Remember dating? And that most awkward of moments, the end of an evening when it was clear not everyone had enjoyed the experience equally?
Your date would ask the question, “What are you doing next weekend?” And, instead of saying “avoiding you,” you’d stay pleasantly vague. “Ooh, sorry. I think I’m busy.” For that matter, you’d be busy the weekend after that, too. Suddenly, your calendar was just packed.
Marriage is supposed to put all that behind you, right? Not if you have children. For every time your kid makes a new friend, you end up doing the getting-to-know-you-waltz all over again with a new set of parents. It’s a little like having a 40-inch yenta stubbornly pushing you toward an endless series of blind dates. And if you think chemistry is hard to predict between two people, just try making it work with four.
One mom we met seemed to like us well enough, but in a very distant way; she would spend entire playdates at our house staring at the grass or looking past our shoulders at some far away thing we couldn’t see. Conversation always involved long stretches of cricket-begging silence and we decided she must be shy.
Both of the children loved these meet-ups, nonetheless, so we kept at them for a while, but we did notice we were never invited to the other family’s house in return. And then the mom started taking longer and longer to return our calls. Eventually, we got the message: She just wasn’t that into us.
We could hardly throw stones; there are plenty of perfectly well-intended parents we haven’t exactly developed crushes on ourselves. There was the mom who detailed her sexual history 10 minutes into the first playdate; the dad who yanked out his daughter’s not-actually-loose tooth so that she could keep up with her tooth-losing friends; and the mom who treated us like Encyclopedia Homosexualis, lobbing blunt questions our way as if we somehow spoke for the entire species.
All our parent friends have their own similar tales from the grown-up dating trenches. One couple we know had never met the parents of their daughter’s best friend in preschool, so they were delighted when the other family suggested they should all spend a day together. This seemed ideal — at least until the inviting parents planned themselves a getaway for that same weekend, leaving my friends to entertain their child and her nanny for them.
A couple with two boys told us how thrilled they’d been when they’d learned that a new family would be moving to their street with three sons younger than 6. Our friends could just imagine all the years of play ahead, when the boys were all old enough to run from house to house. But that kind liberty started a little too early.
While the new family was still doing major construction on their enormous mansion-to-be, they left their kids (one still in diapers!) completely unsupervised, free to wander among the equipment around the site and toddle off into the road, which is where our friends found them. All visions of bonding between the families evaporated.
If you met someone who bothered you this much in a dating context, you wouldn’t hesitate to just ditch the bozo and stop returning his calls or texts. Parent “break-ups” are a little trickier because you know your kids will see their kids in school for, oh, a decade or so, which means a little finesse and tact might be prudent.
But make no mistake: Job number one is keeping your child safe — not sparing the feelings of other parents whose values put them at risk.
There is no easy exit line in situations like these. We all know that the old chestnut, “It’s not you, it’s me,” actually means “It’s me disapproving of you.” So The Hubby and yo fall back on the kinder, gentler dodge: Suddenly, our weekends are full — and, depending on who’s asking — they will be for a long, long time.