Hello, summer! Hello, warm weather! And hello, outside playtime! Park playdates are plentiful this time of year. No one feels the need to clean house before friends come over, it’s usually neutral ground when meeting up with brand new friends, and a “park playdate” just sounds like a piece of every parent’s life these days. But, it’s a different feeling for this mama.
I’m an anxious, hot mess at park playdates
Let me break it down for you:
adventurous toddler(s) + play structure with openings in high places to potentially fall through – lack of mama chit chat time due to chasing after said wild child(ren) = anxious, hot mess mama
For me, playdates are supposed to be twofold. One, obviously, they are for my child to interact with children of a similar age; learn how to play in a social setting, how to share, and enjoy new childhood friends. Secondly, for me to socialize with my mom friends; to catch up on life, vent about toddler tantrums, work life, or spouses who book golf on a day you need him to cover daycare duties. Well, my toddler doesn’t always interact with our playdate partners, and with park playdates, I don’t get much mama talk. Hence, park playdates are not my favorite thing with a toddler.
My toddler is a special breed of tiny human who does what she wants
She doesn’t engage in imaginative play yet, and instead runs off wildly on her own, wanting to explore the wobbly bridge. I can’t fault her for that. The park is free-range, and there’s no way of keeping her in one area (without a major toddler tantrum). She’s often on one side of the play structure, with me close on her heels, while our playdate partners are on the other. Because of this, I don’t socialize much with my mom friends during park playdates. Yes, we make the best of this, watching out for each other’s kids, still trying our best to converse across the sandbox over the chaos of kids running about, but it’s not like we’re chillin’ on a bench, coffees in hand, chatting away while our kids play nicely with not one scraped knee or daredevil jump from the fourth climber step.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the park, and I love playdates, just not together during the wild toddler years. Some moms of toddlers totally rock the park playdate. Either their toddler isn’t as rambunctious as mine and stays pretty tame on the play structure, or they’re just better about letting their toddler explore (or get really close to the edge of that opening at the stop of the twisty ladder). And to you lovers of the park playdate with toddlers, keep playing hard! But to the moms who share the similar “anxious, hot mess mama” feeling, I feel you! We might be a bit overprotective when it comes to playground safety or even feel a bit selfish or whinny about not getting to enjoy coffee and genuinely catch up with our mom friend since our eyes are constantly glued to our toddlers. It’s a balance!
Tips on Surviving (AND Enjoying) Park Playdates
After many breath-holding park playdates when my oldest was a toddler, I have come up with ways to make these social hours more fun, and manageable for pitter-pattering parent hearts. If you’re a parent whose heart beats anxiously as your toddler runs across that wobbly bridge with barely any side bars like my adventurous little one, try these tips…
- Bring items that entertain toddlers off the play structure that still keep them active and engaged, but contained to a smaller area
- Sand toys (also good for bark, rocks, and random dirt piles)
- Sidewalk chalk
- Large blanket and lawn toys
- Bring a wagon, push trike, or anything that would be good for a stroll around the park. Hello, contained toddlers! Hello, mama walk and talk!
- End your park playdate with a picnic lunch. What toddler doesn’t love food!? Spread out a picnic blanket, break out the Puffs and cheese sticks, and enjoy some calm, social time.
Toddler playdates and park time – they’re both important, whether paired together or not. As the mama to an outgoing toddler, I want to provide her with every opportunity to socialize. She needs time to explore and grow physically (even if that means climbing up the slide backwards). My child will survive, I will socialize (even if it’s just a bit), and we will enjoy some sunshine with friends. Deep breaths, anxious mamas!