I want to break up with this playdate parent!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 30, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, How do you "break up" with a playdate parent? My 5-year-old son and I have had a few playdates with a classmate and his mom, and after two outings, I realize our differing parenting styles make the interactions too stressful - for me and for him. Her child doesn't have many limits and, for example, is allowed to run around restaurants at full speed during meals. My son ends up acting out because he watches his friend do things he isn't allowed to do. It inevitably ends with my son in tears and a tantrum-filled ride home.

I tried telling the mom we will need to limit the outings to playground trips where they can be as active as they want, and she insists we continue dinners and movies because you "shouldn't change your plans for kids and that they need to adjust."

I have tried to distance myself from the mom, but she's leaving messages in my son's cubby and asking his teacher to pass on her phone number. I know I can't avoid her forever, so how do I tell her I am not interested in continuing the playdates?

From: Jeannie, Boston

Oh Jeannie!

There is no easy answer to this. I'm afraid you really do just have to bite the bullet and offer something close to an honest answer. As you've already seen, making excuses doesn't work.

Certainly there are ways to be gentle, like putting it on yourself: "After our boys play, my son is so revved up that I can't cope with it. I'm sorry, but I just can't have any more playdates." If you aren't clear, she won't get what you are saying. And if you want to leave the door open to the future, tell her, "Maybe we can try again in a few months." If you want to try outside playdates, then just be firm with her. You can do that!

If your son asks why they aren't playing together anymore, be truthful with him, too: "You know, you and John don't play all that nicely. I think you have a better time playing with X and Y, don't you?" If he says he wants to play with John, tell him you can try again in a few months. 

I think every parent goes through this in one form or another, sooner or later. What are some of your experiences, readers, and what advice do you have?

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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23 comments so far...
  1. The LW wants the quiet-but-firm strategy. She should type up a brief note that states that no play dates will occur while the other mom is using the teacher or the child to carry messages. Then print a copy of this question and Barbara's excellent answer. Put them both in a sealed envelope and deliver it directly to the other mom at school.

    The other mom must under no circumstances co-opt the teacher or the son to carry messages. But as is absolutely clear, that mom has no clue of what limits are, and she is not going to be easy to teach. Ask the teacher for backup--they are already overloaded without having to play out-of-school social police.

    LW--It will be warm enough for outdoor playdates pretty soon--this is a good time to set a limit. Because then you can have a running-around playdate and see how your son feels.

    If your son is still upset, let him cry himself out, and then talk to him along the lines of "do you feel bad when other kids are crazy?"--" Do you feel better when you can sit with adults in a restaurant?"--"do you feel better when you do what feels polite?" I bet pretty soon the son will not be asking for playdates with that kid. No further explanation needed.

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 07:43 AM
  1. This woman is unable to set any limits on her child's behavior, and she also seems unable to set limits on her own. Hints don't work. And she doesn't see the inappropriateness of using proxies to get your attention. This may require a firmer approach. Tell her flat out that her son engages in behavior that you don't allow your son to engage in, such as running around restaurants. Make the restaurant owner or the other patrons the bad guys if you must but let her know that it is too stressful for your son to be exposed to the rambunctious behavior, when he can' t indulge himself. Your letter says that these dates are too stressful for you and your son. Make this about your son, not about you, and you will be above reproach.

    Posted by JBar March 30, 10 08:47 AM
  1. Irene - I find your method of handing this letter & response to the other mom extremely passive-agressive.

    Although it will certainly be uncomfortable, I think that the LW's best option is to have a chat with this mom, whether in person or on the phone, and simply explain that due to different parenting techniques, the playdates need to to either stop completely or be postponed for a while. Nothing negative needs to be said - different techniques does not mean that one is better or worse, they are just not compatible.

    This other mom may not be a big fan of LW afterwards, but it doesn't seem as if this will be a friendship lost.

    Good luck, LW!

    Posted by Lola March 30, 10 08:47 AM
  1. Most playdates for 5-year-olds don't take place in restaurants, and the fact that the other mom insists that "you shouldn't change your plans for kids" seems to indicate adult interaction is what she wants, moreso than a chance for your kids to play together.

    Why not just say "Thanks, but we're not available" when she asks you for a restaurant playdate, and counter with your own invitations to a park or pizza at your home or whatever you feel is more appropriate? That way, you're not being passive-agressive, and the ball is in her court. If you don't want to interact with her at all, be up front about it, even though it may feel awkward or difficult: Say that you appreciate the invitations, but the outings have just become too difficult for you and your child. Sure, she'll feel rejected, but there's really no avoiding that.

