I was prepared to arrange play dates for my son when he started preschool last year. Many of my best childhood memories happened during play dates – epic games of hide and seek, playing with someone else’s toys (always better than your own), eating foods I never got at home, and the general euphoria of spending lots of quality free time with a kindred spirit. So I was looking forward to seeing what sort of friendships he developed. But what I hadn’t anticipated, was the family play date. My son had become close with a classmate, and his mom and I had done a couple play dates together already. We got along really well, had a lot in common, and then she casually suggested we get together on a weekend with the dads as well. I said sure let’s do it, and then the weight of what I’d just committed to hit me when I got home.
Here’s the thing. We had already passed two huge hurdles in any preschool friendship involving kids and parents:
This is the obvious, but most important aspect in any relationship you hope to have with another mommy friend. If your kids can’t stand playing with each other, it’s a total lost cause. Even going to the coolest playground in the world won’t keep them from whining “I don’t like X, let’s go home!” You will be so mortified and apologetic, seeing that mommy friend during the day will probably never happen until your kids are in school full time, and by then you may have already drifted too far apart.
This is where it gets complicated, and is also a very important factor to any preschool friendship. Unlike in High School when you could have a friend who you hung out with every single day that your parents never even met, a preschool friendship outside of school basically requires that the moms get along with each other and the other kid too. Let’s face it: if you’re going to be at a park or in someone else’s house for several hours while your kids play, you’ll need to make conversation and build trust with the other pair, and if you tense up every time she tries to talk to your child or her eyes glaze over when you bring up your passion project, it’s never going to work. I learned this early on with a boy my son met at the library shortly after we moved to Orange County. They really hit it off and this was the first friendship he made entirely on his own so I thought, we’re new here and need to find our tribe anyway, let’s see where this goes. The mom and I exchanged numbers and we met in the park a couple weeks later. The boys got along great again, but after an hour or so of polite chit chat with this mom, we just ran out of things to talk about. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her. She was very nice and we even shared some common interests. But for whatever reason we just didn’t “click.” And as a result, neither of us ever requested another playdate.
Now this is why I started to sweat a little about doing a family play date:
It’s a bit of an accomplishment already if you’ve found a nice kid that yours really likes, whose mom you and your kid really like as well. Once you include dads* in the mix though, the scale of this equation increases exponentially. Not only must the dads like each other, but your husband must be able to carry a decent conversation with the other mom, and you must be able to enjoy her husband’s company should you find yourself both pushing kids at the swings for 15 minutes for example. Not to mention that it’ll help if all the parents get along with all the kids. Instead of 4 connections needing to work, with spouses in the equation you now need 9 connections for everyone to get along. So when you find yourself a mom and kid that both you and yours genuinely click with, you really want the dads to as well! Chris Rock has a great comedy bit about this but I’m going to paraphrase here as his language is definitely NSFMommyBlogging!
…women like to get their husbands together, that don’t even know each other, and have like a grown-man play date. Put you in a room with some other married [guy], and go “he likes baseball, just like you.” Then you’re in some room with some…stranger, going “I like baseball.” – Chris Rock
If you are able to find that magical unicorn of a family that everyone in yours gets along with, it can be spectacular fun. We are lucky to have a few of those special families in our lives. These are the folks that we take joint family vacations with, whose kids we love like our own, and we make great memories of group activities together. So when my new mommy friend had suggested we go for the big trifecta of friendship, the family play date, I was understandably nervous about risking our already-rare relationship. But after weighing the risk/reward, I decided to go for it. And after all, I told my husband, if there’s a lull in the conversation just tell him you like baseball.
*For simplicity’s sake, I’ve reduced the example to units of mom/dad/kid, but this theory applies to families of all shapes, no matter the gender or size. #loveislove