Play Date Pressure

Dear Parentworks, 

My daughter is 9 years old and we don't live in a neighborhood with other kids her age. This means that in order for her to play with her friends on weekends, holidays or vacations, we must arrange play dates with her friends. One very good friend of hers  has both parents working  full time.  When the kids get together at their house and one of the parents is around the parent seems to go all out and pack the day full of expensive entertainments. For example, they may go to lunch and a movie, then ice skating, and end up at a game arcade. This has happened a few times. I have no problem with all those activities and know the kids really enjoy so much fun. My concern is that when they come to my house the kids seem to expect me to drive them around and spend a lot of money too. I believe that kids should have time to just play and use their own imagination. I've begun to feel really awkward saying no and worry that kids won't want to come to our house because I'm not spending my day off "playing" with them. 

- Competing With Playtime

Dear Competing,

Many people waste way too much time worrying about what other people may think. Kids are always going to ask us to do things for them. They need to know that, while it's OK to ask, they won't always succeed in their requests. If your daughter and her friends (and their parents) don't seem to be keeping count of who spends what and how often, I would encourage you not to worry about it either. Balance in children's lives is vitally important. I strongly agree with you that children need unstructured play time. This not only serves to develop their imaginations but also requires them to be creative in thinking up things to do. If you are planning to have children over to your house, discuss with your child ahead of time what you are and are not willing to do when her company comes. This will reduce your feelings of being put "on the spot" for saying no when asked in front of others. Chances are good they enjoy coming to your house because they aren't having grown ups over-planning their time.