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It’s OK to Say No to the Toxic Playdate

Photograph by Getty Images

I’ve always said yes to anyone who reaches out to me or my children for a playdate. Always. It was my policy. My theory was that it was my job to be open to opportunities for connection and socialization on behalf of my children. Even when my children befriended neighborhood kids whose parents intimidated me or with whom I had nothing in common, I always responded with a sincere, “yes, let’s get together.”

After five years of adhering to my ironclad, open-door playdate policy, I finally uttered my first no.

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We’d actually had playdates with this family before. Two, actually. During the first one, I found myself turned off by the mother’s negativity. She told me how she “hated” the school where we were sending my son to preschool and made several disparaging remarks about the ability of men to parent. In the course of an hour, she unfurled a long list of things that make her “really angry,” including Fox News, the price of soy milk, misogyny in higher education and bad drivers. I can’t say I love any of those things either, so I tried to relate to this angry woman shaking her fist in fury at my kitchen counter. I knew my values didn’t align with hers, but our daughters really enjoyed each other’s company.

I held on to the image of our girls playing dress up together gleefully and made excuses for her mother. Maybe she was just having a bad day. We’ve all been there.

The second playdate was awkward, but in totally different ways. I offered them a snack, not knowing they were vegan. I fell over myself apologizing for offering cheese and quickly sliced up some apples. It was unpleasant to receive a lecture about deleterious and unethical consequences of animal-based diets in the middle of a playdate.

I didn’t want to get together ... I thought of the fun my daughter would have. Shouldn’t I suck it up for her?

I’m all for honoring other people’s choices; I just want mine honored in kind — especially when I’m standing in my own kitchen.

A few weeks later I got an email requesting another playdate. “It will be so fun to see you,” she wrote. I couldn’t help but wonder why she wanted to see me. I mean, my diet is repugnant to her, she blames my son’s school for half of society’s ills, and I don’t hate with nearly the same level of vigor that she does.

I didn’t want to get together. My stomach twisted in knots when I thought about spending time with her. I ignored the email, hoping to bide my time.

She emailed a second time. “Did you get my email? Let’s play.”

I tried to make myself do it. I thought of the fun my daughter would have. Shouldn’t I suck it up for her? Maybe, but I couldn’t.

In a burst of ingenuity, I suggested she drop off her daughter so I could watch the girls for a few hours. Perfect, right?

Except she wasn’t ready for that. “I’d prefer to be there,” she wrote.

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I love my daughter, but subjecting myself to several hours of toxicity is no way to prove it. I want to teach her to be open to other people and to expand her social skills, but I also want to teach her that life is short and she should concentrate on relationships that nurture her, not drain her.

I waited a few more days. When I finally responded, I told the truth. “I’m sorry but that won’t work for me.”

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