    Posted by Lylah March 30, 10 09:15 AM
  1. I agree with Lylah - head her off at the pass with plans for a picnic at the park, otherwise be unavailable and busy.

    Posted by RH March 30, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I think you should let the other mother know that playdates are not solely for adults but an opportunity for the children to also have fun. Then explain that your son does not like to be cooped up in a restaurants and enjoys to play outside. Tell her that they can meet in the park and play or nothing else. If she can reject your suggestion for outdoors then why can't you do the same with the restaurants. At the end of the day you are accountable for your child's behavior and your sanity not the other mother

    Posted by Caryle March 30, 10 09:31 AM
  1. I'm with Lylah. These are not playdates, these are grown-up get-togethers.

    So call her and tell her that the restaurant plans do not work for you. You say you "tried" telling her. Well, no, you told her. Say it again next time she asks, and tell her no. Just because she argued about it does not mean you have to suddenly change and say yes. Just keep saying no thanks, these outings do not work for you. Then, invite her child for a real playdate if you like. If she keeps giving you her "can't change plans for the kids" or whatever excuse she gives, just repeat your line that you are sorry, those outings don't work for you and your child. If she does not want to accept your real, outdoor playdate invite, oh well. That does not mean you need to accept her dinner-and-a-movie idea.

    Posted by jlen March 30, 10 09:34 AM
  1. Passive-aggresive? No--up front assertive. Dragging the teacher into it is WAY over the line.

    The LW's polite talking has already resulted in the Other Mom escalating her persistent childish behavior. Using intermediaries when you are too immature to take "no thanks" for an answer is offensive behavior. Using kids as intermediaries is a never-never-never in my book.

    In my experience such adults get the message when you do NOT spend hours explaining yourself, because they turn those longwinded statements into invitations. This Other Mom needs the clearly and briefly worded statement that "no thanks means no" before anybody is going to want to socialize with her.

    Lylah is right on the mark in terms of real agenda. I feel sorry for the kid whose parent is either confused or dishonest about their real interests. Like I said, I would get the kids to a real outdoor playdate to see how they feel about each other.

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 10:12 AM
  1. I think your response should ALWAYS be, "sorry, we have alternate plans"--the light will eventually dawn

    Posted by c March 30, 10 01:54 PM
  1. Lylah's answer is the best. LW should take her advice. .

    Posted by jd March 30, 10 01:55 PM
  1. I sympathize with the LW because I have been in a similar situation. In my case, I found that heading the other mom off at the pass by doing the inviting for what *I* felt was appropriate, coupled with being "not available" when she invited us to do something that I knew wasn't a great idea, helped to cool things off a bit.

    If what you really want to do is end the playdates altogether, you can either do the avoidance thing and be always "busy" or you'll have to tell her directly. The fact that she is using the teachers as an intermediary tells me you might have to directly tell this woman off, though. That's starting to be harassment.

    Posted by anita March 30, 10 02:01 PM
  1. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I respect your parenting choices but I feel differently about having playdates at a restaurant or movie. Let's plan something for outdoors." If this mother insists on having things her way, I'd say "No thanks. I'll wait until you are available for an outside playdate so the kids can run around in the fresh air".

    Posted by Be nice but firm. March 30, 10 02:02 PM
  1. I don't get it. You told her no dinners, no movies. What's the problem? She has to take "no" for an answer, she has no choice unless you give her one.

    Posted by geocool March 30, 10 02:27 PM
  1. Umm, just a defense of the "harassing" mom. Asking the teacher to pass on a (written) message or leaving it in a cubby is pretty normal in my world. If you don't pick up at the same time, and the law forbids the preschool from giving out phone numbers, how else are you going to contact the other kids' parents?
    Just let the mom know that you did get the message, so there's no need to keep leaving more messages, and then tell her that adult-oriented playdates don't work for you and your child.

    Posted by Lizzie March 30, 10 03:28 PM
  1. "You know, you and John don't play all that nicely. I think you have a better time playing with X and Y, don't you?"

    This is not good advice. You do not reason with a child this way. As a teacher, I can tell you that you will be setting up your son and his playmate for negative interactions. Your son most likely telling his former playmate that he can't play with him anymore (whether it be at home or on the playground at school) because he he doesn't play nice and excluding the former pal while playing with the other kids.

    Posted by miss-tified March 30, 10 03:46 PM
  1. Who the heck is LW? Lost woman, Loser woman...

    The lady's name is Jeannie.

