There I was; sitting in a circle of fellow moms from my neighborhood, but whom I barely knew, going through the motions of chatting about recipes and natural remedies for kids' colds, as our children fought over toys nearby. I couldn't help but keep glancing at the clock, and wondering how long I had to pretend to be having a good time at this playdate when all I wanted to do was get up, grab my kid, and head for the nearest exit.
This scene has repeated itself time and time again as I've raised my three children. Most playdates have felt awkward and forced—I attempt to keep the conversation going between me and another mom who I may have absolutely nothing in common with, outside of our kids' ages. Sometimes I feel like I'm being held captive in these seemingly-obligatory social interactions.
It's not that I don't have mom friends. Playdates involving a fellow mama you know well are often a welcome relief from the solitude of motherhood. But my kids don't only want to play with my friends' kids. Sometimes I have to make nice with strangers. And it's not always fun, am I right moms?
It's not only the strained conversation with other parents that makes me dread playdates. Because let's just talk germs for a sec. When other kiddos come over to play Legos and snack on Goldfish, I can't help but mentally keep track of what they are touching and putting in their mouths repeatedly, so I can sanitize it later. With the flu being so scary and prevalent during a big chunk of the year, you cannot be too safe. And, truth, it never fails that at least one child at the playdate has a runny nose or a cough, no matter what season it is.
My germaphobia and the fact that I despise forced small talk have made me want to avoid playdates altogether. I even called a few experts to try to find out if really, truly playdates are mandatory for me and my kids. Their tips helped to remind me how important it is for kids to play together from a young age.
"Playdates are essential for early childhood development because children need to learn how to interact with their peers so that they can be more successful in life later on," Carole Lieberman M.D., a psychiatrist and author, told me. While moms like me might prefer to sip coffee in a quiet cafe while our little one colors on her own, playdates are where kids learn to share, cooperate with one another, and consider people's feelings.
Rachel Annunziato, a professor of psychology at Fordham University, cited the cognitive benefits of playdates for kids, such as "safe" exposure to unfamiliar social situations, especially for children who are shy or anxious. And Jephtha Tausig, Ph.D., a New York City-based clinical psychologist, told me I need to keep taking my kids on playdates because they allow children to socialize outside of the school environment. "Playdates provide an opportunity for children to try out ways of being with their peers as well as practice reciprocity, cooperative play, and other social skills in a more informal, naturalistic, and less-structured way," she said.
So it sounds like I have to continue pushing through the playdates—arranging and attending them with my kids are simply an annoying part of parenting. Over time, I have come to accept that not every playdate is going to be the highlight of my day. But awkwardly chatting with another mom about the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, then spending 15 minutes wiping down toys after she and her tot leave, aren't exactly the biggest sacrifices I will have to make for my children. And maybe I'll even miss these moments when my kids are too old to want me to tag along with them and their friends. Till then, I guess I'll just keep calm, and playdate on!