Prisoner of the Playdate: Let’s Help This Mom!

Hi Readers — Here’s today’s yelp for help from the frontiers of modern parenting. Got any great ideas? Share ’em!  Meantime, as to her plea, “How can I find other Free-Range parents in the neighborhood?” I really do hope to be revamping this site soon, with a feature to help like-minded folks connect where they live. Give me another week or two. Hopefully it’ll be worth waiting for! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: We moved to a different state recently.  We never lived in a “subdivision” before.  I thought that having all the kids around would be good for my 6-year-old daughter, who is super-outgoing and social (unlike me).

Where we lived before, the kids were free to play outside and visit each other’s houses (given instructions as to when to be home, and regularly checked up on).  However, here I was surprised to find that the other kids are rarely let out unsupervised.  So I have become a prisoner to “the playdate,” which I find absurdly ridiculous.  Some parents want to stay when their kids are over.  That’s too much pressure for me…maybe I don’t want company? I’m happy to have her friends over anytime, but I don’t want to have to entertain their parents.  I feel so bad for my daughter, who can’t seem to understand why she can’t just go over to people’s houses anymore, or have her friends over spontaneously.  Any suggestions on how to find other like-minded parents in the neighborhood? Or how to change the ones here? Thank you!

109 Responses

  1. Wait a minute… I don’t recall writing this, but it’s a lot like my own current situation.😉

    We moved recently from a neighborhood where my kids had a lot of friends they could play with, to a new one where my oldest is still struggling to find classmates who are regularly available even for a playdate. I haven’t been able to find out even where most her school friends live yet. It’s frustrating because she is so social.

    A lot of what it takes is time. There can be comfort issues for other families if they aren’t used to letting their kids go to friend’s houses. Work with it. Try to get the other parents comfortable with your daughter going to their houses without you staying there, and then invite their kids for the same.

    One thing that worked by accident for us was the day my daughter threw a toy airplane and it flew over the fence. I knew the neighbors just enough to be sure that it would be okay for her to go over there without me. So she knocked on their door, asked if they could help her find her plane, and she came back home with an invitation to play there the next day. They were cleaning house, so she couldn’t stay on the day they looked for the plane.

    Also encourage her to play in the front yard. My kids are doing that regularly now, and I hope they’ll soon get involved with other kids just naturally that way.

  2. It can be a process of letting go for some hovering parents, but I think all parents should embrace drop-off playdates and birthday parties! If it’s a matter of gaining trust in a neighbourhood full of micro-managing moms and dads, might I suggest getting all the grown-up hosting out of the way with one winter afternoon open-house? Maybe this would be sufficient evidence for the parents of your daughter’s friends that you are trustworthy. Otherwise, I would suggest some carefully chosen words, such as, “After you’ve settled her in, why don’t you take the opportunity to do your errands. I’ll watch them while I fold the laundry [or insert other domestic duty, fictional or not] and you can pick her up around 5:00.”

  3. At 6 some protective parents may not be comfortable turning their kids loose. Kids around here didn’t start roving on their own around until 3rd grade.

    Some suggestions: get the other’s mom’s contact info. Call her up one afternoon and ask if Sally Sue can come down to play by herself. If the other parent starts to invite herself along, say that you’ll step outside and watch for her down the sidewalk (assuming the kid is on your block). Offer to call the mom before sending the kid home, or even walking the child back.

    If that doesn’t work, suggest a play date exchange. Tell the other mom how the girls could play at your house this time and give the other mom some time off to do grown up stuff or shopping. Then next time, neighbor mom could take a turn. Hopefully the mom will get hooked on having some me time and will want to do this more in the future.

  4. I feel for this woman. My solution was to offer to pick up the child at his or her house. This way the parents didn’t have a chance to stick around.

    The open house idea is a great one. My pastor always encourages us to do that anytime we move into a new place. I found it helped break the ice with my neighbors and by letting them see the house and where I lived means that we have had not any problems with parents trusting us with their children.

  5. My 6-year-old (soon to be 7) son is EXTREMELY gregarious (unlike his introvert parents). We recently moved to a new neighborhood with lots of kids (one of the main reasons we moved), and he constantly roaming the neighborhood in search of playmates. He’s made a number of new friends that way.

    I’m working hard to not worry about him being out by himself, but he’s usually with other boys who are a little older (3rd grade vs. 1st grade), and they watch out for him. I remember having the same freedoms as a kid (though I roamed the woods near our house as much as I did the neighborhood itself).

  6. I wonder how this would go over: during the next play date, talk to the other mom about how nice it would be if the girls could do their own little old-fashioned tea party all on their own – except for the homeowner not too far away (e.g., in the laundry room) in case of trouble. Maybe this would work best if done outside in plain view the first time or two. If the other mom has reservations, ask questions and engage her in a positive conversation that leads her to ease up on some of her worries. Wouldn’t push too hard, though – one step at a time.

    Does your little one have a cousin or a friend from the old neighborhood who could come over and play outside with her – where all the neighbors would see that (gasp) nothing terrible happens to kids playing outdoors?

  7. Thank you all for your replies. This was my post – and I’m so excited that it was chosen to be shared! Finding this site was a blessing as I was beginning to think I was crazy. I have thought of many of these suggestions – I think the biggest problem is ME. I hate making the first move in social situations. We’ve thought about having the open house, but we haven’t worked up the courage to do it yet🙂. We do call and have “playdates” with friends from my daughter’s class, sometimes their home sometimes ours. There is only one mom so far who feels like she has to stay (in fact requested it over the phone – wanted to stay the whole time). We had my daughter’s birthday party at our house – all the moms stayed which was fine but a little unexpected (I felt like I should have been prepared for that). But, I was hoping that now that we’ve gotten to know a few of the parents, they would reciprocate by calling us once in awhile. I know the kids want to play together, but since the parents don’t call it makes me wonder if they don’t like us….I think it’s just my insecurities, and I know it will take some time. But, aside from that, I just have a problem with all the formalities in the first place. I HATE the word “playdate.” It makes my skin crawl. We all live within a few blocks of each other. Can’t my daughter just ride her bike over there and see if they can play? It seems perfectly fine to me, but I get the feeling that’s not the way it works around here.

  8. That being the case, Kim, I’d be very tempted to just do what you want. Put your daughter on her bike and have her ride over to see if “Jane” can play. You can even have her call first to ask permission to come over and play. You’re comfortable with your daughter riding the bike in the neighborhood and maybe your example will help some of the other parents let go of a few of their fears, or at the very least allow the kids to make spontaneous plans.

  9. BTW, Leonore, I just saw the tiny smiley in the border. It make me smile back!

  10. My approach is a little more radical. Let the kids and mothers come over. Be busy. Clean up while she’s hanging around. If they don’t get the hint that you are not into entertaining them, then you may have to lay out your philosophy to them. Hopefully this will go over well and you can start a new trend in your neighborhood. Maybe the other mothers will feel the pressure is off of them if one mother starts this radical idea of letting the kids play without having to micromanage them.
    Then there’s the downside of becoming the subject of the other mothers’ gossip.
    Good luck to you!

  11. Around here, I find a lot of families are very busy with homework and activities. If the culture in your neighborhood is not to send children out unsupervised, I don’t think I’d immediately challenge that. What you can do, though, is invite your daughter’s friends over to play but phrase it as if you’re asking a favor. Say something like, “I have a lot of work to do at home today, and Susie would love to have Laura come over and help her keep busy. I’ll be [in my home office/ doing housework/ whatever] while they play.” That way it’s clear that *you* aren’t available for a social engagement, but you’d really like to have the child come visit.

    Also, some 6-year-olds just aren’t comfortable going to a new person’s house without a parent–one of my daughter’s best friends was very shy at that age and really needed her mother nearby. (She outgrew it within a year or two!) And some parents, IMO understandably, like to personally visit a home where their child will be spending time. This may be a situation where putting the time in to build some adult relationships–even if you’re not 100% comfortable doing that–will pay off in the long run.

  12. How ridiculous! My kids haven’t had playdates since they were toddlers. I’m so glad it’s not like this where I live. My suggestion is to put things in terms that these subdivision moms would understand. Tell them that you are very busy and ask if they would be willing to exchange childcare with you.

  13. Get a copy of Lenore’s book to all the other parents in the neighborhood. Better yet, bring in Lenore to speak to them.

    Aren’t I generous, Lenore?

  14. We found what has to be the only other free-range kid in the neighborhood the other day. Our son was playing out front and, well, kids attract kids! Unfortunately, he’s a couple of years older. The other boy on our block who is our son’s age is not, apparently, allowed to go over to anybody’s house EVER, as his mom finally told me after about the fifth time I invited him.

