When a Kid Negotiates Play Dates With Moms

My son Marco, at age nine, plans his own play dates. He knows when he has free time. He can ride his bike to other kids’ houses on his own.

Unfortunately, very few of his friends can do these things. This fact has resulted in a rather sparse social life this school year for Marco.

You see, there are kids who want to play with him, but they’re powerless. Their moms and nannies hold the power, and they’re not too thrilled for their kids to play with Marco because there’s no social benefit for them.

I’ve seen this play out numerous times outside of school right after the end-of-day bell rings. It goes something like this. Marco approaches a kid to ask him to play after school. The kid looks interested, but clueless. He feebly asks his mom or nanny. She replies, “No, we have plans to go to ____’s house today.” Then, a moment later, that mom or nanny starts yapping with other moms and nannies.

Part of me says I should yap more with moms after school. Even though I need to return to work after dropping off the kids at home, perhaps I can carve out an afternoon once in a while to pursue an after school social life for Marco’s sake.

However, that’s just not me. These moms and nannies are nice people, by and large, but I have little interest in that after school social scene.

So, Marco gets rejected a lot these days, and has far fewer play sessions with friends than he’d like. This makes me sad.

On the other hand, I’m happy when I see how resourceful Marco’s becoming when he deals with this problem.

One day a couple of weeks ago, he asked a kid, Tommy, to play after school. Tommy really wanted to say “yes,” but he equivocated because his mother wasn’t around, and she had given him no power to manage his own after school schedule. In the course of their discussion, Marco walked away from Tommy for a moment to meet his brother, Nico (6), and when Marco returned, Tommy had vanished. Apparently, his mom had shown up and whisked him away.

Marco rode home with Nico and me, but he was still determined to follow through with Tommy. So, he retrieved his class list from his desk in his bedroom, found Tommy’s mom’s phone number on it, and asked our babysitter, Mayra, to call the number. Through her, he asked Tommy’s mom if he could go to their house to play with Tommy. She said “yes.” After Mayra hung up, Marco found Tommy’s address on the class list and asked Mayra to find that address on Google Maps on her phone. Marco drew up a map for himself on a post-it note, jumped on his bike, and rode his bike to Tommy’s.

Unfortunately, Marco hasn’t been able to schedule another play date with Tommy since then. I’ve seen a couple of their conversations after school. They’re painful to watch. Clearly, Tommy wants to play with Marco, but it’s equally clear that Tommy can’t make it happen.

So, Marco’s degree of independence, along with his parents’ unwillingness to schmooze with other parents, makes him a social misfit among third-graders at his school, but he’s not complaining. Just last week, he wrote the following in his writing journal: “I like that my dad lets me choose what I do and where I go after school.”

Reading that put some wind in my sails. My wife and I are doing the right thing, I think. I just hope he stumbles on to some kids who are as independent as he is soon.

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