Play dates are fine and all, but they're not an exact science. As a matter of fact, they're not scientific at all and therefore are bound to fail. There are no controls, no opportunities to inject a placebo and no absolute result that can be assessed for its future value to humanity.
In an ideal world, your child would choose the nicest, most polite, smartest and best-behaved kid to be her new best friend. Wouldn't that be just dandy? The said child would come over, listen to your rules, play quietly and leave with nary a stray toy to be seen. Your child would be thrilled at the fact that she just had the most amazing time with the most incredible playmate, and all would be well with the world.
Well, you've probably figured out that this utopian parenting fantasy is just that -- an unrealistic dream of a scenario that has likely never occurred in the history of human kind.
Fast forward to reality.
Your child demands a play date with her new "best friend." You have observed said "best friend" at the schoolyard, playground, park or another child's home and, frankly, you're far from impressed. This child is obnoxious at best, violent at worst and just plain irritating in between. You don't like this kid. Your kid does. What's a parent to do?
As we navigate the ever-growing world of sleepovers, play dates and other expected activities of the younger set, we come to the slow realization that we will have to deal with personalities that we just don't like. Wasn't that supposed to only be the domain of adults; the delicate social dance that involves avoiding those who we don't like without hurting their feelings? We've been sold a bill of goods, because the play date mandate is now part and parcel of every child's social activity schedule, thereby making parents a party to this conundrum.
In the "real world," we don't socialize with those who we don't like, let alone invite them into our homes. But in the world of the child, all "rules" go out the window and we are forced to come to terms with the fact that there is not only a stranger in our midst, but one that is under five feet tall with a questionable temperament. Hitting is optional. Yes, we often grin and bear the shenanigans of our children's friends just so that we can save face in front of other parents. The playground and PTA crowd are, after all, a discerning and highly critical bunch in too many instances. We don't want to get on their bad side. Fear of not being liked and, even worse, our children not being liked is our motivator. Fitting in with the parenting crowd is our goal and we'll do whatever it takes to get there, even if it is to our detriment. In this case, it means entertaining the less-liked playmates of our kids.
There is irony in the fact that in our efforts to be liked, we as adults are replicating an age-old schoolyard occurrence. We like to believe that when we reach a certain age, we no longer care what others think, but the fact of the matter is that we do. As a result, we do whatever it takes to make those who we perceive to be the "important" folks like us -- even if it's to our detriment.
The "important" folks are the parents of the questionable kids, and we all lose in the process. We're stuck with a situation that is less than ideal, and through our actions we have probably perpetuated a friendship that may well have died a natural death after a short-lived life that started on the playground. Now that the said child has set foot in our home, well, that's another story. Trying to undo what has already been done and un-forge the bonds that may have been fortified by the child in question and our own charge is pretty much impossible. So we grin and bear it, curse under our breath and hope against hope that our child doesn't ask for yet another play date with the little darling any time soon.
Parents, don't let your kids grow up to be wimps. Teach them by example and to be honest if you have to, for the sake of your sanity. It's okay to voice your opinion about your child's new friend (where and when it's appropriate, of course). In doing so, you just might be surprised. Perhaps your little one is a chip off the old block after all, and was fearful of not being liked.
Irony of ironies.