  15. I do like to meet parents before sending my daughter over to play, and am happy for them to do the same – but after that, I also prefer it if the kids can make arrangements amongst themselves. Often, when my daughter has a new friend that she want’s to spend time with, we’ll invite the family over for a casual dinner, like barbecue or make-your-own pizzas. That way, everyone gets a chance to meet and reassure themselves that the other adults seem like reasonable and safe individuals. Then, my daughter can phone and make play arrangements with her friends.

    This mostly works – but this era of tightly scheduled children makes it difficult to find space for play time (as opposed to playdates) in between the sports and the music and the scouts and the tutoring etc!

    It’s even worse in England, in my experience – we sometimes had to schedule playdates for our 6 year old weeks in advance! (Yeah I know – if only MY social schedule was so busy!)

  16. Margo, funny you should mention make your own pizzas….I was just pondering inviting one of my daughter’s friends seemingly more open-minded parents over for dinner and doing just that! I was hoping to chat about their opinions on the subject, and on the culture in this neighborhood in general since she’s been here longer. Sometimes I wonder if there aren’t a bunch of us hiding out there but no one wants to say anything for fear of being the “bad” parent!

  17. Do the parents want to stay every time, or just the first time? Until my kids were about 5, I would stay with them the first time at a playdate at a new person’s house (unless I knew the person really well). After that I dropped them off. Now that they’re 6 and 7 I don’t stay at all, though.

    My kids often go out in the neighborhood knocking on doors looking for someone to play with. Some of the parents don’t let their kids come back to our house without scheduling in advance, but they’re ok with my kids playing there. The bigger problem seems to be that many people are so scheduled up that it’s hard to find people home for a spontaneous playdate.

  18. I’m wondering if there’s an urban/suburban distinction in whether people let their kids out to play. In our urban area, most of the kids are allowed out in the neighborhood and in and out of each other’s houses. Is this usual in urban areas, or are we just lucky?

  19. About 6 months ago a new family moved into our neighborhood. The kids just started biking around and inviting themselves over to play at other kids’ houses. This caused a bit of a scandal at first among some parents. But over time everyone got used to it and now more and more families are letter their children do the same.

    Be a trend setter and just have a thick skin to the questioning that occurs. Let your child roam and play outside and it will become the new normal.

  20. Amy, do you live on my street? LOL. We moved in about 7 months ago. Whenever my daughter saw another kid she would want to run over and play with them. My husband and I tried to at least introduce ourselves first and then we let her go ahead. Most of them seem o.k. with her coming over but they rarely let their kids do the same. I’m sure we are the talk of the neighborhood. Oh, well!

  21. I suggest bringing these parents over to the way of “Free Range Kids.” These parents now a days are spineless of the smallest little negative danger even if its nothing to worry about.

  22. I say just start doing it. Just start sending your kids unaccompanied over to people’s houses. You may find out that the others are relieved. And maybe your action will set free some other imprisoned souls who think that’s just how it rolls.

    We had that problem with a few birthday parties that we held. We invited the kids and the parents showed up and wanted to stay. We had to shoo them away. Literally stand with them and state very clearly, “Okay, thanks for bringing them by, you can come back at 4:00.” We had planned to entertain a few kids. We had no intentions (or provisions) for entertaining a bunch of adults. They got the message. And we had the party. It felt rude in the moment but then we were really glad we had done it.

    Just state it. Start it. And see what happens. Or just plan playdates with kids of friends of yours. That way everyone can hang out with someone they want to hang out with.

  23. My third grader wanted an at-home birthday party, and we were enthusiastic about saving money compared to other years when we rented a room at a “party place”, so we prayed for sunshine (we have a tiny house) and planned activities for her and the 9 girls she invited. We ended up having wonderful weather, and it turned out great for all the kids, but…

    Almost all the moms stayed! Really! Kind of insulting, if you ask me. Can someone tell me at what age I can reasonably expect to not have to simultaneously entertain 9 girls AND THEIR MOMS at my daughter’s birthday party?

  24. Diversity – That’s nothing. I had whole families show up for birthday parties. I started putting on the invites that the invite was for 1. Parents were so offended that I wasn’t allowing siblings to come. Their feelings would be hurt by being excluded. Really? I had 6 siblings and I never wanted to attend THEIR friends birthday parties. There was grumbling the 1st year but now they all know it’s the norm with us and go along with it.

  25. I would love to drop my four year old off at a friend’s place, but I would feel like I was placing a burden on the parent to babysit the child. At this age they still tend to need (I suppose depending how you define “need”) adult intervention: Fighting, meltdowns, potty trips, etc. I would only do it if I were reciprocating — and frankly that’s a lot of work. For me it’s not an issue because I happen to like the grown-up company — playdates are often as much for me as for her! But at what age do those of you with slightly older kids feel that leaving your kid without you isn’t a pain in the neck for the other parent?

  26. @Mae Mae,

    Around here most 4-year-old parties are for siblings too; if they’re not invited I understand, but we really value our limited weekend family time, and prefer to all be together at the party if it’s not a burden on the hosts, rather than split the family up for a few hours. (Likewise, when we host we like having the parents there because it’s more fun for us.)

  27. No, these were parties for 8-10 year olds.

  28. Laura, I tend to agree with you. It really does depend on the age of the child for me. I have an almost 7 year old who I would gladly leave at a friend’s house without me, provided I knew the parent. Being summer here in Australia, another worry is swimming pools. Whilst my son can swim, there is always the worry of boys being boys and doing something silly. I always watch kids when they are in our pool, but it would worry me having him swim unsupervised at someone elses house.

    My middle son is 5, very independant, and again, provided I knew the parent, I would have no problem leaving him at a friends house.

    My daughter however is almost 3 and not quite toilet trained. Not appropriate to have her at a friends house without me, unless she was being babysat by a willing person!

    As for a suggestion to the original post, I say just do what makes you feel comfortable. It will take time to get to know the other parents, and it will take time for them to get to know you, and therefore feel comfortable with entrusting their children with you.

  29. I also often feel burdened by having the mom over with the kid because then I have to entertain. When only the child comes, I get so much free time to take care of things around the house! My child is 5, not quite ready to roam the neighborhood. Right now, I simply ask the parent if they want to bring their child over for a playdate (I am okay with the word). When we first met a neighbor and her child, we had them both so we could get to know each other better. But now we drop off when the other family is available. I guess what I am trying to say is, it will take moms getting to know you AND suggesting it.

  30. @Laura – I think it really depends on your kid, the other kid, and the dynamics between the two kids. When my son was 4-5 he had a best, best friend that he was in love with – and they would raise cain together. I would never leave my son alone at his friend’s house unless his mom specifically indicated that he could come alone. I knew from experience at my own home that it was a day out of your life and you ended up exhausted when they were together. With other kids I felt totally comfortable dropping off at age 4. I think the trick is to make sure it is limited to 2 hours at that age to keep the fights, meltdowns to a minimum.

    @Diversity – I don’t have problems with people staying with their kids at the party, although every parent at a party for a 9yo seems extreme. There may be good reasons for parents staying that I’m not aware of – behavior issues, fear of being in a new house. One of us often stays at parties with the aforementioned wild son unless it’s a party for someone who knows us well and knows what they are getting into when they invite our son.

    That said, by about age 5 I don’t make any provision for entertaining family members who tag along beyond offering them a piece of cake. I make clear that it’s a kid party by the invitations, and put a clear drop off and pick up time on them. When they arrive at the door, I tell them they are welcome to drop off or welcome to stay. Often parents who don’t know us well stay for a little while and then take off. I totally understand this as well. I don’t think it’s helicoptering to want to get a sense of the home you are leaving your kids at.

    Finally, if you live in a spread out area parents may be staying because it’s just not worth their while to drop off, go somewhere else and come back two hours later. I have a friend who lives in a more suburban area than I do, and she complains about having her day shot with birthday parties – it takes a bite out of your day, but not long enough to go and get something done if you have to drive a ways to get there.

  31. I have the exact same problem. Really looking forward to the revamping of the website, Lenore!

    There are several kids my soon-to-be 8-year-old daughter knows from school or because I am friends with the parents whose parents are totally comfortable with dropping them off (or having me pick them up from after-school care) and even with me letting them play outside in my neighborhood while I do chores. Unfortunately, none of them live nearby.

