As summer approaches, do you plan to send your kids out the door every day for unsupervised exploration with friends? Many parents can’t, for a variety of reasons — they’re at work, their kids’ friends don’t live in the neighborhood, or even simple fear.
So some arrange play dates at the pool, at the zoo, in the backyard. It’s a hassle, and then the kids don’t even seem to appreciate it — bickering with each other and complaining they’re tired or hungry. Is it really worth it?
I used to wonder, until one comment from a mom friend convinced me that play dates are worth the effort. Years later, I’m so grateful she revealed her insight that I feel compelled to share it with you.
Several years ago, my friend’s daughter was a young teen struggling with some emotional issues that started out as some innocent-sounding phrases; at the time, my daughter was starting to utter the same types of comments. I asked my friend what she would do if she could go back and change something, and she immediately said she would have put forth more effort to coordinate play dates.
When my friend and I were kids, we walked to each other’s houses and spent hours together hanging out in the neighborhood. That rarely happens in many suburbs now, and kids have fewer opportunities to get together and figure out how to create their own fun, resolve conflict on their own, and bond with other children in a natural way. Play dates often afford those opportunities, but like everything else a mother does, they require effort — contacting other moms, scheduling, getting ready, planning for a visitor or driving to someone else’s house, trying to stay out of disagreements, etc. Sometimes the thought of it seems bothersome, and it’s easy to blow it off until “the time is right.” That time comes up too seldom in our hectic lives, and I was guilty of saying no to play dates because it just didn’t seem to fit in the schedule.
After that conversation about my friend’s teenager daughter, I took a different approach — the YES approach. I made play dates when they weren’t convenient. I had kids over when my house was a wreck. I agreed to gatherings with kids I thought might not be the best influence. I basically said yes to any and all play date opportunities and reached out much more myself to make them happen, taking on the burden of the planning and communicating.
At that time, my daughter was very shy. She would still consider herself shy now, but over the years she has come out of her shell a lot and made friends more easily. She formed several close friendships with girls she never even knew, only a short time after entering junior high. She is now part of a larger group of friends who plan their own outings regularly, and she seems to thoroughly enjoy spending time with them.
While being a teen girl is a rocky time, I think she is handling it well, perhaps better than if she did not have all those play dates that I said yes to. Though she doesn’t even remember many of them and though she is not even in touch with many of the kids she played with during those times, I think the experiences helped her become more comfortable in being part of a group and appreciate the joy of developing a trusting relationship with another person her age.
I still encourage her to invite her friends over any time even if the house is messy and she hasn’t finished all her chores, or meet up with friends, even in places that make me nervous — like several 13-year-old girls wandering an outdoor mall on their own. I don’t know how she will deal with the unpredictable emotions that may confront her in high school as she begins that journey in the fall, but I feel grateful that a mom friend shared with me a tidbit years ago that may make her adolescence a bit easier for her — and for me.
And that’s why I’m passing it along to you.
It’s part of my new plan for this blog — to write about a new pearl of motherly wisdom that I glean from someone else every day. It’s an idea that developed while hanging out with my kids this weekend.
Inspiration comes along when you least expect it.
I was watching “Julie and Julia” with my family this weekend, a movie I had heard of but never really knew what it was about. I loved the character of Julie, who decided to create a challenge for herself and then announce it to the world and reveal her daily progress on a blog.
More than a year ago, I started a blog to spread my vision for a TV show that will inspire working mothers, and my intention was to add to the blog regularly. I did for a while, but then the hectic pace and crowded commitments of life got in the way. I forgave myself, as all moms should do when we can’t accomplish everything we want and still be an active part of our kids day-to-day life.
But as I watched a character (based on a real-life person) focus so intently on her goal that she didn’t let anything distract her, I wondered: Could I create a blog post every day like she did? Even though Julie didn’t have kids, mine are now teens. That has given me a little more time in life than I had when they were young. I think I could do it if I had the right motivation. I need a challenge like she had.
Julie’s challenge was to make every recipe in a famous Julia Child cookbook in one year and write about it each day. I decided my challenge is to find one pearl of wisdom from another mom and write about it every day.
I interact with other mothers all the time. When I see them succeed in areas where I feel like I don’t stack up, I now try to learn their secrets and strategies rather than feel guilt that I’m failing in comparison. Sometimes their approach is sacrificing something I don’t want to sacrifice. Many times they are dealing with an issue in a way I never thought of, or confronting a problem I have yet to tackle because their kids are older. I relish those opportunities to learn vicariously through their perceived mistakes.
I truly believe I can help others by sharing those lessons.
If we see other mothers as our allies and our teachers, rather than our competition, we can enjoy our motherhood journey so much more thoroughly and probably help our kids along the way!