    5 year old boy need to be worn out by daily outdoor or large area play on a daily basis, especially if they are hanging with another boy. They have so much pent up energy, it is almost like having a puppy that needs to run until they drop. Then and only then will they be well behaved in a restaurant/movie.

    This mother is clueless, lonely and looking for companionship. There are also many indoor options that are inexpensive, such as the several kids gyms in the Boston area where for under $10 the kids have a huge playroom to jump, play and exhaust themselves. the best thing I ever discovered for a rainy day home with my little guy (5)

    Posted by lacedog March 30, 10 04:04 PM
  1. LW is "letter writer"

    No we don't mean to be offensive with that generic term

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 09:44 PM
  1. Some parents are so selfish it's not even funny. I was at dinner the other night and 4 little kids were just running around everywhere... Parents don't give a crap. Just because you have a child does not give you the right to ruin other people's time at dinner.. I hate people like her

    Posted by Enough is enough March 31, 10 11:43 AM
  1. In real life, I'm very nonconfrontational and would be doing the same thing as the LW but that's only until it's obvious that it's not working.

    Then, when I realize how clueless she is, it would not be so difficult to say "I'm not interested in any more indoor playdates. Do you want to meet at the playground on Tuesday?"

    If she persists, I would just say, "I'm sorry, we can't. Let's not argue anymore."

    No, you don't involve the teacher for pete's sake. Don't they have enough to do without having to get involved in this kind of thing?

    Posted by Cosmogirl March 31, 10 12:44 PM
  1. I used to belong to a playgroup when my eldest was about 7 months old. Some of the moms thought that great playdate ideas included putting the kids in strollers and going shopping at the mall or going out to lunch at some not particularly kid friendly place. I always just said something to the effect of "Have fun, but it's just not for us." My son would have been bored and cranky, and given my dislike of shopping, I would have been too. Eventually, some of the like minded moms started splitting off from the group, leaving those of us who actually wanted our kids to play behind, and that was fine.

    Posted by bms March 31, 10 03:15 PM
  1. I agree with miss-tified. "You know, you and John don't play all that nicely. I think you have a better time playing with X and Y, don't you?" This is not something I would recommend saying to a 5 year old. It will most likely going to be repeated and you would never want this other child to feel bad.

    Posted by mo March 31, 10 03:36 PM
  1. We have had the similar problems -- with first cousins, so i've had to have "that conversation". I've now had a lot of practice and become the boundary queen. I definitely have compassion though. Differences in parenting styles can be the death to friendships. We've actually dedicated an entire site to these kinds of conflicts between parents -- www.mymommymanners.com -- check it out to share your sagas or your advice.

    Posted by Jodi March 31, 10 07:47 PM
  1. It's more important for the kid to have friends. Don't have him lose a friend for a situation that will likely change as they mature. It's not just a play date, but could be a childhood friendship. Picking and choosing friends this early can lead to even not having any. Friends are a treausure. Just don't agree to go to dinner and a movie, make it a house play date. At to her about it. If she cares about her sons socialization as much as you, she may consider what you have to say.

    Posted by Sara November 1, 12 01:56 AM
 
23 comments so far...
  1. The LW wants the quiet-but-firm strategy. She should type up a brief note that states that no play dates will occur while the other mom is using the teacher or the child to carry messages. Then print a copy of this question and Barbara's excellent answer. Put them both in a sealed envelope and deliver it directly to the other mom at school.

    The other mom must under no circumstances co-opt the teacher or the son to carry messages. But as is absolutely clear, that mom has no clue of what limits are, and she is not going to be easy to teach. Ask the teacher for backup--they are already overloaded without having to play out-of-school social police.

    LW--It will be warm enough for outdoor playdates pretty soon--this is a good time to set a limit. Because then you can have a running-around playdate and see how your son feels.

    If your son is still upset, let him cry himself out, and then talk to him along the lines of "do you feel bad when other kids are crazy?"--" Do you feel better when you can sit with adults in a restaurant?"--"do you feel better when you do what feels polite?" I bet pretty soon the son will not be asking for playdates with that kid. No further explanation needed.

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 07:43 AM
  1. This woman is unable to set any limits on her child's behavior, and she also seems unable to set limits on her own. Hints don't work. And she doesn't see the inappropriateness of using proxies to get your attention. This may require a firmer approach. Tell her flat out that her son engages in behavior that you don't allow your son to engage in, such as running around restaurants. Make the restaurant owner or the other patrons the bad guys if you must but let her know that it is too stressful for your son to be exposed to the rambunctious behavior, when he can' t indulge himself. Your letter says that these dates are too stressful for you and your son. Make this about your son, not about you, and you will be above reproach.