    I would really like for my daughter to be able to walk over to a friend’s house and invite them out to play or have a kid knock on our door every once in a while, but the only family we know in our subdivision with daughters her age have told me, after my repeated invitations, that they did not believe this to be safe or necessary.

    How can I meet more parents in my own neighborhood? I do know my immediate neighbors really well, but none happen to have kids very close in age. My daughter has been walking to the bus stop by herself since kindergarten. I guess I could be walking her out, but won’t the only parents I meet there be the kind of overprotective parents who will never let their kids out on their own?

    When she was younger I used to meet other parents when I took her to the playground. I became good friends with one couple who I imagine would be totally ok with the kids arranging their own playdates now that they are older, but they moved away.

    We live in a really nice subdivision surrounded by woods, with great playground, tennis and basketball courts, etc. Toddlers with their parents and teenagers are sometimes seen outside, but I seldom see anyone between the ages of 5 and 12 taking advantage of all this bounty. It’s a damn shame.

  32. Some of you guys definitely warm my heart – you are generally so happy and optimistic!! Several of you don’t appear to have encountered the dark side of what happens when you either literally or figuratively drop the F-bomb, as in, the FFFREE RANGE bomb!! Moving into a rigidly-structured suburban neighborhood is like entering the social equivalent of a Cambodian mine field! “Just send your kid out there and maybe the other mothers will get the idea!” “Just do it!” Wonderfully efficient suggestions and that would be my recommended plan of action in a perfect world, but it might also result in the new family getting off on the wrong community foot (if it were that simple, we wouldn’t be having these posts). My daughter and I have been snubbed and “dropped” so many times and in so many different styles that I urge a gentle caution to the whole integrative effort. It is unfair that we F-bombers sometimes have to compensate for the imaginitive shortcomings of The Herd, but somebody’s got to do it (I say, with great humor🙂 ). Seriously, my suggestion for the poster is to first get to know thy enemy, I mean, neighbors. Don’t stereotype (I know what a temptation it is) – find out what truly makes them tick as people before making direct suggestions that might run contrary to their modi operandi. Rarely does it hurt to make a small investment in getting to know your neighbors, and I mean as people, not just in their severely limited functional role AS neighbors. Lots of people oppose free range, but they don’t all have the same reasons, and it’s good to be able to discriminate among them. If you rush in too quickly with “let’s just have them play together” type perspectives, you might get F-branded prematurely. And recovery from that blacklist would take a lot more effort than the front-end effort involved in properly scoping out that sweet suburban landscape. 🙂

  33. Someone above asked at what age we feel kids can go to someone else’s house without us. I recall my sister at age 4 going to her best friend’s house alone all the time, with instructions to be home at x o’clock (which was sometimes after dark during cooler months). She had consequences if she didn’t show up at the curfew, so she was motivated to stay out of mischief. She was fully capable of behaving herself at home or away.

    My kids just turned 3. They don’t have any friends close enough for them to visit without crossing the street, so I haven’t permitted this yet. But I would have no worries about their needing my personal attention while visiting with a friend. They can speak and understand English well enough to observe rules and get their basic needs met.

  34. Yikes, this is scaring me. I wouldn’t mind a mom (or dad, whoever) coming the first time the kids played. I can totally understand that. But every time? No frickin way. I will not be entertaining the neighborhood moms each time, unless there’s some unlikely chance that we’d hit it off and become friends. (I doubt that here…it’s a very conservative place and our family is the opposite.) I guess I’ll be blacklisted, then. oh well.

  35. We are selves are experienceing this problem. After 4 years of living in another wonderful state( where our kids first started school, 1st started parties, ect) moving back to NJ was a shock and a half. Our son was inviyed to a party in Sept and we dropped him off and left. When we went to pick him up the parents were upset that we left, our son was upset that we were the only parents that did not stay. Since that party he has not been invited to any I presume becuase of our faux pas. In fact we even have to stay for his Tiger meetings b/c the leader does not want to be held responsible. Our 9 yr never has friends over or goes to other friends houses becuase no one is home till 6pm after school and then after school care. She hates it. Compared to where we use to live when kids lived at our house literally for days even during the school week. I never even thought of myself as free range I just raised my kids like the rest of the moms I encountered in Maine. Now living in NJ I see how free range I am.

  36. Janice, if you are referring to Tiger Cub Scouts, it is BSA policy that Tigers MUST have a parent stay. Starting with Wolf Cubs you officially can drop off, but acceptance of it will vary with the Den/Pack.

    I have two boys, and frankly, the thought of keeping a half-dozen 6yos engaged, occupied and fully functional for a 60-90min meeting is not something i would wish on any den leader!

  37. Maybe the parents feel that leaving their child alone there with you would be too much of a burden on you, like they’re taking advantage of you for free babysitting. I would think that most parents would be relieved to have some time off, if only they believed that you were actually okay with their leaving their child there with you. Try pushing them a little harder on the subject, like you might push someone who always insists on picking up the check at a restaurant.

  38. I usually suffer through one playdate where I have to make horrible small talk with the parent the whole time. I respect that parents want to know what kind of home they are sending their kid into. I would feel the same way. BUT after that initial introduction I am very clear about the invitations thereafter. I say, “Can X come over a play until X time. You can drop him off (or we’ll walk down and get him) and we’ll bring him home at X time.” If they make any noises like the parent wants to come too, I stand politely firm and say, “You can pick him up at X time.” Most reasonable people understand this and are actually grateful to have some free time. It is a good way to teach by example.

  39. Wow. This sounds sooo weird. My kids don’t get invited to playdates. Normally it’s the parents who ask to “borrow” one of my kids so they can get some work done at home without their own children bugging them.
    We have had a couple of sleepovers, too. Homesickness hasn’t been an issue so far, and I’m talking about the 5yo range here. Birthday parties start around age 3, and not one parent wants to stay. We chat around a bit, out of politeness, but we don’t even take our coats off. I’ve only seen one small boy wanting his parents to stay during the party (the eldest of two, ages 3 and 1), but it was his first social engagement and all the adults went “aawww, look how cute!”. So he felt embarrased about it, plucked his courage and kissed his parents goodbye. Just in case, his mother left her watch with him, telling him at what time they would be back. It worked.
    So I don’t have the faintest idea about what should Kim do. Sorry.

  40. As a den leader who did Tigers last year and Wolves this year it is true – BSA policy does require a parent to accompany Tigers. I have threatened to make all the Wolf parents stay if their kids don’t start behaving though…

    We have a number of barriers to casual kid get togethers:
    -We live on an insanely busy street. Our block is ok, but getting off our block requires crossing a very busy street no matter which way you go. We have witnessed 4 car accidents in front of our house since we moved in – people are nuts.
    -We are as far away from the elementary school as it is possible to get and still be in the district. Thus most of my kids’ friends are a 10 minute drive across town, minimum, and about a 20 minute or more walk.
    -We are in the minority when it comes to after school activities. We have none, other than cub scouts, which is a couple times a month. My kids’ friends all have dancing, hockey, soccer, Hebrew school, language classes, piano, etc. etc. There is literally not more than 3 days a month when some of these kids are free the same days as my kids. Everyone seems to be free on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, we are also in the minority in that we go to church/religious ed then.

    So what do you do? I do send the kids out, but you can go weeks without seeing another kid on our block. They have some friends a couple of blocks over, but they are never home. Occasionally one of them comes over and just knocks on the door, but that is rare. And a lot of the other moms won’t just send their kid over without an engraved invitation. I’ve been battling this for 9 years now, and I really don’t see any end to the situation.

  41. And I have to add – after dealing with 18 second grade boys at a den meeting, I am suprised more grade school teachers do not get taken away in straightjackets. Those people do NOT get paid nearly enough…

  42. I dropped my daughter off at Daisys when she was 5 and 6 without any problems, so I don’t see why Cub Scouts couldn’t do the same.

    I would get to know the neighbors. It could be there are some who WISH they could be free range but are bowing to peer pressure. You could say, “You know, I miss the times like when I was a kid where you could just go out and play with the neighborhood kids without setting up playdates.” See where the conversation goes. I bet not all the parents are happy with how things are. Good luck!

  43. Oh, also, my daughter has a list of phone numbers of other kids in the neighborhood she can call to see if they can play. Sometimes parents feel better about getting a phone call than a knock on the door.

  44. @N: Boys and girls are VERY different! My mother regularly dropped me off at Brownies when I was in 1st grade, but I recall our Brownies meetings being pretty tame. On the other hand, when my son was a Tiger last year, our Den leader needed every hand he could get. Most boys that age don’t sit still well and without parental discipline (usually just “the look”) the meetings would have been a madhouse!

