There are certain words in the English language that irk me, but none are worse than the word playdate. Every time I hear it, I cringe, much like I imagine the word moist seems to affect a large portion of the population.
The fact that playdate has become an accepted term as it relates to our children is beyond irritating. Even now, as I type the word playdate on this very computer, my word processing program doesn’t reprimand me with its judgmental and condescending red line. But it should.
I don’t know where the term playdate came from, but I really wish it would go back. When I was a kid, we simply “went to a friend’s house” or “played outside with friends.” But somewhere along the way, it was deemed necessary for children, who aren’t even old enough to write their names, to have a formal name for something that should just come naturally to them.
I’m not positive, but I feel like it may stem from the fact that many children today have busier date books than I have had in my entire adult life. It’s like they are tiny, high-level executives, and their Moms are the secretaries, penciling them in for different activities and some face-time with other tiny, high-level executives.
I’m not saying I’m averse to signing my kids up for activities. I signed them up for Busy Bodies classes and library story times when they were toddlers, but to be honest, that was mostly just to get myself out of the house and, God willing, to hopefully interact with another adult human.
As they have gotten older, I don’t discourage them from getting involved in activities. I present them the options, and if they say they aren’t interested, in some cases (ahem, baseball), I breathe a little sigh of relief. Sometimes (especially during the winter), I welcome the hustle and the bustle and the excuse to leave the house. But at ages 5 and 7, they’re usually just happy playing, whether it’s with each other at home, or finding a friend from school at the local park to run around with.
Once they are in school, the bulk of your child’s time is mapped out for them. Obviously, that kind of structure in a school setting is necessary. Just as important as structure is to learning in a school environment, unstructured play is to learning how to just “be.” How can kids learn who they really are if they are never alone with their thoughts to figure it out?
Some of my favorite memories with my kids are the days where we had nothing planned, so we just decided to get in the car and drive somewhere we had never been before. Sure, not every time we’ve done that has ended up in some grand adventure, but sometimes it does. I think days like that can teach kids how to go with the flow. It helps them learn that sometimes you might stumble on something new and exciting, and sometimes you won’t.
That’s what I want my kids to learn, because that’s life. Sometimes it’s fantastic and wonderful and amazing, and sometimes it’s just “eh.” But if every second of your life is planned out, you’ll never know the difference. I want to show them that life is more than getting carted from an activity to a playdate (shudder) to another activity, and on, and on, and on.
In the end, kids are kids, and I think it’s important for us to remember that. Kids need to play, unfettered by rules. Kids need to learn how to entertain themselves instead of always being entertained. Let them be kids, and they will find their true interests as they grow. I know the days of sports and activities and sleepovers are coming, but for now, I’m enjoying just letting them be kids.
And if we could just retire the word playdate, well, that would be fine by me.