Play dates are funny things - they sort of creep up on you as you stumble and wobble your way through motherhood and I, for one, have never quite been sure of the rules. So, for what it's worth, here's what I've learnt over the years.
When your child is invited to a play date
1. Don't stay for a cup of tea when you drop your child off. The other parent doesn't really want you to stay anyway - even though they will ask - and you both know that you're planning a quick trip to the shops to take back that top you bought at the weekend, so make a run for it while the going's good.
2. Don't expect your child to eat anything sensible, speak or generally interact with the other parent in any way. They will simply make a beeline for the toy box/play room and won't emerge until it is time to go home.
3. Stay for a cup of tea when you go to collect your child. You won't be able to get them to come home with you anyway, so you might as well stay and have a chat to the other parent while you shout the occasional 'ten-minute-warning' up the stairs. This can take up to an hour.
4. Be prepared for tears and much prising of toys out of clenched fists when it is actually time to leave. Laugh it all off - you can be cross in the privacy of the car on the way home.
5. Enjoy the compliments the other parent gives you about how polite/kind/pleasant your child is, because within five seconds of getting into the car they will unleash a tirade of fury and exhaustion on you.
6. Expect your child to announce a list of all the amazing, cool toys their friend has and to complain relentlessly about the rubbish and 'lack of' toys they have themselves.
When hosting a play date
1. Plan a fun activity you can all do together like baking cookies, making rice krispie buns or decorating fairy cakes. You will enjoy doing it anyway, even if the children show absolutely no interest whatsoever until the eating part.
2. Keep the TV on standby for emergencies only i.e. when the 'play' part of the date seems to be causing more arguments and disagreements than anything else. This is when you calmly put a Scooby Doo DVD on and get everyone to sit quietly on the floor with a drink and a piece of fruit and retreat to the kitchen to make a nice cup of tea and congratulate yourself on how well the play date is going.
3. Don't expect the DVD/drink/fruit calmness to last for longer than five minutes. At this stage, one or another of the children will be bored of the DVD and will want you to help them finish their Lego spaceship or read them the entire encyclopedia of dinosaurs they have discovered.
4. Don't expect your children to necessarily entertain/play with their guests. They won't. You will.
5. Beware of the 'Last Few Minutes of Mayhem Syndrome' - even if the play date has been a great success and everyone has played brilliantly and the TV wasn't even needed and there were no arguments, you can guarantee that two minutes before the parent arrives to collect their child, all hell will break loose - someone will need a poo, the cat will puke on the carpet, your own children will start fighting, the guests will spill a drink all over themselves and the smoke alarm will go off. Smile and offer a cup of tea anyway and ruffle your child's hair affectionately as you fondly wave goodbye from the doorstep.
7. Be prepared to have serious words with your children as soon as everyone has left about how disappointed you were with their behaviour and that if they can't learn to share their toys they won't be able to have any more friends over. Most play dates will, inevitably, end in tears.
8. Spend the rest of the afternoon tidying up and eating the rest of the rice krispie buns.
So, now you know!
Image from www.annetaintor.com