For the first time, I was asked that question before a playdate earlier this month. Chicken pox was spreading in my neighborhood, sometimes on purpose, and many unvaccinated children were forced to stay home until their exposure period had passed.
Yes, I replied, and I realized I was grateful for the question.
While I'm less worried about chicken pox, rightly or wrongly, I know the measles is spreading like wildfire in the Western United States, mostly linked to an infected person's visit to Disneyland
in December. It's prompting schools to order unvaccinated children and children with compromised immune systems to stay home until their exposure to the sometimes-deadly respiratory disease has passed.
Vaccination, guns, celiac disease: The modern playdate comes with all sorts of landmines our parents may have never discussed.
No matter what your parents tell you as they become newly minted grandparents, the world has changed since they let you walk solo to school or roam free to the local playground/woods/grocery store/McDonald's. (You can also remind them that letting your kids go to the playground alone can now earn you a visit from children's protective service
"Parenting takes guts," says Asha Dornfest
, co-author of "Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less" and author of the upcoming "Parent Hacks." "It requires us to have the confidence to face our fears, including the desire to please and fit in that may be a holdover from our own childhoods."
I want my child to experience the differences in the houses she visits. I want her to thrive in a diverse world, but I do think some differences put her in danger.
The parent of my daughter's friend taught me last week that it's smart to think about what differences we can embrace or at least tolerate, and where we draw the line. And to talk about it, no matter how much we want to avoid conflict on the playground and get along with everyone.
"For me, basic health and safety is always a place to start," says Dornfest. "But does that include exposure to violent video games or movies? What if one of the parents smokes cigarettes?
"We need to accept that it's impossible and unhealthy to try to control every aspect of our child's experience of the world. There's a balance between protecting your kid from obvious risks and sheltering him from different points of view. But only you can decide where that balance lies."
Know your deal breakers
You might not want guns, no matter how well-secured, in the home of your child's playdates. (It's a question that has come up in my Georgia home but not when I lived in New York.) But what if your child's host is a police officer?
If your child has celiac disease, as do the kids of a friend, a host's care-free attitude toward the harsh impact of gluten on your children may prevent a playdate.
"My most pressing concern has been trying to assess the parents' knowledge of what gluten is," writes Dr. Melissa Stein, who lives in Manhattan with her partner and two sons, ages 9 and 11. Both boys have celiac disease.
"I'm frequently suspicious because there is so much misinformation, but I don't want anyone to think I am treating them like an idiot," writes Stein via Facebook message. "Fortunately the boys are getting old enough to make safe choices on their own."
8 playdate questions
Here are some pre-playdate questions parents I polled are prone to ask:
1. Is your child vaccinated?
2. Do you have guns? If so, how are they secured?
3. Does your child have any allergies or dietary restrictions?
4. Want to know about our recent bout with lice?
5. Are non G-rated TV shows and video games OK in your home?
6. Do you smoke cigarettes or marijuana?
7. Will a parent be supervising teens and tweens onsite?
8. Is alcohol kept within kids' reach in the home? Do you drink while watching the kids?
Which ones do you ask, whether you're hosting or sending your child to someone else's house? Please add your questions and suggestions into the comments section, and play nice. This is meant to be a helpful online playdate.