  45. I have to say…just do it. Pretend like it’s 1955 and think what/where/when would your children play? Adjust a little for today’s “norms” your comfort level and traffic and such and there you go.

    Free-range is not about controlling your childrens play time (even though we may STRONGLY wish they find the perfect free-range playmates), it’s about letting them have their own experiences. Have you read “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats? The little boy in the story wakes up and walks around his neighborhood in/after a snowstorm and encounters snow (duh🙂 ), mitten/coat issues, snowball fights… You get the picture: He just IS.

    Honestly, it is a bit lonely being free-range and I wish there was more of it. But essentially, once common-sense safety and nurturing issues are addressed (and we free-rangers know what that means), our children’s personal lives are just that–their own.

    In other words, let them outside and see what happens–or rather let THEM see what happens!. After all, if you lived on a farm, for example, there wouldn’t be any neighborhood kids to play with–just animals, chores, barns with haylofts… Cool!

  46. I think it’s ridiculous that daisies and tigers have different rules – after all preschool and kindergarten rules are the same for both. If boys can go to preschool without their parents, why can’t they go to scouts?

  47. I would mention some etiquette instruction. I’ve talked with my boys about how to ask if someone can play and how to react to different scenarios.

    Things like:
    Always introduce yourself first.
    1. Ask politely (please, or may we) for the child to “come outside and play”.
    2. Do not go into someone else’s home w/out being invited first.
    3. If the child cannot play, say “thank you” or “have a nice day” (so they don’t feel pressured by you) and come back home (so I know that you’re not over there)
    4. You can always ask, because the worst thing you will hear is “no”.

    By giving the children the words to use in these social situations, they are more confident and have a better ability to interact with adults and children.

    Also, send the kids out w/ one of those “I’m a Free Range Kid” notes in the back of the book. That way if anyone asks, they can show them the note.

    In our last neighborhood, I simply let them walk down to friends’ houses and ask. The more they played outside, the more other kids ended up playing outside.

  48. I have three ideas:

    1. Create a reason to have a party. Have your kid ride her bike up and down the block putting invitations in the mail boxes of the kids she wants to invite over. On the invitation put a start time and, instead of an end time, a PICK UP time:

    Start: 1:00 pm
    Pick up: 5:00 pm

    That should give the parents a hint that they are not invited to the party. You should probably give a fairly detailed idea of what it will be – tea party, birthday party of a stuffed animal, etc. so the helicoptor parents’ heads don’t explode.

    2. encoourage front yard play. Kids are magnets for each other. And when little Catie runs over to play and her mom starts your way just yell down the block that you can keep and eye on her and will bring home in a few hours when you have to leave to go to (insert made up place here)

    3. cut the moms out of the process if possible. It has been my experience that moms are generally the more paranoid parent so talk to the dads. Ask him if little johnny/suzie can come over for a few hours and tell him, I bring him/her home at X. (please understand that this is a generalization based on my experience – I fully understand that this is not always true.)

  49. I haven’t read through all the replies so I’m not sure if this has been suggested yet, but I go with my child to knock at a neighbor’s house the first few times. I introduce myself and we ask if their child can come over to play. This usually works and after a few weeks everyone seems more adjusted to spontaneously playing, even if it’s not outdoors. Also, I let my child play out front by herself. Sometimes you just have to be the first one to do it and eventually there may be more kids out there with her.

  50. @Josette. Brownies are older than Daisys and Tigers, and that’s why their meetings are tame in comparison. But as far as Daisys and Tigers go, 25 kindergarteners in a room are 25 kindergarteners in a room, regardless of gender.

  51. I don’t like the excuses like “it’s just too inconvenient to leave the party.” The party is a social event, given out of the generosity of the giver’s family. If it is too inconvenient for you to go to the party as arranged (i.e., the invited guests being there, without parents crashing it) then don’t send your child. Someone who is generous enough to invite your child to a party does not owe it to you to make it convenient. It’s no more polite to do that than to ask someone who’s invited you to a dinner party if you can show up three hours early and hang around because it’s too inconvenient to go home from wherever you were before. I guess a lot of people wouldn’t have a problem with doing that, either, but it’s not polite or considerate unless it’s your best friend or something.

    If party parents offer to let the guests’ parents hang around for convenience sake, that’s up to them. But other people’s social arrangements shouldn’t be altered to fit my convenience or yours, without invitation.

  52. I too live in an area where the ‘playdate’ reigns – aagh!! I grew up 100% free range and am determined to raise my son the same way. Not easy when the vast majority of parents I encounter would prefer to have their children inside playing video games nonstop than to ever have them venture outside. My son is 7 and I find that this is also the number one ‘playdate’ activity with other parents – the sun is-a-shining but stick them in front of the Wii for a few hours! err couldn’t they go out back and throw a real baseball by any chance?! ( my son was worried that his friends would find our house boring because we don’t do this but infact every kid that comes has a blast doing in their words ‘cool stuff’). I’ve made a great effort to get to know other parents in the area/school and endured many of my own ‘playdates’ entertaining the mom who I have absolutely nothing in common with! I feel your pain! I can only say keep trying and eventually you will find a like minded soul who is happy to drop off their kid and happy for them just to play and oh.. perhaps get a little dirty and oh. wait for it, maybe fall down and yes get back up again without adult help! Keep being open about being free-range, it won’t mean you’ll get rid of the playdate scenario at once but you will figure out who the pressure parents are and who you might be able to tolerate and build a friendship with. I would keep allowing your daughter to go and call for other kids, the worst that can happen is they say no they can’t come out to play and they might just say yes. Keep encouraging her to go out front to play and if desperation hits go out front yourself so your neighbours see you’re there. I know this goes against all that free range stands for but bear with me here… it worked for me and was only temporary. I would potter around ‘weeding’ my yard whilst my son blazed a trail on his skateboard and eventually a girl came and joined him. Over the course of the summer I discovered that there were a few parents who would let their kids play out if they saw that I was around and bit by bit I gradually disappeared back inside never to be seen again! well only to hand out popsicles now and then. It seemed to work – although they still check on their kids way too often its a step closer to free range and although we wave and say hi its thankfully not an official ‘playdate’ with me having to be the hostess with the mostess!

  53. I believe it may be illegal to put anything that doesn’t come from the post office in someone else’s mailbox.

  54. When we moved into our previous neighborhood, and my oldest boys were 4 1/2 years old, the neighbors promptly informed us that the kids all liked to play together and roam from house to house, and that therefore they’d all agreed on a neighborhood policy that if you didn’t want kids in your house at the moment, you could kick them out, no hard feelings. That way no-one worried that their kids were being a nuisance somewhere, and no-one ever had to plan a playdate. It was heavenly.

    When we moved to where we are now, there were fewer kids (boy did we miss it!), but as new families moved in I set up that same policy with them and it’s worked beautifully.

    The reason I’m bringing this up is that it made me realize that sometimes parents are not concerned about their child’s safety at your house, but really more about imposing on you to watch their kid. If you can help them to feel comfortable with the fact that *you’re* comfortable with unscheduled, drop-in type play, you may find it happening more. And they may also not feel that they need to stay and supervise, in order not to impose babysitting on you. I still make a point of telling new friends of my youngest that my life is SO much easier when there’s a friend over (which is true). It helps.

  55. I live in a neighborhood with tons of kids the same ages as my three children and they never play with any of them. The first three years we lived here, we made great efforts to invite the neighborhood children over often. We literally had them over dozens of times. I even organized a neighborhood night out two years.

    Although people always came when we invited them, not one of our children has ever been invited to any of our neighbors’ houses. Not one single time! I finally gave up a couple of years ago.

    My children play outside in the front yard all of the time, but it has yet to get any of the neighborhood kids out. I just don’t know what to do.

    Fortunately, my children all have friends from school that they play with. I just wish they had more friends who lived right near us, so that they could walk to each others houses and I would not have to manage their social lives.

    I also have the problems of moms staying for playdates or moms bringing all of their kids instead of the one I invited. I just stopped asking those kids over for playdates.

    I would really like to give up the job as my children’s social director.

