Is This a Playdate or Unpaid Caregiving? – by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

My son, as many of the regular readers know, is the epitome of eight-year-old social chairman. He regularly has playdates all weekend long. Sometimes with a couple different children on the same day. I enjoy having his friends over or him being invited to other’s homes. It takes a “do nothing day” and makes it into something a little more special.
Lately, I have noticed that a couple of the Moms of my son’s friends seem to be slowly taking advantage of my generosity in having their child over for a playdate. As an example, one Mom begged me to have her son over for “a couple hours,” which turned into six. Later, I found out that her “emergency” was a workout at the gym followed by a manicure!
A different Mom said she needed somewhere for her son to go because they lost heat in her home. I readily obliged to have her son over and extended the invitation to her as well. She said that she was able to go somewhere else. Where did the Mom go? Out to lunch and then drinks with some friends! I can’t help but wonder…have playdates turned into unpaid caregiving?
I sympathize with with some of these Moms. They either work full-time or are working, single Moms and need a break. But a little reciprocation would be appreciated. Most Moms will have my son over for a couple hours, maybe three. Just enough time for me to do a good grocery shopping. However, I am using my time for an essential activity. It is not a haircut or a massage. Also, when I have my son’s friends over, for hours, I end up doing marathon laundry or a massive clean up of an overstuffed closet. Certainly not the most exciting things in the world. In fact, my son has one of his friends over right now. I was told this kid’s Mom was getting the spider veins removed from her legs. Not only did her procedure take hours, I had to drop her son home because her legs swelled up and she couldn’t come to pick him up! At least I’m doing something productive like writing this blog. She’s having an elective cosmetic procedure!
When the weather is nicer, the kids can play outside, we can go to the park, visit local farms, enjoy the pleasure of the outdoors. It is just these winter months that are the most irritating. And a day without a playdate…let’s just say I would rather deal with the monsoon of toys that get strewn around my entire house.
One Mom asked me to drive her child home because she was “exhausted.” I’ve had a Mom text me that she was running late, would I mind getting a pizza for the kids, and she never even offered to reimburse me for the food! This was at the end of an almost 7 hour playdate!
I’ve also noticed that none of my son’s friend’s help clean up the monsoon they created when it is time for them to go. I always ask my son if he helped clean up before we leave a friend’s home. Most of these Moms just rudely sit in their warm cars in my driveway, blasting the horn until their charge appears. To the contrary, I always walk to the front door of the friend’s home, even if the weather is brutal. I inquire about how the playdate went, then make sure that my son helped to clean up. I also make sure to remind my son to say “thank you” for the playdate to his friend as well as his friend’s Mom.
With a couple Moms, I decided to put my foot down. When my dog was sick and needed rest, not two wild, rambunctious kids bothering him, I said to a Mom that I would give her money to take my son to the movies or bowling together with her son, but I just couldn’t have the kids playing at my house. The poor dog hides from them when he is feeling well! He didn’t need these wild kids piling things on him when he wasn’t feeling his best. The Mom appeared a little affronted, but I had reached my limit.
Playdates outside the home will also need to be either paid for upfront or by the other Mom at the counter. I went to get tickets for a popular movie an hour before the movie started, dropping my son off at his friend’s house on the way. I paid $58 for 2 adult tickets, 2 child tickets and 4,  3D glasses (they are no longer free.) How did she reciprocate? By buying a tub of popcorn, which included free refills, and a drink. The second drink came with the popcorn. I told her how much I spent and when she said she would pay for the popcorn and drinks, my reaction was, “huh”?
So what’s a Mom to do? I have enough on my plate than to take on the position of unpaid caregiver. I already scheduled an activity for my son on Sunday mornings, so that other Moms wouldn’t be able to just drop their child off at 11 am and pick them up at dinner time (or later!). I tell the Moms that there is a 3 or 4 hour playdate limit at my house. I certainly don’t expect my child to exceed that limit on his playdates at other’s homes either. More than a few hours becomes a burden and the kids end up spiraling out of control. My son needs to realize that a whole day does not purely revolve around him. There is now also a “clean up rule.” Fifteen minutes before the playdate ends, both kids put the house back in order. 
Maybe then, playdates will be something to be looked forward to by both my son and me!