Playdate Etiquette: When Do You Make the First Move?


It’s been 3 months since kindergarten started, and so I recently decided I was ready to scale the Mt. Kilimanjaro of child-parent socializing. Yes, it was time to set up a playdate with a parent who was not actually a friend of mine. A blind playdate, if you will. This had all been suggested by my child’s teacher after my 5 year old had a few social problems at the start of the year. “Set up a few playdates with kids from class,” she urged. “It will do wonders.”

I went to the school’s Fall Fest loaded for bear, sussing out the other moms in their natural habitat.  I looked for the mothers who seemed most down-to-earth, and immediately crossed off a woman who was shouting into her blue tooth cell phone during the entire festival while her three children ran up and screamed into the other kids’ faces.  Putting that horror aside, I swam through a sea of parents and kids, my son in tow, looking for likely playdate prey. I noticed that quite a few of the other moms looked a little A-type and high strung. I know my own shortcomings: there’s no way this B-type mom could ever make it through an afternoon with someone who is going to notice the food stains on my pants and disapprove when I tell my son that yes, he can eat the brownie that fell on the floor as long as he plucks the dust bunny off first. (A little dirt is good for the system, right?)

And then I saw her: The mom of my dreams. Relaxed, down-to-earth, the mother of three. The best part was that her son and mine got along well in class, according to our kids’ teacher. But how to approach her? I introduced myself and we chatted, but I was only half-listening as I plotted how to set up our sons’ first playdate encounter. Should it be at our house or theirs? Should I wait for a few days to call, or set it up the next day via email? I didn’t want to seem too desperate, but my son was feeling left out at school. After a week of nail-biting, (“Um, you’re being really weird about this,” my husband Joe observed from behind his laptop one evening as I paced back and forth across the living room, phone in hand. “It’s not a prom date. Just call her.”) I finally decided to heed his advice. I got the mom’s answering machine and left a message that sounded something like this: “Hey, errrr, yeah, it’s me, Elisabeth. We met at the Fall Fest?…I thought you guys might want to come over for a playdate some time soon. Call me.”

I waited anxiously for the phone to ring, and finally got a reply on our answering machine. The playdate was on for that Friday.

I cleaned the house, made brownies and even put on lip gloss. Then I did what I always do when I’m freaking out and need mothering advice — I called my friend Dr. Joan in a panic. “I couldn’t tell from the mom’s message if she really wanted to come.  Maybe our kids don’t like each other any more. Oh, maybe I rushed this. I should have given it more time, been a little cooler,” I wailed. Joan, the ever-practical mother of three, talked me off the ledge as I dusted places around my house that hadn’t seen a dust rag since my son rode around in a Baby Bjorn. “Listen, if this woman didn’t want to come over, she wouldn’t,” said Joan. “She has three kids, right? When you’re that busy, you don’t have time to go on a playdate to be polite. And besides, most parents would never make their kid go over to someone’s house if they don’t like them. Don’t worry, it will be fine.”

By the time the doorbell rang that afternoon, I had calmed down. Our kids had a great time, and my original impression of Playdate Mom was correct — she was down-to-earth and nonjudgmental. The kids had a ball and I could see that their friendship was really blossoming as they jumped from Alex’s bunkbed ladder onto a pile of comforters and stuffed animals on my son’s floor. The date, I daresay, was a hit.

At the door, our sons hugged good-bye and then spent a few minutes seeing who could lift the other one up off his feet. I considered hugging my playdate mom, but then went for the arm squeeze and a “Let’s do it again soon,” as she and her son left. “That sounds great. We’ll have you guys over next time,” she promised. Playdate success.

Now all I have to do is wait for the phone to ring. I’m sure she’ll call. Right?

Any playdate stories you’d like to share? And what’s a surefire playdate success, at your house? Any advice welcome!


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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