  56. I haven’t quite finished reading through all the comments here, but one thing that keeps popping up that I don’t understand is the idea that parents might stay with their kids when they’re over at a friend’s house because they feel like leaving their kid there alone would be a burden or like free babysitting. When I was a kid if I wanted to invite a friend over and my Mom wasn’t in the mood to deal with having more kids in the house she would just tell me that no, I couldn’t have my friend over today. Simple as that. If the other parent agrees to have your kid over, then they’re prepared to take care of your kid for however long they’re going to be there. If not, you’re not likely to know about it because your kid wouldn’t get invited over to begin with. And in the event that the other kid somehow springs it on their parent when they’re not prepared, either the other parent will tell you there’s been a change of plans or they’ll suck it up and be upset with their own child, not you. I don’t see why anyone would feel bad about something like this.

  57. Reading the diversity of comments here is a real eye-opener! I suspect the differences relate to whether or not you live in a tiny village, a small town, big city or subdivision of a larger city.

    I suspect locations with greater and regular population shifts are more suspicious than smaller relatively fixed population groups.

  58. Sorry to double post, but I’ve now finished reading the replies and I’d also like to say that I don’t understand why any parent with children old enough to learn how to use a telephone would call and make plans for their children. As soon as I started school and made friends I got their phone numbers. If I wanted them to play, I called them and asked if they wanted to come over and if they did then that would ask me to hold on a minute while they talked to their parents to see if that was ok. There was one time when I called and asked the parent directly, but my Mom told me I shouldn’t do that because it’s kind of rude to my friends not to ask them directly if they wanted to come play.

  59. We live in what I like to refer to as the urban jungle. Each housing complex on our street (there are no single family homes on our street) is a gated fortress, so even if there were a plethora of kids my son’s age, there would be no opportunity for spontaneous play.

    In our complex, there are a few other kids, but I only see them when they are outside riding their bikes in the driveway. Our complex consists of town homes — we don’t have front yards. When my son wants to ride his bike or scooter outside, I supervise him and watch out for cars (there aren’t that many, but as its a driveway, it’s always a possibility).

    Regarding playdates vs. spontaneous visits with friends, we homeschool our son and none of his friends live within walking distance (most live 15 to 30 minutes away by car). Because most of the families we know are really busy every day of the week, we do schedule play dates, even though most of the kids are 5 or 6 years old. I am friends with most of the mom’s of my son’s friends, so I have no problem socializing with them and I actually find it nice to get to know the families of my son’s friends, even though I am not the most extroverted person. In fact, I had to push myself through a period of extreme discomfort to get to know many of these women, but now I consider them some of my best friends.

    That said, if I scheduled a playdate and the mom wanted to run errands (or if it was at a friend’s house and the mom offered to watch my son while I ran errands) I’d happily agree to it now that my son is older. (Free babysitting? Yipee!)

  60. Yo, people. You can’t move in to a community and think it’s like a cup of noodles situation. You don’t just add a kid like water and think you are going to have the perfect meal. Geez already. You CREATE a community. you go and meet people and you develop trust and then you let your kids run free. I don’t even know the names of half of the kids in my house right now. I mean I hope they don’t get hurt down there but I think my husband cleaned up most of the rusty nails and stuff. The kids play and I tell them to call me if they see blood.

    Just knock on the door and say, “Hey, you have a kid, right? Well, meet mine. Door’s always open. can she stay here and play?”

    The cul de sac, by the way, is a good place for teenagers to skid donuts around the younger ones so if you think it’s safe you should see ours. Skid marks. Really.

    Wheelie Grrl

  61. You operate one way, they operate another. You have control over your own situation. If you recently moved, maybe they need to get to know you.
    If you don’t want to entertain, don’t.
    Sorry, but I have no sympathy for this. Control your own environment and choices, but you can’t make those decisions for other people, no matter how much you disagree.

  62. Um, Wheelie Grrl, you do realize your comment is completely contradictory, right? You start off ranting about how you have to put effort in and make a community, but then go on to say that you don’t know the names of the children in your house…

  63. It sounds like your shy, and you don’t want to have to exert yourself to make it possible for your kid to have friends in the neighbourhood. Well, I sympathize because I’m shy too, with a very outgoing child. But the reality is – you can’t just leave a young child alone to make friends without meeting their parents, without putting some social effort in. You are going to have to muster up the courage, knock on the door, introduce yourself, introduce your kid, maybe bring some cookies, and say – your kid is welcome to play anytime at our house – s/he can come on up and knock on the door anytime we’re home – you don’t have to feel like you need to be there hanging out too. After that is established, then send your kid down to knock on their door alone and ask to play.

  64. Lenore, On the tails of this conversation, I’m wondering at what age a child is old enough to play out in their own yard unattneded (but be checked on, obviously) or walk down the street to find a playmate. We don’t have a fence and have a bit of a busy street. The thing that makes me most nervous is trafffic, not neighbors. What ages did other parents start letting their kids play outside alone? I’d love some feedback since it seems impossible to find that type of info on mainstream parenting sites/books. Thanks!

  65. We let our daughter play in the front yard alone while we cooked dinner (after work/ daycare) when she was 4 1/2. That street was not very busy with cars and was busy with people walking their dogs after work.

    Now we live on a street with little car traffic. Our kids are now 6 and almost 3. We let them play outside in the fenced backyard together with very little checking. We let them play in the front yard together but check frequently. The checking is mostly to make sure that the 6 year old is interacting with her brother. I don’t trust his safety if they are each doing their own thing. He is not allowed to play outside alone in either yard.

    My daughter (6) is allowed in our yard alone. There are some homes with kids near her age that I would be comfortable having her walk to alone but we are just beginning to navigate neighborhood friendships and do not yet have that kind of relationship with those families. Note, I said “not yet”, I am hopeful. The suggestions and experiences shared in this thread have been very interesting to me in that regard.

  66. @Melissa

    Here’s what we did. We live on a not too busy street (but definitely not empty) in an urban area.

    Out in a fenced yard alone: age 2 1/2
    Out in an unfenced yard alone: age 4
    To neighbors without crossing streets: 5
    To neighbors crossing non-busy streets: 6

    We expect to let the kids cross busier streets alone when they’re about 8

  67. “What ages did other parents start letting their kids play outside alone?”

    I let my oldest play alone in the *fenced-in* backyard beginning at age 4. The youngest I let at age 3, with his elder sister. But I checked in on them regularly. Now that the eldest is 6, I let her play in the front or back yard and walk up to one block to a friend’s house, but the youngest (3) is not allowed to go past our long driveway (about three houses), and if he wanders any farther he knows he has to come inside for the day. There are two or three other 6 year olds who wander up and down the block too.

  68. Could it maybe help to phrase things in terms of ‘I’m totally OK to have X over on her own, it’s really no trouble’? Ie, if one issue is that people might feel their ‘taking advantage’ to leave their kid with you (ridiculous as that is), you’re removing that as barrier.

  69. I’d say respect the fact that they like to be involved with their kids and their kid’s friend’s parents and they may even see it as an opportunity to make a friend – you. Sometimes it’s fun to have another mom to chat with and share a cup of tea while the little ones play. Many moms enjoy this. If the issue is that YOU don’t want to socialize, then respect that they probably want to “feel your home out” a few more times. After they are more comfortable you could bring up your issue in a non judgemental manner. Mention the way it used to be in your old neighborhood and ask them how they feel about it. They may be OK with it, but just haven’t felt like they had an opportunity before if no one else in the neighborhood parents that way. Also you can find a middle ground. Agree to call when their child leaves your home so they can be on the watch or walk their child to your home and back again at first. Just be aware that if you don’t handle it just right it could make it seem like you don’t like the mother, which definitely is not what you want to convey. Most people like families they feel they can be friends with as a family. And once the whole family is friends with the other family, sometimes things relax a bit and you may get your free range ideal back. Good luck!

  70. Again, thanks – all good comments. I probably made it sound much worse than it actually is. We have introduced ourselves to the other families on our street, we do let my daughter go knock on doors on our block and ask kids to play. We also do call her friends’ parents and set up “playdates”, many of which are spontaneous and they do come over unsupervised, and my daughter goes over there unsupervised. There has only been one mom who has wanted to stay, and according to my daughter, this friend NEVER goes ANYWHERE without her mother. We probably won’t initiate any more playdates with her just because of the “vibe” she gives off.

    The issue is that my daughter wants to play with friends much more than she gets to because of the effort required in setting it up and because I don’t want to seem like a pest considering they don’t reciprocate by initiating anything. So usually she only gets to play with her friends once every couple weeks during the school year. It is true that I haven’t made a great effort to become better friends with these people, not because I don’t want to, but because I am shy and don’t like making the first move in these situations. In addition, we came from a completely different part of the country and we just aren’t sure about the culture here. It’s a little intimidating living in a subdivision for the first time. Somehow I had the fantasy that other people would be inviting the new people over instead of the other way around.

