Every parent has been there: You meet a fellow mom or dad at the playground. You see them again at the community pool or music class and make polite conversation while your kids play. And then it happens: You’re asked on a playdate. Except you’d rather not. Maybe the children don’t play well together or you don’t gel with the other parent. Or perhaps your family already has too much on the go. Whatever the reason, you just want to say no – But how do you beg off without being rude or hurting anyone’s feelings?
Alison Toll*, a mom of two in Toronto, has faced this dilemma. “The mother is very nice and down to earth, but the child has bad manners,” she says of her son’s daycare buddy. “The other child uses inappropriate language and now my son is picking up his bad habits.” Though the idea of a playdate has come up only once, Toll has been cautious about running into the other mom at school and at the park to avoid future invitations.
“The reality of parenting is that we are all very busy,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of several parenting books, including The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill)—which means you can finally be grateful for not having enough hours in the day. “When asked, cite your latest schedule of events, and push off the idea of a playdate into the future,” says Pantley. “Very likely, the kids will move on to other playmates and you’ll never have to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Louise Fox, owner of Etiquette Ladies in Toronto, agrees. “If your gut feeling is you shouldn’t or don’t want to arrange a playdate with this person, then smile and say, ‘I appreciate you thinking of us, but our routine is a little complicated right now.’ Don’t feel you have to explain yourself any more than that.”
Adds Fox, “The way you say no varies with what you’re being asked, who’s asking it and how, but you should never feel pressured to do something you don’t really want to do.”
But what if the parent is persistent? Nicole Santos* a mom in Coquitlam, B.C., has been friends with a woman whose daughter is around the same age as her own. The two got together often when their girls were little, but since her daughter turned three, Santos has been feeling less enthusiastic about agreeing to more playdates. “My friend’s daughter likes to roughhouse, and my daughter often ends up in tears,” says Santos, adding that the other mother doesn’t seem to think it is a big deal. “I just don’t want to put my daughter through another miserable playdate, but I also don’t want to tell my friend the reason why I keep saying no. No matter how I address it, it is her child.”
Pantley says that the key to talking with a friend about their child is preparation. “In your mind, switch roles and imagine what you could hear and accept about your own child. There is no point in spelling out every detail, as this will likely end in hard feelings. Focus on the most important and relevant details only.” Pantley recommends steering a playdate in a specific direction by saying something like, “Our girls seem to do best when they are doing arts and crafts. I set out some materials for today.” Or perhaps suggest an outing at a neighbourhood fair or library event where the kids have other options to keep them entertained while they are together.
If all else fails, you could always try to put off a playdate for a while. “Children change and after a few months break they may reconnect in a healthier, happier way,” says Pantley.
Judy Arnall, the Calgary-based author of Discipline Without Distress (Professional Parenting), agrees. Just because a child is overly boisterous, doesn’t like to share or has bad manners, doesn’t mean this will always be the case. For the sake of preserving a friendship, she suggests proposing an alternative to the playdate, such as seeing the mom at night when you could leave the kids at home with partners or a sitter. “You could also say, ‘We are not doing playdates until our daughter is older, but I really want to see you. Are you up for a movie night?’ Clear, direct communication is much more respectful than evasive techniques and hoping the other mom takes the hint,” says Arnall.
In the end, remember that opting out can sometimes be the best thing—for yourself and for your child. So go ahead and say no, just do it graciously.
*Names have been changed