A lot of kids we know have regular play dates, some on a nearly daily basis. And that’s okay for lots of families, but it doesn’t work for us…and it doesn’t work for our kids. Truthfully, saying no often makes us the odd family out, and in the past, I would find myself making excuses as to why we couldn’t commit. But now I’m usually okay to just admit that we don’t do a lot of play dates, especially after school. Despite the worry that we’re missing out at times, I know that our family is better off because we say no a lot more than we say yes.
One reason we limit the number of play dates is because it’s simply too much for our kids…at least right now. It’s especially so for our daughter. Though she loves being with other kids, she also needs her downtime. From infancy it was evident that too much stimulation, too many activities (no matter how fun), too much being out, overwhelmed her. When we organized afterschool play dates, they often did not end well. Without realizing it, we were setting her up to fail because she was done before the play really began. As she has gotten older, she has become better at recognizing that regular, quiet time at home is necessary for her to feel her best. It confirms to me, that by simplifying our children’s schedules and providing regular periods of downtime, we offer a model of care that will become self-care as they grow. By limiting afterschool activities and play dates, even when our children protest, we begin a pattern of care that will serve them throughout their lives. And the benefit right now? Calmer, happier, more connected kids.
“This is the lesson they will take with them: A small period of downtime is a form of care.” – Kim John Payne
Another reason we say no is because nurturing the parent-child relationship is at the top of our list of priorities. I know that we as parents have to matter more than peers. In Gordon Neufeld’s book, Hold On To Your Kids, he writes: “Our children’s peers are not the ones we want them to depend on. They are not the ones to distinguish fact from fantasy, to identify what works and what doesn’t, and to direct them as to where to go and how to get there.” I want my husband and I to be the ones my children come to for those answers and, for that to be the case, we have to invest time in being with our children. After all, my children spend their whole school day with friends so, in the evening, we put the focus back on family.
Prioritizing family time isn’t only about focusing on our relationship with our kids but also on their relationship with one another. Despite the three year age gap, they love to play together. Our son looks up to his big sister, and she finds joy in creative play with him. We’ve all benefited from time spent together during those late weekday afternoons and early evenings.
Our children are only little for a short season, and I’m in no hurry for them to be off with their friends every evening…that time will come soon enough. In the meantime, I’m going to do everything I can to protect our time together, including politely declining most after-school invitations. For me, saying no isn’t about not having time, it’s about prioritizing our time for what matters most to us as a family – our relationships with one another.