The Introverted Parent’s Guide to Hosting a Playdate

Two children have a playdate

When it comes to hosting playdates, having clear boundaries in place is key, like set start and end times.

I was almost 40 years old before I realized my deep and abiding fear of unannounced visitors was a product of my introverted and anxious leanings. I was aware of a mild aversion to surprise visitors, but there’s nothing like having babies to bring all your personality facets into full view. 

I had my third baby at the age of 39, and with each passing year and additional child, I have less social energy in reserve. In fact, I find myself plotting and scheming to keep my home a private sanctum and “introvert zen zone” in the face of playdate requests, friendly drop-bys, and social gatherings. 

I’d like to offer a few pointers to other introverted parents for keeping your private spaces private, from this battle-worn, overtired mom of three.

The Introverted Parent’s Guide to Hosting a Playdate

1. Establish a clear end point to any get-together. 

Make sure you not only set a start time for the playdate, but also set an end time — and have something relatively set in stone, like a lesson/activity/appointment that you have to get to. I learned this the hard way after a playdate at my home once stretched beyond two hours. 

By the end of it, I had reached that dull plane of consciousness we introverts know all too well. I was in a drained, zombified state, barely able to keep the conversation going, my mind frantically racing through how to bring the playdate to a close. I finally conjured up an excuse, but it took the mother another 10 minutes to wrangle her kid out the door.

2. Pick a location for any playdate or visit that’s a reasonable distance from your home. 

By scheduling the playdate not too close to home, your private sanctum won’t be invaded to deal with any of the inevitable small child snafus that may crop up (need for the restroom, need for water or a snack, minor scrape, you get the gist…). 

Again, a lesson I learned the hard way after a playdate at a park just up the street from my house. A child had a bathroom emergency and I felt compelled to offer our bathroom. Darned if the other children weren’t enthralled by the toy selection at our house (and refused to leave!). Kids would then engineer an excuse to come to our house every time we met at that park. 

3. Consider ways to give yourself the opportunity to recharge during the visit. 

Don’t forget to recharge during the visit. For example, inviting more than one child to the playdate can help, assuming the kids all get along. The presence of more than two adults means you can slyly remove yourself from the conversation if you feel your introvert gas tank approaching “empty.” 

These accursed and omnipresent “smart” phones also provide the perfect excuse to remove yourself when you’re feeling drained. Anyone else ever faked a phone call so you could step away and give your overactive mind a quick respite? (Thought so!) 

4. It’s okay to bail on a playdate if you (or your child) need to.

Allow yourself to bail on a playdate if you (or your child) need to — and do not feel guilty about it! I’ve tried cajoling a drained preschooler into staying at the park another five or 10 minutes for the sake of the other child. It usually doesn’t end well. 

Your little one is likely feeling emotions all too familiar to you, but is less able to mask or cope with them. In the moment, it may not feel great to bail early, but the alternative (a melting-down child or a drained you) is more painful. The other parent will understand. 

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5. Know that friends will realize, eventually, that getting together in your home just isn’t your thing.

Eventually, parents will realize that getting together in your home just isn’t your cup o’ tea. Playdates can just as easily happen at a park and get-togethers can take place on a restaurant patio. 

I had one dear friend who was so excited for some time with my newborn that she would pop over after our older kids were dropped off at school. She would ring the doorbell and knock on the door repeatedly while I cowered in a bedroom away from windows, in an exhausted, bedraggled state, sometimes with dripping boobs flapping in the wind mid- or post-breastfeeding. 

It took a few visits, but she finally learned that I wouldn’t come to the door if she stopped by unannounced. And I learned not to beat myself up about this. It’s okay to keep your private spaces private.

6. Take comfort in the knowledge that playdates will (eventually) end. 

Like all seasons of life, the season of parent-accompanied playdates will end. (Phew!) My sons are now 13 and 15, and they have friends over without a parent tagging along. Kids can be told directly and bluntly, without breaking social mores, that it’s time to go home. Kids can be directed to text their parents to pick them up, or to let their parents know we’ll be taking them home. 

I’ve made some great friends with the parents of my kids’ friends, but I’ve also come to realize I don’t have to be good friends with all the parents. Remaining friendly acquaintances is A-OK. As kids’ lives become busier and your kids’ social circles grow, it gets harder and harder to carve out time to meet your own needs — for solitude or time with your own close friends. As a result, I’ve learned to prioritize my very limited free time for the people I most want to see.

7. Adapt your concept of hosting to your life circumstances. 

There was a time, earlier in my adulthood/parenthood, when I enjoyed playing hostess. We would have family or friends over and I could manage hostess duties — getting the house presentable, having suitable food and beverages on hand, and yukking it up well into the night. 

But I’ve come to realize we can have a family over for takeout pizza and store-bought dessert. I can set boundaries and make it clear that we have kid bedtimes and next-day obligations, ensuring the night ends before my social reserves are depleted. I’m my own harshest critic, but I don’t have to be Martha Stewart or Ina Garten.

It’s All About Learning to Socialize Within Your Comfort Level

Reflecting on some of these episodes makes my blood pressure spike all over again. I’m tempted to close the blinds and hide in the back bedroom just thinking about it. But by employing these strategies, the kids and I have learned to socialize within our comfort levels. I can even start to envision a time when I’ll host a big get-together in my home again. Just give me 5-10 years…

Introverted parents, what would you add to the list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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Joanna McFarland Owusu is a writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas. Joanna was a federal government analyst in a former life, and she’s a longtime policy stan and news junkie. When she isn’t reading the news or writing, Joanna spends most of her time Uber-momming two teenage sons and an elementary-aged daughter around town. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and Bust.