are kind of annoying," was her reasoning when I asked why she’s been dodging these parents. Despite how it presents, this woman isn’t a natural ogre. Quite the opposite actually; I know her to be friendly, sweet and sincere, and she often hosts fun, theme parties at her house throughout the year. But when it comes to play dates for her kids, she’s confessed that it all makes her feel anxious and irritated.

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I’ll give my friend points for honesty. There seems to be a fair amount of politics and pretense and moving parts involved with something that you would think is pretty simple: Kids playing together. I know I’ve felt low-key dread when I’ve been forced to entertain or visit with a mom who I’m not that fond of just so that our boys can play together. The question quickly becomes: Uh, so these solo play dates we were promised in the brochure, when do those start?

Somewhere along this ride, things changed, and now it feels like we’re almost expected to become friends with the other parent.

I think about my childhood play dates. (And, no, this is not a Get off mah lawn–style rant. Honest.) It was all so easy. Either we rode our bikes to the park and played there or you’d just show up at your homey’s house, ring the doorbell and head straight to the basement or wherever the toys lived. Although my mother knew my little buddies’ parents and exchanged pleasantries on the phone, they were not friends. No one was setting out cheese platters and coffee for the other.

Somewhere along this ride, things changed, and now — specifically with the 6-year-old-and-under set — it feels like we’re almost expected to become friends with the other parent. To be clear, I’m not saying parents should avoid direct eye contact. Not at all. Friendly is nice. Friendly is welcome. But forging a true friendship is more involved than, "Hey, you have a boy-child who likes soccer and apple slices? Me too! Let’s be friends forever and ever. Pinky-swear."

The other potential stressor around play dates is the scheduling. It can get complicated to the point where, through various back-and-forth texts and emails, you’ll find yourself setting up a time for your kids to play two or three weeks out. Add that to the already over-scheduled child’s life filled with after-school activities, sport teams, music lessons, language lessons and homework. Man. It’s got Excedrin written all over it, amirite?

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It makes me grateful for one of the best play dates that my son has ever came upon (so far). Last year when we moved to our new house, my son and I were out playing on the front lawn, when a little boy, his mom and newborn baby brother came strolling by. We said hello, they said it back. The two boys instantly hit it off and started tumbling and running and giggling right there on the grass. The mom and I had a great conversation, too, the kind that’s effortless and lovely — just aces. I invited them all inside. The boys kept playing, while the mom and I kept talking. They live on the corner of our street and we've become good friends over this last year, as a whole family. We hang out in different combinations quite a bit and often impromptu. No pretense. No politics. No pressure. Everything that play should be about.

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