    Posted by JBar March 30, 10 08:47 AM
  1. Irene - I find your method of handing this letter & response to the other mom extremely passive-agressive.

    Although it will certainly be uncomfortable, I think that the LW's best option is to have a chat with this mom, whether in person or on the phone, and simply explain that due to different parenting techniques, the playdates need to to either stop completely or be postponed for a while. Nothing negative needs to be said - different techniques does not mean that one is better or worse, they are just not compatible.

    This other mom may not be a big fan of LW afterwards, but it doesn't seem as if this will be a friendship lost.

    Good luck, LW!

    Posted by Lola March 30, 10 08:47 AM
  1. Most playdates for 5-year-olds don't take place in restaurants, and the fact that the other mom insists that "you shouldn't change your plans for kids" seems to indicate adult interaction is what she wants, moreso than a chance for your kids to play together.

    Why not just say "Thanks, but we're not available" when she asks you for a restaurant playdate, and counter with your own invitations to a park or pizza at your home or whatever you feel is more appropriate? That way, you're not being passive-agressive, and the ball is in her court. If you don't want to interact with her at all, be up front about it, even though it may feel awkward or difficult: Say that you appreciate the invitations, but the outings have just become too difficult for you and your child. Sure, she'll feel rejected, but there's really no avoiding that.

    Posted by Lylah March 30, 10 09:15 AM
  1. I agree with Lylah - head her off at the pass with plans for a picnic at the park, otherwise be unavailable and busy.

    Posted by RH March 30, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I think you should let the other mother know that playdates are not solely for adults but an opportunity for the children to also have fun. Then explain that your son does not like to be cooped up in a restaurants and enjoys to play outside. Tell her that they can meet in the park and play or nothing else. If she can reject your suggestion for outdoors then why can't you do the same with the restaurants. At the end of the day you are accountable for your child's behavior and your sanity not the other mother

    Posted by Caryle March 30, 10 09:31 AM
  1. I'm with Lylah. These are not playdates, these are grown-up get-togethers.

    So call her and tell her that the restaurant plans do not work for you. You say you "tried" telling her. Well, no, you told her. Say it again next time she asks, and tell her no. Just because she argued about it does not mean you have to suddenly change and say yes. Just keep saying no thanks, these outings do not work for you. Then, invite her child for a real playdate if you like. If she keeps giving you her "can't change plans for the kids" or whatever excuse she gives, just repeat your line that you are sorry, those outings don't work for you and your child. If she does not want to accept your real, outdoor playdate invite, oh well. That does not mean you need to accept her dinner-and-a-movie idea.

    Posted by jlen March 30, 10 09:34 AM
  1. Passive-aggresive? No--up front assertive. Dragging the teacher into it is WAY over the line.

    The LW's polite talking has already resulted in the Other Mom escalating her persistent childish behavior. Using intermediaries when you are too immature to take "no thanks" for an answer is offensive behavior. Using kids as intermediaries is a never-never-never in my book.

    In my experience such adults get the message when you do NOT spend hours explaining yourself, because they turn those longwinded statements into invitations. This Other Mom needs the clearly and briefly worded statement that "no thanks means no" before anybody is going to want to socialize with her.

    Lylah is right on the mark in terms of real agenda. I feel sorry for the kid whose parent is either confused or dishonest about their real interests. Like I said, I would get the kids to a real outdoor playdate to see how they feel about each other.

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 10:12 AM
  1. I think your response should ALWAYS be, "sorry, we have alternate plans"--the light will eventually dawn

    Posted by c March 30, 10 01:54 PM
  1. Lylah's answer is the best. LW should take her advice. .

    Posted by jd March 30, 10 01:55 PM
  1. I sympathize with the LW because I have been in a similar situation. In my case, I found that heading the other mom off at the pass by doing the inviting for what *I* felt was appropriate, coupled with being "not available" when she invited us to do something that I knew wasn't a great idea, helped to cool things off a bit.

    If what you really want to do is end the playdates altogether, you can either do the avoidance thing and be always "busy" or you'll have to tell her directly. The fact that she is using the teachers as an intermediary tells me you might have to directly tell this woman off, though. That's starting to be harassment.

    Posted by anita March 30, 10 02:01 PM
  1. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I respect your parenting choices but I feel differently about having playdates at a restaurant or movie. Let's plan something for outdoors." If this mother insists on having things her way, I'd say "No thanks. I'll wait until you are available for an outside playdate so the kids can run around in the fresh air".

