Despite my superhuman efforts and most fervent desires, my children are not perfect. I know, it's shocking really. And sometimes, over the years, it has been difficult to bend them to my will, especially when that will involved them playing with a child they disliked. Yes, also shocking.
Now right here some of your parent alarms might be going off. A child should have autonomy to choose his or her own friends and I shouldn't be forcing them to socialize with someone not of their choice. Right? Well, sort of. There's two problems with this straight-up analysis.
First, the poor child who nobody wants to play with. We all know some of those children. In fact, there have been periods of time when one of my kids fell into that category. It's sad to see and, as adults, we want to help those children. We also would like our little ones to be role models of inclusiveness. But empathy does not come readily to kids and when it does, it does not often come in powerful enough doses to help them survive a two hour playdate with someone they can't stand.
Then, there's the problem of the parent. This often can present a much greater challenge. The parent of the child in question may be a truly lovely person, perhaps even a friend that you have bonded with during pre-school parties and at end of the day pick-up. Alternatively, the parent might be a terror who now that you have met her makes you totally understand why your daughter wants nothing to do with her genetic offspring. But she's scary. And persistent.
So what do you do when mom asks for a playdate? You politely decline, mention a scheduling conflict, etc., but mom keeps asking and you can't pretend that your three year old has a social calendar busier than the Kardashians.
Here's what I did or tried to do when my kids were younger. If I knew mom and thought she'd be receptive, or at least tolerant of, the truth, I would explain that my daughter didn't feel comfortable with hers and had not been receptive to the idea of a playdate. If pressed, I might elaborate that Suzie tended to want whatever my daughter was playing with, or Suzie wouldn't play anything at all, or whatever tidbits of information my child had imparted. Sometimes, I think parents really do want to understand what is going in their child's world. Everybody sugarcoats and that, in conjunction with a parent's natural proclivity for seeing no wrong, can lead to parents being blind to important issues in social development that would be better addressed early. I would never be mean or cruel in my comments and I would always present it as a clash of personalities or interests, rather than a problem unique to that parent's child, but at least I would have nipped the never-ending invites in the bud and provided the parent with a window into their child's interactions with others.
If mom or dad is Godzilla and you know will never accept or tolerate anything that even rings of negativity, I would continue to decline politely until the cows come home. If pushed, I might say simply that my daughter just doesn't feel a connection with hers and leave it at that. There is no point putting your neck out if you know there will be no benefit.
Of course, I always tried first to suggest to my child that she might enjoy a playdate with this friend and, perhaps, even if it wasn't so enjoyable it might be a nice thing to do. You can only push so hard, however, because your child will have to endure the company of this other kid for a defined period of time and, if the interaction is going to be too painful for her, it is not worth it and will undoubtedly prove to be painful to you as well.
So what do you do? Do you have any strategies that you use when turning down playdates? Please share!