Playdate Dad

May 21, 2006

The Berkeley Parents’ Network listserve never fails to provide juicy blog fodder. A few weeks back, a mother wrote in to complain about dads hosting playdates. She had a few questions for the other moms out there.

Her first query was of the Ms. Manners variety: “When my son is asked on a playdate, how can I insist on the Mom being in charge without offending anyone?”

Her later questions were of the harangue variety: “Don’t you people read the papers?” (i.e. Don’t you read horror stories about male killers, kidnappers, and pedophiles?) And: “Why on earth do you other moms put me in this awkward situation?”

The next listserve featured 48 responses to her post, and it was a pile-on of the first order. A huge percentage of respondants called her sexist and paranoid, and a fair number suggested she get therapy. Some working moms gave her a thorough tongue-lashing, and a few stay-at-home-dads lamented her attitude. Plenty of parents suggested that she get to know any parent who will be watching her child, man or woman, to guage whether her child would be safe in their care.

A few samples:

I think it’s great to hear that dads are playing a more active role helping to organize their kids social lives, and it really undermines that if they are stigmatized as potential abusers.  (BTW I do read the news, and I can’t remember ever hearing of a dad abusing the friend of a child who came over on a playdate…)

As for us Moms who you feel are putting you in this impossible situation, we’re Moms just like you who love our kids and who are incredibly grateful to have male partners deeply involved in our childrens’ lives.  In my view, the more Dads host playdates, the closer we get to the kind of society where we have to worry less about gender-based violence and abuse.  I worry you may be sending an implicit message to your children that all adult men can’t be trusted.

I don’t think we can ask fathers to be more involved, caring parents and then treat them all like sex criminals. Your son is going to grow up to be a man, after all–doesn’t he need positive role models from his community? I know there are guidelines out there for parents to teach their children how to resist and report inappropriate touching.  Better to arm your children with these skills than ”lock them in the nunnery.”

I was buoyed by this upwelling of courageous parents willing to move beyond the sex stereotypes of the past and embrace men for the superior nurturers and protectors they can be.

However, after the dust settled, a third email came out, with a smattering of delayed responses. These were the men and women who had been raped and molested by dads and friends’ dads–dads who were kind and fun and seemingly trustworthy to all the other parents. These posts really popped by bubble of self-righteous idealism.

I was left wondering how to reconcile these few haunting voices with the bold paradigm-shifters that preceded them. I suppose that when you leave your child with anyone, it’s a gamble. A loss of control. And the end goal isn’t to trust all men or all women, but to evaluate people as individuals, pay attention to gut instincts, and teach your child to do the same.