Mom dating — the process of finding other similarly situated mothers with children the same age as yours to spend a couple of pre-nap hours with every week — is critical for stay-at-home moms for several reasons.
Goal No. 1
As far as I can tell, one of the biggest goals is to help selfish preschoolers and tyrannical toddlers begin to understand the concept of “sharing.” This is accomplished by holding play dates where your children are released into a room holding another child’s playthings and chastising them when, inevitably, they reach for whatever toy the Other Child is holding.
A typical sharing lesson goes as follows:
“No Lily, you can’t grab toys! We have to share the toys.”
“No! I want that,” Lily will yell, refusing to unhand the toy.
The Other Child starts crying and/or screaming.
“NO! That’s my toy!!”
The Other Mother intervenes.
“(Insert Other Child’s name), we have to share our toys.”
“NO! That’s my toy!!” the Other Child will yell, making what is, in my opinion, a valid point.
“Come on, Lily, how about we play with this toy?” I’ll say, offering an object, that by nature of the fact it is not being held by the Other Child, is clearly less than desirous.
“No! I want that one!”
“Lily, if you don’t let go, you’re going to have to sit in timeout,” I’ll say, demonstrating that I’m not afraid to be a tough disciplinarian.
The Other Mother intervenes again, forcefully taking the toy from her child and handing it to mine.
“Let Lily play with it, then you can have a turn,” she’ll say.
The Other Child whimpers.
“Say thank you, Lily,” I’ll say, demonstrating that I’m teaching my child to have good manners.
“Thank you,” Lily will say smugly.
Lily plays with the toy for a few moments, then forgetting what made it so magical to begin with, abandons it on the floor.
And thus, they learn how to share.
Goal No. 2
Another goal of mom dating is to allow moms to have conversations that do not involve explaining why it’s not nice to push your little sister’s face or why the dog doesn’t want to be a princess, while removing the necklaces and tiara the preschooler has placed on him.
Instead, you can talk about the various milestones your child has or hasn’t reached; offer reviews of various kid-oriented TV shows, music, books and destinations; and commiserate over things like the frustrations of grocery shopping with children or not having the time to do the things that we really want to do (like, in my case, scrub the kitchen floor).
Goal No. 3
Finally, there seems to be a final, unsaid goal of mom dating, which is to prove that you have everything under control.
If you’re like me, in order to demonstrate that you have everything under control, you spend the hours leading up to your mom date frantically cleaning your house — de-furring couches and carpets, wiping down counters, removing toothpaste spit from the bathroom mirror, etc.
I often try to bake muffins or banana bread and brew a fresh pot of coffee in the hour before the play date to make the house seem extra welcoming (and hopefully to mask any noxious pet odors).
I freshen up — maybe putting on mascara and trading my pajama pants for my good jeans.
In the minutes leading up to the date, I peek anxiously out the window so that I can stash the over-eager dog in the sunroom as soon as the minivan rolls onto my driveway.
The girls wait at the front door, smooshing their noses and fingers into the glass. I pray our guests don’t see the smudges.
When our dates arrive, I put on my biggest smile and open the door.
“Come on in! Thanks so much for coming over.”
(Observe my clean house. The fresh smells wafting from the kitchen. My polite and gracious children. Soak in the domestic bliss.)
Of course, the whole charade is absurd. I know this.
The Other Mom is, in fact, a mom like me.
She usually walks through the door 10 or 15 minutes late because it was “that kind of morning” (no explanation needed). She’s as weary as I am. Her child is as maddeningly possessive and yet endlessly sweet as mine are.
I’ve learned that with mom dating — just like regular dating — the relationship only gets good when you can break down the walls we build around ourselves in hopes of living up to that image of perfection we’re all think we have to strive for.
There was no need to clean because the house is in shambles within minutes of their arrival. There was no need to bake because the kids and the moms are just as happy to snack on Goldfish Crackers and pretzels.
The coffee is appreciated.
But even more so a sympathetic ear.
The date ends when the kids are sufficiently worn out and there are no toys left to put on the floor.
As the Other Mom backs out of the driveway, I wonder if she’ll call for another date. I could really use the company.
Susan Jennings is mom to Lily, 3; Jovie, 18 months; Snacks the dog; and Bart, Peanut Butter and Delaney the cats. She is wife to Brad. Read her blog at www.myinsidevoices.com.