    But, regardless of the adult scene, I still wish that I didn’t have to be so involved in my daughter’s social interactions. “When I was a kid,” it was very different. My mom didn’t know most of my friends’ parents. We made arrangements then asked our parents if it was ok. Sometimes the parents talked to confirm, especially when we were younger. But for the most part we were given free reign to play here there or whatever most of the time. I have no problem, and in fact think it is only appropriate, for us to at least meet my daughter’s friends parents, which we have. We just haven’t gotten to the point where there seems to be any “free range” environment taking place. I think it is largely age, as I do see older kids out and about every once in awhile. My daughter seems to be much more outgoing than the other kids her age, so I think parents are suprised by that, being used to their own children and having not even really considered it.

    I should also mention that I have two older children, ages 16 and 17, and I think us parents who have already been through it once are a lot less uptight about it. Most of the parents around here are on their first go around. I guess I just miss the old days…LOL

  71. Playdates!!! George Carlin had it right… Here’s the youtube video where he talks about playdates, kindergarten entrance exams, schoolpolicies about games, ‘every child is a winner’, the self-esteem movement and ‘every child is special’, and I heartedly agree with him! People are too involved with their kids. Let them play and have a life!

    It’s George Carlin, so expect some language.

  72. @ BMS – Thanks for the compliment. I have 23 second graders in my room!

  73. @Marion…OMG that was funny! I needed that!

  74. Marion, that video was so perfect. Thank you.

  75. I suggest asking your daughter’s school teacher. We met some like minded neighbour families through school initially. We do still tend to phone and warn before dropping in (more because we all work so noone likes to be caught with their house a total pigsty) but it is much less formal than a “playdate” and certainly no expectation that parents will come too (although we sometimes do socialise with these parents because we like them independent of their children🙂 ).

  76. Melissa, I let my kids play outside without an adult – in the backyard (unfenced) – when they were 2. But only when both of them were together, and I was never far from the window, checking periodically (mainly to make sure they didn’t leave the yard or try climbing down the ravine). I would now (age 3) let them play in the front yard alone, if the weather ever allows it again . . . they can go a little way down the street with permission, but I’m still too skittish about driveways to let them go too far from me down the sidewalk. If they had an actual destination, that might be different.

  77. It really makes me sad that there are so many children that are not enjoying the freedom that childhood should have. Isn’t freedom the best part of being a kid? You don’t have to make plans yet, you can just decide what to do when you want it.

    Nowadays children have schedules with activities and play dates. So what if my child doesn’t feel like playing with that child on that particular day? She still has too because the play date was set since last week?

  78. @Melissa – I would say to trust your instincts and know your child. My older child is very steady and reliable. I let her out in the yard (unfenced, urban but not exremely busy street) alone at age 3.5. My younger child is much more impulsive and also liked to hide on us. I didin’t let him out in the yard alone until 6.5. I probably let him THINK he was in the yard alone before that, but I was watching him with an eagle eye the whole time. Even now, in 2nd grade, his behavior is kind of sketchy. I let his sister walk to school alone in 3rd grade, but double I will with him. He probably would decide to skip school!

  79. Oh and BTW I just realized that China has unblocked your website! Good thing for me🙂

  80. Thanks for the feedback, guys (and gals!). My son is four and very reliable. We don’t have a fenced-in yard and our lot backs up to a pond and prairie. Our neighbors were surprised we didn’t want a gigantic fence up, but with such gorgeous views (the reason we bought that lot) it seemed silly to put up fences. I think my son would be okay playing in the back yard by himself this summer, but I’m not certain. And my husband isn’t sure either. I’ve slowly given my son more and more freedom outside and he always follows the rules so he has continued to gain my trust. I”m so grateful to have found this site where I discovered it’s okay to trust my instincts and my kids. Thanks for helping parents and kids get back their freedom, Lenore!

  81. My kids are 23 and 18, and when they were little it would never have occurred to me to stay at a birthday party with them, and I can tell you I would have spazzed if a parent had wanted to stay at our house during a party or just when a kid was playing over. How things change in a generation (or less).

    To me it’s part of the “entitlement” thing; the world’s a scary place so I can’t let my kid out of my sight, thus I’m entltled to have the other mother entertain me while the kids play.

  82. My rule is that I normally stay the first playdate my daughter has, if I don’t yet know the parents. I feel I need to know something about the people who she’s visiting. But after that I’m fine with leaving her (age 5) on her own for a playdate. Similarly with parties, I used to stay because she wanted me to (it used to take her 1/2 an hour to just settle in) but now I don’t anymore. I have to admit that I once threw a party for my older daughter when she was in kindergarten when I wished more of the parents had stayed – that was when I realized that trying to supervise more than 3 kids at one time is beyond my capabilities! Since then we don’t have birthday parties at our house because I don’t want to be responsible for kids injuring each other or wrecking my house….

  83. About playing in the yard: I think it depends on the kid. Both my kids when they were young were the stay-close types; they never even wanted to go near the road. I could tell them to stay on the deck, or in the part of the garden where I could see them through the kitchen window, at age 3, and they would. Now that they are 5 and 10 they have full run of the backyard, all the way to the fence by the road. They don’t go beyond that. We also have a stream at the other end of the garden, and they know they are not allowed near there unless I am in sight. But they can wander in the patch of woods, or anywhere else in the yard.

  84. @Melissa: “I think my son would be okay playing in the back yard by himself this summer, but I’m not certain. ”

    I live in a suburban subdivision where most of the parents around us seem to tend more toward the “free range” style. Last summer, I started letting the kid (he turned 3 in July) play in the backyard while I sat in the dinette with the windows/french door open–and our subdivision is fences-free. He followed the “stay in yard” rules very well, even when the 4- and 5- year old free rangers came over to play a while then ran off without him.

    Next summer or so, I hope to be able to trust him to join the neighborhood pack’o’kids. There are always parents around doing hands-off supervision, and all the parents seem to buy into the “it takes a community” aspect still. When two 5-year-old kids dug up my kid’s sandbox and tossed the sand all over the patio, I came out there, made them clean it up, and then walked them home where they got impounded for time-outs.

  85. Every area is different. I once lived in a part of town where the kids who were “free range” were only free-range b/c their parents left them outside when they went to play bingo, the casino etc. The kids were filthy. They were constantly asking us for snacks b/c they were hungry. They were locked out of their houses, and used our lawn as a bathroom. We constantly found kids on our front porch, and dealt repeatedly with kids (and I’m talking kids who were 5-7 years old) taunting our dog and throwing toys in our backyard so they could climb onto our garage roof and then access the yard. They roamed the alley behind our house, looking for glass to break etc. Obviously they weren’t BAD kids, but were bored, egging each other on etc.

    We didn’t have kids then. When we started thinking about having kids we moved. The idea of our future kids growing up with those influences was too much for us. We don’t have kids yet, but our intention is to raise them as free range as possible. That being said, I will have a healthy dose of consideration and respect for other parents and how my child’s “unsupervised playing” affects their ability to enjoy their evenings, weekends etc. I have no intention of staying at birthday parties, but I also have no intention of letting my kid wander around playing on other people’s property etc. Playing on their own in the neighbourhood will only occur once I’m certain they’re able to understand and respect rules etc. That might be a different age for different kids.

  86. @ fookie: At one place we used to live (family housing apartments at a university), we had a similar experience. There were kids literally 3-5 years old running around unsupervised and we’d let them play with our 4-5 year old daughter. When we wanted them to go home, they’d tell us their parents wouldn’t let them come in because they needed “grown up time.” And this was during the winter when it was really cold outside. Now that is beyond free range, that’s just plain crazy. Coming from an environment like that to this one where kids are kept locked up and chained to their parents until they are at least 7 or 8 was a little bit of a culture shock.

  87. […] Prisoner of the Playdate: Let’s Help This Mom! Hi Readers — Here’s today’s yelp for help from the frontiers of modern parenting. Got any great […] […]

  88. It all has to do with comfort level. I consider myself free range on many levels, but I would not let my six-year-old daughter spend hours in the house of someone I do not know personally.

    I just wouldn’t.

    Invite the mom over. Serve her some coffee. Take an hour or so talking with her about life. She will see that you are normal and harmless. That the atmostphere in your home is peaceful and non-threatening. It won’t be long before she’s embracing the kidless-playdate rather than joining it.

    Been there…
    Sandy

  89. @Sandy,
    I have met the moms and spent time chatting with them. Some moms; however, will not let their child go anywhere without them, period. They have their own reasons, but I’d prefer not to have to deal with them. To each her own I guess.

