Let’s talk playdates! Do we arrange them for our babies + toddlers or for ourselves? I’m going to be straight up honest with you now and fully admit I arrange them for me! It’s an added bonus to me that Charlie is a sociable dude and loves hanging out with the children of my friends! But even before he had opinions on the matter, the group of friends I had forged in pregnancy would meet in the park with our babies ranging from 2 - 6 months and offload.
We would share the highs and lows of motherhood in a way I couldn’t with my husband and in a way I couldn’t with my best friends at home simply due to the day to day proximity. My best friends from the UK were always always there for me at the end of the phone (handy when you’re suffering through post-natal anxiety and most of them had been there and done it with the newborn stage). Also very handily, one of my oldest and closest friends gave birth to her 3rd child (and first son) just over 2 weeks after Charlie was born so she was also at the end of the phone at 3am like me!
Despite this, it was my new group of Madrid mum friends and our weekly park meet-ups that helped me fully offload and recharge on a weekly basis. For the first few playdates in early summer of 2020 things were easy, we’d meet for a picnic lunch (as summer wore on this would change to brunch as the heat in Madrid became more intense), the babies would sit in a little circle and play with whatever we had brought and we would chat. Occasionally one of us had to do the walk and bounce/walk and feed, but we could have a conversation. But then the babies started to learn to crawl and the playdates took a turn!
By the end of the summer, we would start a conversation, which would quickly have to be aborted to stop a child crawling and snatching a toy and making their friend cry, or some other real imminent danger. Each sentence interspersed with “Charlie, that’s Sophie’s toy, share nicely” or “Sophie, stop trying to push Leah's buggy!”.
Then winter came along, which coincided with many of us going back to work after maternity leave. Winter also brought with it another surge of Covid-19 and it generally got harder to move about the city and make social plans…and this is where I truly realised “play-dates” are for mums. When I first wrote this blog post, I actually wrote before the age of 1. But now I have a just-turned 2 year old I would say that they are yet again becoming more important for my own sanity.
In Madrid we have a fair few Bank Holidays, in fact we’ve just had two in two weeks. My husband usually works these days, and nursery is closed, so I prepare myself by planning on a morning playdate in Retiro park with one of those babies from our first summer (who is also now a toddler). Charlie loves it, and I LOVE allowing him to explore and learn in a safe place whilst catching up with a friend who sees me as a woman as well as a mother.
Here are some tips for a successful playdate. You might be surprised I am giving tips, but I have learnt that to be prepared is to have a great play session for both yourself and your little one.
- Plan ahead: check the weather forecast, bring a change of clothes, bring snacks.
- Go outside! If at all possible plan for an outside playdate. Even in autumn/winter, as long as you have suitable clothing it can be outside and I honestly believe Charlie is so much happier out in nature. You are able to plan less formal activities for them, because there is an endless supply of things outside (leaves to collect, things to put in the bin) Spain has play parks dotted around everywhere so there are always safe spaces to keep them contained so you can enjoy a takeaway coffee and a chat with your friend.
- Choose the timing of the playdate wisely. I always prefer the morning, Charlie naps after lunch and I never like the worry of having to wake him up in time to make an appointment on time.
- Consider the ages. I am lucky in that most of my friend’s babies were born within a few months of Charlie. They are more or less at the same stage of learning and communicating. They can’t yet really play together as such, they can’t organise any sort of imaginative play, but they do know each other well enough to share toys if prompted and to feel comfortable in each other’s company. If you have different ages coming, prepare your child well and if they are older, tell them clearly what to expect.
- Do something where you don’t need to be the “entertainer”. This comes with meeting outside again. If you can bring enough toys that they are into (sand toys for play parks for example) or take them to a place where there is loads of opportunity for interaction, you won’t need to be hands on for the whole date and will find yourself happily smiling on watching your little one playing whilst being able to have a good catch up.