This is for the new mother, the friend of a mom with small children and for spouses that aren't around all day. There are so many changes that you can't be prepared for when you become a parent. There is so much that you have to learn as you go... Little surprises. That's the nice way to say little (or big) smacks in the face. Here's one of em: Play Dates.
The idea with play dates is that your kids are going to get some fun play time with other children and the attending parent will get some quality time with another adult. Nice idea, but not reality. Welcome to your new reality. Play dates go more like this:
*Kids play, parents chat.
*Kid steals toy from friend, parents must deal with it.
*Parents return to postponed conversation. Now what was I saying?
*Kid needs to go potty, parent takes them.
*Parents return to fragmented conversation.
*I need a snack.
*I need a drink!
*My hands are dirty.
*That's my cup! Give it back.
* He hit me!!
*Parents give up on conversation and just manage children.
* Family packs up and leaves at the end of the play date. Kids have been entertained, but are now tired and possibly grumpy. Parent leaves possibly feeling disappointed because of the lack of connection.
Play dates are opportunities to parent together. You get to parent your kids while I parent my kids. We just get to do it in the same room. There's always the possibility of a few full paragraph exchanges, but your first priority is still your own children...not your own desires. Did that sound harsh?
Parenting is invasive. It takes over every part of your life and it takes up most of your brain power.
So here are some of my strategies for optimizing play dates. Of course, they are just what work for me currently and I may be humbled in my parenting strategies on any given day. :)
1. I do my best to train my children to be kind and obedient at home. It makes play dates much less work for if my child has already learned to share, some basic personal boundaries (don't hit and extended hugs aren't always appreciated) and to respond to your direction. Of course, younger children don't always learn this as easily, but then the play time may become learning time for that child.
2. Have a plan. When we get to our destination we play and have fun for about 1/2 to 2/3 of the time. When conflict begins to present itself (because it almost always does) deal with it accordingly then move on to snack time. If little ones have food in their hands they aren't touching each other and they aren't talking which maximizes the adult talk time. It also keeps blood sugars stable, little tummies full and bad moods at bay (most of the time).
3. I almost NEVER take my eyes off my children. If we are at a friends house then of course I leave them to play independently, but if we are at the park, zoo, local farm, or the book store then I don't let them out of my sight. New environments are always "growth opportunities". What that really means is they are going to find new ways to get into trouble. Oops I didn't know that I shouldn't lay in that puddle, tear the page out of that book, dump my drink on Caden... you get the idea. I'm keeping the conflict down to a minimum. If they get too out of hand it is usually my fault. Also, I don't want strangers preying on my darling little ones. If I can see them then I don't have to worry. There are times when Havah will be out of my sight for a moment, but I try to keep it at just that. A moment.
4. Conversations take a back seat to my children. I require my children to play with their friends or independently while there is another adult around, but my children are still my first priority. Their needs (which are different than wants) will come before my wants.
5. Pack emergency snacks. I know I mentioned snacks already, but there's regular snacks and then emergency snacks. These could also be substituted with an emergency activity (like a pack of play dough in the diaper bag). If at any time a new mom or tired mom produces tears then most all bets are off. At the first sighting of adult tears do your best to ensure that her (or his) and your children are occupied and safe so you can listen, empathies and lament with this friend in need.
6. Lastly, I play according to naps. I try to get my little ones home as close to their regular nap time as possible. If I push them way past nap time their behaviors have become my fault. I can't expect an exhausted hungry child to be well enough equipped to obey.
Life of fragmented conversations is deflating. It requires a lot of patience. It means you might have to get off the phone to parent. It means you might have to be more direct when talking to someone when you would really rather not be. It means you may have to go home early when everyone else is staying.
So all of that to say...I'm sorry new mother, I'm sorry friend of a friend who has small children, or spouse that gets their ear chewed by a parent who is thankful just to have someone to talk to... We are all suffering together.