When Your Playdate Won't Leave

Filed under: Expert Advice: Just For You

Does your playdate wear out their welcome? Don't hide -- use some simple strategies to set your boundaries. Photo courtesy of sxc.hu.

What's a busy mom to do when that two-hour play date turns into a seven-hour marathon? You've tried all the normal social cues: yawning, putting your kid down for a nap, rattling the pots and pans as you get ready to make dinner. And still, she just won't leave.

Do you chew your own leg off, as Massachusetts mother Christina Refford suggested? Or how about sneaking upstairs to call your father-in-law and begging him to come over, because "he's a total party-killer," like one Canadian mom did. Do you draw the shades when the neighborhood playdate pariah comes knocking on your door, like Heather, a mom of two from Cleveland, Ohio?

Heather was a young mom living in California when she encountered the playdate from hell. She met another mother who lived in her San Diego apartment complex, and agreed to get their kids together one afternoon for playtime and lunch. After the kids ate, Heather suggested that her guest leave for nap time, but her plan was foiled when both girls fell asleep.

"I told her that I really should get some stuff done around the house while Alexis slept," Heather recalls. "So she started helping me pick up. I just shrugged thinking that maybe Linda didn't want to wake her daughter, so I chatted, or rather listened, as Linda kept sharing more and more. I learned that her estranged husband was in prison!"

Every time Heather suggested that her new friend leave, she found herself getting in deeper and deeper. That 11 a.m. lunch date melted into an afternoon at a local amusement park that didn't end until 10 p.m. that evening. "Needless to say, after that day I always had something to do when Linda wanted to come over!" she says. "When she would knock at the door I would try not to answer, but sometimes she did even look in and knock on my windows."

Never fear, says Perry, Ga. etiquette expert Katie Lewis, there are strategies for dealing with over-enthusiastic guests. Lewis, who is certified by the Protocol School of Washington as an etiquette and international protocol consultant, says most people don't realize they've overstayed their welcome. It's up to you to find a gracious way to let them know it's time to go home. "Typically, the [other mother] is so thrilled to have adult interaction, time just flies," she points out. "However, the fact remains that decorum must still exist -- somewhere." Lewis frowns on some of the options my friends suggested: "Grab your child and gasp, 'Oh, this rash wasn't here before!' or 'Are you feverish?'" or "Gnaw off your own ankle like a trapped fox, grab the children and RUN." Instead, she offers these helpful -- and polite -- tips:

Suggest another date -- on neutral territory: If your guest didn't get the social cues (empty snack basket, husband coming home from work, etc.), you will have to be direct yet courteous. You might say, "I am so glad you and little Susie could come play with us, but it is time for my little Susie's nap. I have rinsed out your sippy-cup and packed the leftover snacks for you to take home. How about we meet at the park next week?" Notice that you are agreeing to get together again, but on neutral territory.

Establish clear boundaries: Let your guest know, gently, that you have other plans. "I am sorry to have to end our playdate but I have to ..." start supper, make my 3 p.m. appointment, jump off a cliff, whatever. Just remember to be gracious and thank your guest for coming. For future get-togethers, you will want to establish start/stop times at the time you agree to meet up and tell your guest why (appointment, nap time, etc.).

Lewis, who has two kids of her own, ages 8 and 11, says she knows these strategies will work -- because she's used them herself. Thank goodness, because I have a date with a friend who has a tendency to overstay her welcome. Don't get me wrong, I love her and our kids are the best of pals. But after seven hours of chit-chat (yes, I said seven hours), I'm ready for a little alone time.

How do you let your guests know it's time to go home?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.