Hi readers! I wrote this article for the lovely team at Sassy Mama Singapore on play date “etiquette”. Thanks for sharing the love, you sassy ladies!
When that precious little bundle of joy arrives into your life, the social building block known as “The Play Date” will become a regular feature on your agenda, mama. These little meet-and-greets of tiny humans and their respective caregivers tend to start happening once the shell-shock of your tiny human’s birth has worn off, and the first few weeks of what I like to call The Newborn Blur have…well…not passed, but have become an acceptable part of your outlook on the world.
Your first play date will be many things: a little weird, a little new, a little “What exactly are we going to do?”, and more often than not, a little bit thrilling as you realise that this is one of the key ways you are going to survive this thing called parenthood.
In order to adequately equip you for your very first play date, or if, perhaps, you’re like me and are a play date veteran but need the occasional refresher as to what is and is not okay, I’ve put together a handy little guide of dos and don’ts to keep you and your kid from being the ones that don’t get invited the second time around (just kidding, people are usually quite forgiving; but really though, read carefully).
Play Date Etiquette Rule #1: Ensure you engage in appropriate discussion topics
If you’re meeting with a new group of people, which is often the case in Singapore given its huge network of parent meet-up connectors, you will likely start off trying to behave within the bounds of usual, adult, social propriety and make semi-intelligent small talk. Within minutes, however, please know that the discussion can, and will, turn to the key topics: sleep, feeding and poop. This is a good thing. And you will be shocked, but more importantly, delighted, at just how much time you can spend discussing these elements of your baby’s existence. There is nothing more affirming in those early months than realising that you’re not the only one wholly consumed by these topics and has been obsessively Googling them on the daily, but also that others are actually interested in how often your baby feeds, how many hours your baby will sleep at a time, and the colour, consistency and frequency of their poop.
May I humbly suggest, though, that if you have one of those mythical babies that sleeps, eats, and poops beautifully, consider offering more of a compassionate ear to that frazzled, exhausted, unkempt mother that looks like she may well be swallowed up by the bags under her eyes. Until you find the one that belongs to another baby as mythical as yours, then you go on ahead and giggle in the corner at how you simply couldn’t be any goshdarn luckier. Do it in the corner, though.
Play Date Etiquette Rule #2: Where should we meet?
So here’s the thing: if you’re the type that likes going to cafes, restaurants, or shopping malls, then please, for the love of everything that is good in this world, meet at those places when your baby has yet to find his/her voice and/or desperation to grab everything in sight. Yes, you just might be able to fit in a 4-hour Vivo City rendezvous with your BFF mom pals while your little one naps in the stroller or baby carrier for most of it. And – I’m not making any promises here – you may even have the privilege of eating a meal with both hands as soon as it arrives.
Note that this golden age will quickly pass, and you will soon realise that the easiest place to have a play date is, in fact, in the comfort of someone’s home. You’ve got a place to change them (read: deal with an erupting diaper with enough necessary supplies), feed them (read: relax and go nursing-cover-free and/or have the things you need to prep that bottle without worrying about the dubious hygiene levels of the changing room), put them down for a nap (read: let them sleep on you while you sit sprawled out on your friend’s couch), and scream the place down if necessary (read: scream the place down if necessary). So get yourself to someone’s house, lay those kids on the ground and let the good times, and the babies, roll.
Once they’re older – usually once they start walking – you will find that Singapore is great for having an enormous range of indoor play gyms where nobody needs to sweat, most things are childproofed, and you can sit back and let your wobbling little walker do their thing. If you’re one of those tough ones that isn’t bothered by the heat (or that dreadful haze), then an outdoor playground or park will also do the trick.
Play Date Etiquette Rule #3: It’s just a runny nose, right?
Pick your audience here, mama. This can go one of two ways.
Scenario A: This particularly applies if you’re dealing with very young babies. At any sign of illness – even if you think it might be nothing, play it safe and stay home. I know, I know. You’ve been looking forward to this play date all week and really need another adult to talk to about leaky boobs, cluster feeding and baby-led-weaning. I get it. But new moms (and even not-so-new-moms) are notorious for going into a complete panic if they hear the slightest sneeze, cough, or see anything remotely moist ‘neath the nose of a babe.
Just don’t risk it. Even if it was nothing, you’ll at least have peace of mind that your baby will recover quickly and won’t start an epidemic. Sometimes though, you simply will have no idea that your child is sick until after the play date due to the lack of symptoms at the time. Alas, don’t you worry, mama. You haven’t violated any play date etiquette if your 11-month-old gives five of her friends HFMD and sends them and their parents into quarantine hell (am I speaking from experience? Perhaps).
Scenario B: your child will get older, and you will eventually establish your “core” play date group and get so chummy with your fellow mamas that all you need to be acceptably within the bounds of play date etiquette is to provide a reasonable – but honest – disclaimer as to your child’s state. Sometimes it’ll be so minor that no one will have a problem with you bringing your little booger monster along. What toddler doesn’t have a runny nose, really? But do mention if there’s a fever. People hate those things. Mention if your child has a hacking cough and is excreting anything unusual, from anywhere. And please, please, if there’s a rash – namely, one concentrated on the hands, feet, and – surprise! – mouth, that kiddo best be quarantined. Many of us only heard about HFMD once we arrived in Singapore – and believe me, it is rampant here and spreads like wildfire. I’m telling you: I’m traumatised.
Play Date Etiquette Rule #4: Let me entertain you
Here’s the thing: when they’re really little, not much “playing” happens at a play date. So sure, go ahead and lay out a colourful mat on the ground and scatter a few toys around, but no one is expecting you to hire a clown or spend days arranging an age-appropriate arts and crafts table for the occasion. I mean, if you have the time and energy, ain’t nobody gonna stop you, but hosting a play date is more about opening your place as a meeting point for everyone to link up and socialise with their babies.Snacks are always appreciated, but not compulsory. As the babies evolve into toddlers, you’d be surprised at how engaging they will find the simplest things. If you really want to go all out, play the Wheels On the Bus in the background and voila!
At some point you’ll probably attend one or two extraordinary play dates which will make you feel completely incapable of ever hosting one on your own because you just aren’t that creative, and you really don’t have much time or energy, and your place is just a little too cramped.
Take the pressure off. One of my favourite things about play dates is that most times, it’s just an opportunity to parent your child with a whole bunch of other parents. You go about the usual things you’d do with your child, but with company; with someone else next to you that can say, “Oh, honey, I’ve been there!“. New parenthood can be a lonely, isolating affair at times. You have good days, and really tough, difficult, make-you-want-to-sob bad days. Having an outlet where you can talk to other parents while your child is screaming inconsolably (instead of said child screaming inconsolably while you’re alone in your apartment at your wits’ end) makes a world of difference. Someone else’s child will probably be screaming inconsolably at the same time. And as the kids get older, they do actually start entertaining each other, and the grown-ups can possibly have a conversation with interruptions only once every four minutes! (I know! What a treat!)
Happy play dating, mama!