    Posted by Be nice but firm. March 30, 10 02:02 PM
  1. I don't get it. You told her no dinners, no movies. What's the problem? She has to take "no" for an answer, she has no choice unless you give her one.

    Posted by geocool March 30, 10 02:27 PM
  1. Umm, just a defense of the "harassing" mom. Asking the teacher to pass on a (written) message or leaving it in a cubby is pretty normal in my world. If you don't pick up at the same time, and the law forbids the preschool from giving out phone numbers, how else are you going to contact the other kids' parents?
    Just let the mom know that you did get the message, so there's no need to keep leaving more messages, and then tell her that adult-oriented playdates don't work for you and your child.

    Posted by Lizzie March 30, 10 03:28 PM
  1. "You know, you and John don't play all that nicely. I think you have a better time playing with X and Y, don't you?"

    This is not good advice. You do not reason with a child this way. As a teacher, I can tell you that you will be setting up your son and his playmate for negative interactions. Your son most likely telling his former playmate that he can't play with him anymore (whether it be at home or on the playground at school) because he he doesn't play nice and excluding the former pal while playing with the other kids.

    Posted by miss-tified March 30, 10 03:46 PM
  1. Who the heck is LW? Lost woman, Loser woman...

    The lady's name is Jeannie.

    5 year old boy need to be worn out by daily outdoor or large area play on a daily basis, especially if they are hanging with another boy. They have so much pent up energy, it is almost like having a puppy that needs to run until they drop. Then and only then will they be well behaved in a restaurant/movie.

    This mother is clueless, lonely and looking for companionship. There are also many indoor options that are inexpensive, such as the several kids gyms in the Boston area where for under $10 the kids have a huge playroom to jump, play and exhaust themselves. the best thing I ever discovered for a rainy day home with my little guy (5)

    Posted by lacedog March 30, 10 04:04 PM
  1. LW is "letter writer"

    No we don't mean to be offensive with that generic term

    Posted by Irene March 30, 10 09:44 PM
  1. Some parents are so selfish it's not even funny. I was at dinner the other night and 4 little kids were just running around everywhere... Parents don't give a crap. Just because you have a child does not give you the right to ruin other people's time at dinner.. I hate people like her

    Posted by Enough is enough March 31, 10 11:43 AM
  1. In real life, I'm very nonconfrontational and would be doing the same thing as the LW but that's only until it's obvious that it's not working.

    Then, when I realize how clueless she is, it would not be so difficult to say "I'm not interested in any more indoor playdates. Do you want to meet at the playground on Tuesday?"

    If she persists, I would just say, "I'm sorry, we can't. Let's not argue anymore."

    No, you don't involve the teacher for pete's sake. Don't they have enough to do without having to get involved in this kind of thing?

    Posted by Cosmogirl March 31, 10 12:44 PM
  1. I used to belong to a playgroup when my eldest was about 7 months old. Some of the moms thought that great playdate ideas included putting the kids in strollers and going shopping at the mall or going out to lunch at some not particularly kid friendly place. I always just said something to the effect of "Have fun, but it's just not for us." My son would have been bored and cranky, and given my dislike of shopping, I would have been too. Eventually, some of the like minded moms started splitting off from the group, leaving those of us who actually wanted our kids to play behind, and that was fine.

    Posted by bms March 31, 10 03:15 PM
  1. I agree with miss-tified. "You know, you and John don't play all that nicely. I think you have a better time playing with X and Y, don't you?" This is not something I would recommend saying to a 5 year old. It will most likely going to be repeated and you would never want this other child to feel bad.

    Posted by mo March 31, 10 03:36 PM
  1. We have had the similar problems -- with first cousins, so i've had to have "that conversation". I've now had a lot of practice and become the boundary queen. I definitely have compassion though. Differences in parenting styles can be the death to friendships. We've actually dedicated an entire site to these kinds of conflicts between parents -- www.mymommymanners.com -- check it out to share your sagas or your advice.

    Posted by Jodi March 31, 10 07:47 PM
  1. It's more important for the kid to have friends. Don't have him lose a friend for a situation that will likely change as they mature. It's not just a play date, but could be a childhood friendship. Picking and choosing friends this early can lead to even not having any. Friends are a treausure. Just don't agree to go to dinner and a movie, make it a house play date. At to her about it. If she cares about her sons socialization as much as you, she may consider what you have to say.

    Posted by Sara November 1, 12 01:56 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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