    Regarding having to know people personally – I have a high comfort level. As long as I’ve met people I don’t feel a need to go into their houses before I allow my daughter to play there. If something weird was going on my daughter would tell me. I always ask what they did and use some probing questions. The chances are very slim in this neighborhood that anything is going to happen. And even if you do scope the place out first, what are you looking for? A gun laying on the coffee table?

    I was reading another blog where people were talking about how to deal with families that have different rules than they do and how to make sure that their children aren’t allowed to do things they can’t do at home (like watch TV or eat candy). To me this seems extreme as well. I think kids need to be exposed to different rules and when they come home and ask why so and so can do this and they can’t, you explain that different people live by different rules. I never tried to make sure my rules were being enforced in someone else’s home. Yes, you want them to be safe but watching Sponge Bob is not going to kill them.

    When I was a kid, it seems the parenting culture was totally the opposite of what it is today. Today’s “helicopter moms” back then were called “overly protective mothers – OPMs.” Free-Range was the norm back then and OPMs were ostracized. Today it is the opposite. Weird.

  90. I should add….I am not trying to judge other parenting styles. I respect a parent’s right to raise their children as they see fit. I even understand why people are protective of their children. It’s not like I don’t worry about my kids – I absolutely do. Different people deal with their fears differently.

  91. I loathe the word, “playdate.” Love the freedom of having the kids run the neighborhood street. Unfortunately, when you live in an area where you live to far from another home, then playing (with another kid) can’t be spontaneous due to logistical geograhpical challenges.

    Who wants to entertain another child’s parents when the kids are off playing?! TORTURE!!!

    @Marion, love the Carlin clip! Fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

  92. I once lived in a city rowhouse neighborhood where all the kids played outside. And I mean all, pretty much starting when they could walk well! And outside meant basically, on the sidewalk. Back yards were fenced in and only by invitation. But everyone used the sidewalk. Really big kids played games in the street and scattered if a car came. But the younger ones all stayed on the sidewalk. I really saw kids between 18 months and two out with their older brothers and sisters, and they NEVER went off the sidewalk. Parents would sometimes be sitting on the row house porches, but not always, and kids roamed from one end of the block to the other. Mine also played in our little back yard and invited specific friends there (age 5 and 3, and it would have blown my mind if their mother had shown up with them. They walked up the sidewalk to our house. )

    In another city neighborhood my kids rode their big wheels and mini wheels down the alley with the local black kids. A more middle class educated white mother would not let her kid out of her yard and took him inside when she went to the basement to do laundry. At the time I thought this was an over-reaction to having lost a baby at birth with serious birth defects, something abnormal and weird. She told me I was causing problems for her because her child wanted to do what mine were doing. I asked her why he couldn’t and see had a list of things which could happen, such as riding into the street at the bottom of the alley….but why would her kid do this when ten other kids never did? Such as being snatched…but that usually doesn’t happen with other kids of mixed ages around. And the black kids were pretty streetwise as far as picking up weird vibes from people.
    My kids also went together (Ages 12 down to 6 or so) about a mile, through first a really upscale neighborhood, and then some less so ones but not the worse, to a really wild public park, where they could do the stuff I did when I was a kid, build tree forts, make dams in streams, make campfires, and so on. I understand they engaged in some fort to fort battles with kids from the neighborhood on the other side of the park. Once I was with another woman, whose kids went from school to after school program to her apartment and never got their clothes dirty, and we saw my oldest 5 (I had two younger ones in the car with me) and their dog, waiting at the corner for the light to change, on the way home from the park, and I beamed and said “I know those kids” but she was horrified. “What are they doing out there on the street, unsupervised? ” I said…”They went to the park. They go out and play the way I did when I was a kid. The oldest ones are ten and twelve, they watch out for the younger ones.” She told me I was emotionally overprotective and physically underprotective. Well, I thought she was physically overprotective and emotionally underprotective, for various reasons I won’t go in to.
    When my kids went north from the city into a suburban Catholic school, I encountered helicopter parents. I gave a party for a 7 or 8 year old and had parents show up and stay. This was totally unexpected and I didn’t know what to do with them, and it really cramped my style with the kids. I thought it meant they didn’t trust me or didn’t think my house was suitable. It didn’t occur to me until now, reading these comments, that they did this at other people’s parties also.
    When I moved to the real country my kids wandered for miles. Someone did report me when they swam in the creek. (a woman whose teenaged son had crashed his car into a tree in her front yard going 60 and literally torn his head off. I heard she said ‘I couldn’t stand to see another dead child. I don’t really think the two situations are equivalent.) A neighbor told the CPS lady that she swam in that creek when she was a kid, and her father had done so also, and “you had better believe our parents were not watching us, they were way too busy on the farm for that.” It didn’t convince her and after that I had to go with them to the swimming hole. Which gave me an excuse to go swimming myself, rather than another load of laundry. But it shows how the state has started to intrude and set a different standard, even in a rural setting with many supportive neighbors.
    Interesting blog. I thought I was the only one who still thought that kids should just “go out and play.”
    Susan Peterson

  93. I forgot to check the “notify” feature.

  94. Hi! My husband and I are British Scout leaders, and I was a primary school teacher, and our mouths are just dropping open at the amount of supervision you guys are describing!

    I ran troop meetings for 18 6 to 8 year old boys with one assistant and one (rota’d) parent helper. We both ran troop meetings for up to 36 10 to 15 year old boys, just the two of us or with one assistant.

    I was a primary school teacher, generally 8/9 year olds, for 32 kids at a time with perhaps one assistant for a child with particular needs … in many cases one child of about 4 who needed lots of support ….

    I really sympathise with your problem and am racking my brains on how to help you guys!

    Britain has also become very over-supervised, IMO, and I expect the playdate problems would be similar but the fact that the children’s activities are less supervised would surely help encourgae playdates to be less micro-managed.

    We live in Sweden now, and the culture is much more ‘free range’. I have set up a reciprocal arrangement with one Swedish Mum where we go out and walk our dogs together whilst one husband looks after both our 4 year old boys and his own other child … e.g. today my friend is coming here with her 4 year old son – her daughter left at home – and my husband is supervising both 4 yr old boys and our younger son whilst we walk. If we go to there’s I leave my toddler at home and her husband manages both boys and his own daughter.

    Perhaps some of the other women are desperate for some low key social time and that is why they are wanting to share in the playdate as well? Perhaps arranging some form of social activity with the other Mums from time to time would help in this?

    Best WIshes to you all, Helen

  95. I must say that although I loathe the word playdate, and I resent having to schedule a month in advance for my kids to be able to get together with their close friends, I love hosting playdates. Because I am not a Martha Stewart wannabe, I don’t make carefully crafted organic free range snacks, I don’t schedule activities for them to do, and I don’t entertain them. I leave the kids to their own devices. They run off to do whatever, I do what I want. When the other kid’s mom comes to pick them up I always say truthfully “It was no trouble at all.” It isn’t any trouble when you don’t feel the need to be up your kid’s backside every second.

  96. I’m late to this thread, and I only skimmed through, but maybe nobody has mentioned my favorite solution to this dilemma. If a mom just just kind of …stays…. and it’s not obvious why, hand her some housework–a basket of clothes to fold, a dishtowel so she can dry while you wash, some potatoes to peel, whatever. “You know, you’re welcome to go, you can come back and pick up Charlie at Xpm. But if you’re really going to stay, would you mind helping with this?” Guaranteed they’ll find other plans for next playdate.😉

  97. I’m new to reading this fabulous site, but i feel like I have found my community! The George Carlin video sums it up beautifully. Our parenting culture has gone bonkers, and leave it to a comedian (like Ben Franklin in the 1700’s using satire) to describe the insanity so deftly (just like Wheelie Grrl did if you scroll back a bit). Kids need freedom, as appropriate given their temperament and age, or they would never become competent…which is why moms need to trust a little and not hover over playdates. If they need community and a new friend, that is quite another thing. Just ask for that and make it explicit, so that it doesn’t feel like a hovercraft move to the hosting mom.

