One of the wonders of parenting is watching how quickly young children can become the best of friends. It is so simple for them and beautiful to watch. Then your little one turns 5 and goes off to kindergarten; they start making friends with children you’ve never met. Then they want those lovely children to play with them after school! Suddenly, you are in new territory. Playdate territory. Except this playdate is with perfect strangers.
While previously their group of friends was cultivated by you, now their school friends are major players in their lives. One day, someone’s mom might call you and ask, “Can your child come over to play after school on Thursday?” And you think, “UH, NO WAY CAN MY MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION DO THAT, YOU PERFECT STRANGER!!!” That’s about 15 seconds of Awkward Silence if you are counting.
Most of the time being a mom is like trying to straddle a tenuous line between the Crazy Protective Mama Bear mode and also trying not to look straight up crazy and ruin all your child’s chances at friends. So there are few reasonable choices in the above scenario:
- Politely decline
- Suggest meeting at a neutral location
- Invite yourself over (be prepared for Awkward Silence to be returned)
- Lay it all on the line in a move I like to call The GFM
My oldest child is 15 now and I realized a decade ago that if I was uncomfortable sending her to a new friend’s house, the other parent was likely equally uncomfortable having their child come to my house. So was born The GFM. I’m sharing it here so that if we all start using it, I can look a little less crazy. (Help me out here please.)
The Guns-Food-Media (GFM) move sounds something like this:
“Hi, I’m Megan. Addison has told me so much about your daughter and would love to spend some time with her outside of school. We would be happy to have her over to play on Saturday if it would work for you. I wanted to let you know a few things about our house and what we will be doing while she is here. First, we don’t own any guns. (If you DO own guns or other weapons, you should disclose this followed up by information on how responsibly they are stored and that the children will not have access to them.) Second, does your child have any food allergies I need to be aware of? Finally, when we have playdates we like to focus on activities we can do together and so we will not be engaging in media. (OR if you do plan to have the kids watch something or play a video game, discuss that up front.)”
For the first playdate especially, it is generous to make the parent staying optional up front.
“I would be happy to care for the kids the entire time or if you would like to come in for a cup of coffee/tea to see how we are getting on you would be most welcome.”
I have found that addressing all of these potential areas for concern at the outset has allowed other parents to ask the questions they need to in order to feel safe about their child. Sometimes parents are surprised by the outpouring of information but then usually express relief about opening up the dialogue. This has allowed me to build trust with other parents that has led to better friendships for my kiddos! Many of these same parents I pulled The GFM on 10 years ago are now dropping those same kids off at my home as teenagers for movies and bonfires. Building these trusted parent relationships has been a blessing for the high school years!
The GFM can work in reverse as well. It can feel uncomfortable to ask questions about another person’s home, but ultimately the welfare of your child is at issue. Never apologize for protecting your child. These are real issues and as parents, we need to talk about them freely. Roar on, Mama Bear.