  98. greetings from the other side of the pond..England…can’t believe I’ve stumbled across so many like minded free-rangers..thought I was alone in this parallel universe of hands off parenting v playdate fixers. We hung ropes/swings from trees, provided den making material, outside we piled the bikes/skateboards/balls/bats where they would get most use and waited for local children to sneak out of hiding from behind their computers and play stations……nothing…not a single child came to join my two children. So I fixed playdates thinking ok maybe people round here need or want engraved invitations. . the little blighters looked around our house and announced “there’s nothing to do here it’s boring I want to go home” (to play station/wii probably)

  99. I know, really, way to go Jane. I can hear the hovercraft all over our neighborhood. Look, your kid can come over. I’ll put the knives face down in the dishwasher and I won’t light any candles. the kid will be safe. What I’m afraid of are the LDS people who show up at the door with mission materials not the other parents. Unless they are the other parents. I don’t even want to know really. Just drop the kid off, pick the kid up and let them dig holes in the yard.

  100. I know that the driving force for hovercraft mommies is anxiety, but why is our generation so much worse than moms in the 50’s and 60’s? I know from reading that our crime statistics (yes, even in inner cities where I live) are not that different in current times. Ok, Ok, I know that those other moms think that educational, packaged toys in their homes will build IQ’s more and all that. Harumph.
    Thanks to cathy, informing us from Britain, we know hovercraft moms are pervasive and that we free rangers are a minority. How are we going to turn the tide so that we can find other moms who want to give children free play and dirt piles (thank you Wheelie Grrl!) in our neighborhoods, not just online??!!

  101. @wheelie grrl. I feel sorry for your perspective. You sound confused. And I think George Carlin is offensive. No one who cares about their kids is abusing them. I do care about keeping my kids safe and I’ll stay all day at a playdate if I don’t know the parents.

  102. @Robo Girl I think you may be confused and at the wrong webstie. I also think that you might have taken Wheelie girrl’s tounge in cheek approach a bit too literally.

    On another note I worry about this problem when my daughter becomes a bit older (she is 3), as we are looking to move to a bedroom community from an urban area. A good friend I have who lives there is (I cringe) a helicopter mom. We once took the kids to a movie and her 9 year old had to go to the bathroom that was right across from the theater door and I told him to go and she was already up and out of the seat to escort him there. Because you know strangers are EVERYWHERE be sure to check that rock there might be a stranger under there. There was even a cop posted at the exit! When I pointed this out she explained that people carry screaming children out of places all the time to which I parried, really? Try raising your voice to a kid in a public place, that’s the equivalent to a car wreck let alone manhandling the kid will get CPS called on you in a heartbeat. She had no answer for that. Being a good friend she has roughly the same values I have and I believe that this is a regional adult peer pressure issue for most reasonable parents. We are made to think that if we don’t spend every possible minute with our school age children then we are bad parents. Fear has also made us think that we are not qualified to arm our children with the tools to navigate the world, that is untrue. My fear is that when it comes time for my child to explore her world there will be no other children to share in that exploration. Remember children are not stupid, if you’re not stupid, they learn from you Duh.

  103. My neighbor, whose 4 kids are all older than my 3, always had an open-door policy. She felt that if all the kids were at her house at least she new what they were doing. Following her example, I also have basically kept an open door since the kids started school. Anyone who wants to come over after school for a playdate is welcome to. Playdate meaning come over and play. When I used to go pick up my youngest at school she would ask if this friend or that friend could come over and I’d say fine or we’d confer and plan to do it on a day that worked for the other family. School friends are a good place to start for just that reason. Plus the shared environment of school means the parents know who you are and get to realize that you’re not a psycho killer.

    Now everyone has their own phone (the youngest is 9) and they set up their own social life and let me know what’s up and ask permission. I know a lot of free-rangers think phones are infantalizing but for us this is definitely not the case. The kids can do all the negotiating in terms of schedules and I just have to approve or disapprove the end plan.

    I think having an open house policy is one way to at least get kids over to your house. It also gets much easier as they get to be 8 or so. It may just be a matter of getting through the next couple of years having to set up real, formal playdates.

    As for having the parents come over, it’s a pain. On the other hand, especially if, as you say, you’re less social than your daughter you could look at it as more of a blessing that social life is being thrust upon you. Getting stuck with a Mommy doesn’t mean you can’t still fold the laundry or do dinner prep but it may also be part of the pathway out of your problem. Enforced socializing with parents has played a big part in helping us to become a part of our neighborhood.

  104. I want to post because I think I understand the culture clash here. I was not allowed to rove the neighborhood, but my parents trusted me to stay safe – I had plenty of time on my own to play in the yard and hit things with sticks. This was in the early ’90s.

    I was an only child and always looking for kids to play boardgames with. There was one family with a couple of kids who did have the run of the neighborhood. I would have liked to be friends with them, but it was not to be.

    My mom resented these kids horribly. It had nothing to do with “helicopter parent” worries or fears, as some of you suspect. What bugged her was the apparent lack of reciprocity. She would end up having kids suddenly appear when she wasn’t expecting them, a few times a week, and end up feeling obligated to give everyone an afternoon snack when i came inside for mine. Which is fine, if you aren’t the only person in the neighborhood who does it. But in the five years that we lived there, we never got a single invitation for me to go over to their house.

    Reading this website, it occurs to me that maybe this other family’s door was open the whole time. There’s the off-chance that they really were rude freeloaders… but perhaps they just didn’t want to bother with formal invitations and playdates. Maybe they were waiting for the day I would show up at their door with a Nerf football in hand, and for whatever inscrutable reason I never did.

    There’s a sense I get from this website that many free-range parents don’t want to spend any time engineering their kids’ social lives. Which is fine, and perhaps admirable. But there’s also the potential for huge failures in communication. If your kids are going to roam the neighborhood, you need to make sure every parent in the neighborhood knows that you also have an open-door policy / standing playdate invitation. That’s not “engineering your kids social lives”… it’s necessary and polite.

  105. Once again I think respondents are reacting to the extremes…the “permissive” laisses faire parent at one end and the helicopter, anxious, controlling parent at the other. I don’t think the parent that “monitors” where her free ranging children are going is necessarily “engineering” her kids’ social lives. She is doing what every good parent, including Lenore when she let her 9 year old travel on the subway, does when they want to allow their child a larger realm to negotiate, while they monitor general whereabouts. So let’s not assume that we need to feel sorry for “robo” above–maybe she is not a helicopter mom or on the wrong website–maybe she is weighing in on her perspective that she needs to feel comfortable before she goes a bit more free range.
    robo–check out the hot story on Free Range about the woman visited by cops because she let her three kids play in her gated townhouse area. Would YOU have called the cops on her?

  106. yes, I would have called the cops.

    Kids are abducted every day.

  107. I always found it a relief when a playmate showed up at our house; the kids entertained each other and there was a lot less “Mom-ing” from my own kid. And I’m talking from the age of three. Before that, I accompanied my kid to play at friends’ houses, and hated it. I wanted to be in my own home at the end of the day, not having a forced social interaction with a random other adult. I was so relieved when that was over.

    re birthday parties, I always sent my kids on their own, and expected to reciprocate. I knew my kid wouldn’t be a burden, i.e., she could toilet herself and feed herself w/o making a mess. So why should I have to spend the afternoon watching someone else’s kid’s birthday party?

  108. I am a parent of a five year old. I was an elementary teacher for nine years before deciding to stay home with her. I think it is incredibly irresponsible to send your child to someone’s house you do not know. Yes, you may have to sit and make small talk a couple of times, put yourself out there a little bit. Find out who your child is spending time with. Isn’t their safety worth it? I think parents assume their children will “know what to do” in stressful or dangerous situation. That is a lot of responsibility to place on a 6 year old. I guess I’d rather be a helcipoter than bury my head in the sand because I’d like some “me time”.

  109. Helimom (and ex-elementary school teacher) – thank you! That is just want I wanted to hear. “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave a 6 yr old child at someone’s house that you do not know.” Thank you. I wish more people felt this way. This is my KG’s first playdate where the Mom clearly wants me to dump and run – but I’ve told her I’d love to stay for a coffee and get to know each other. I can tell she isn’t too thrilled and won’t be surprised if she cancels. I tried to be really casual and offered several times that they could come to our house instead. But I have never been to her house before (don’t even know the address or their last name! – How can I possibly let her pick up my kid after school – which is what she wants me to do??? I want to see that everything is safe at her house for that age group (and hello people, lots of things AREN’T safe with perfectly “normal” people) – grandma leaving her open drugs on the coffee table, big untrained dogs jumping around toddlers at the top of long staircases, open pools and hottubs, absolutely no adult supervision when little ones are riding bikes on busy street blocks – everyone says “we all survived” – guess what, not everyone did – look back, did NO ONE in your school die? they did in mine – house fires, pedestrian accidents. I will be attending this “playdate” and then decide if she is allowed to play at that home alone in the future.

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