Playdates: How long is too long?

Received Tuesday, July 22, 2008. - Perspective & Opinion
I have a question.
What is my role as a nanny in regard to play dates? I understand my charge wants to have friends over and that's part of my job but I feel like I am being taken advantage of and used for free babysitting by my employers friends!

When I was hired, I agreed to supervise play dates. I didn't think I would need to specify exactly what a play date is, how long it should last and how many children.

Last week I was placed in charge of two so called play dates. One day, there was 3 children for 4 hours. The next time, only 2 children - but nearly all day! I learned form the other child that her sitter had called out sick! Today I had 3 kids again for almost 4 hours. What is a reasonable play date length (I thought it was 1 to 2 hours). And is it unreasonable to expect the other mother to stay and help? Truth be told, my charge is hyper and medicated so unexpected, short notice and overly long play dates are very trying for both of us. Thanks!


Emily said...

Playdates could be as short as 30 minutes or as long as all-day, but there's a huge difference between a playdate and a parent using a friend's nanny for free childcare.

You could be very direct and bring up your concerns with your employers. Or, when you set up playdates say to the mom directly, "X really can't handle long playdates, can you come back by [insert time 2 or less hours from the beginning time]. Chances are she'll either agree to that time or she'll fess up that she's using her as unpaid labor. If she goes the latter route, then the door is open to telling her that doesn't work for you or negotiating additional pay.

Personally, I love playdates, 2 kids can entertain each other and leave me to get to laundry, etc. But 4 kids could definitely be too much!

UmassSlytherin said...

I would tell them that it is too much, and that if you are supervising play dates for your charge's friends, then you wonder why there are not playdates at other people's houses, why you can't switch off? Even though of course you would go over to the other person's house, at least their parents/nanny would be there to supervise their own charges. This situation seems totally unfair. To me, a "playdate" should not be all day.

I guess you learned a hard lesson. In the future, before you agree to supervise "playdates" I guess you should specify that that does not mean "free childcare for your friends when their nanny is sick."

Some people, OP, if you give them an inch they take a freaking mile. Sorry this is happening to you. Talk to them and tell them you feel taken advantage of, being that your charge needs careful supervision.

Good luck!

mom said...

MPP, did you write this? I thought you were a SAHM these days.

At any rate, this is a very tricky subject.
I had playdates for my kids that ranged from a couple of hours to all day long. The difference as a mom is that you have the ability to say yes or no, depending on how you feel and whether the child in question is well behaved or not.

When the kids were young (the ages that require the most supervision, it was most typical that the other mom(s) and I would be together witht he kids as they played. Only with very close and trusted friends did I leave my children "alone" in their care. Also the same for kids I had over to the house. It seems that if your charges are very young, you have every right to ask that playdates take place with the other parent in attendance. If your charge is young, ask your employer if future playdates can take place in a park or other setting that allows the other mother to watch her children so that you can supervise your charge with your full attention. Otherwise, you are right and you are probably being taken advantage of for free babysitting. Maybe you will need to allow a playdate or two a week where you are alone witht he kids...just to be perfectly reasonable...but ask your employer to limit those to 2-3hours max if the child is young, because more than that is really all the stimulation a toddler needs in a stretch anyway.

When the kids were a bit older, it was often easier for me to have them entertained with friends over. They were happy and entertained and I could get some stuff done while they played. (Of course, there was usually additional mess involved too.) This may be different for oyu since the child oyu watch sounds like he has special needs. If that is the case, tell the parents that it is not pleasant for their child to schedule such long playdates...and that you need the other parents to be present most times so that oyu can attend to your charges special needs properly and at the moment they arise.

You might also tell them which children are particularly difficult for you/ their child to deal with. maybe if they would limit the playdates you supervise to children who are well behaved, things would not seem so hard.

I had certain kids that I would allow over to the house only when I had a lot of free time to deal with their constant need for correction and redirection.

Good luck. This is a tricky one. You don't want to look like you are unwilling to go to extra effort to entertain your charge (because the best of nannies will go that extra mile...within reason, of course), and you don't want to get taken advantage of either. It's a very fine line...and one which I'm sure the parents will draw in an entirely different place than you do. And neither of you will be wrong.

Jane Doe said...

MPP has joined the blog as an ISYN member and permanent contributor.

mom said...

Yeah! I love what MPP has to say...always!

Marypoppin'pills said...

I have run into this problem, too. But with Birthday parties. Imagine my surprise when these Parents just dropped their kids off and I had no idea I was expected to "watch" them. I had mistakenly assumed they would hang out at the party.
Anyway, what bugged me the most? When the party was over, just about every single Parent was late, and two of them didn't show back up until almost 2 hours after the party ended!

I guess I've been fortunate with Playdates so far. At least there, whenever I've made any plans, the Parents usually hang out with me and we chat while they kids play together.

Long time, no see ... I've missed you! Stop disappearing! :(

my two cents said...

I think you need to talk with your employer. Make it clear that long and frequent playdates impact both your charge and your ability to do your job correctly.
As mom pointed out, I think playdates depend on the age and on the personality of the children. You should therefore have some say as to the date, length and content of playdates. I think what would have been appropriate in the sick sitter incident would have been the child's mom calling your employer's house, explaining the situation, asking you if you did not mind looking after her child during this long "playdate" and definitely offering you monetary compensation for it. Or is your charge supposed to go and spend a whole day at
the friend's house? Reciprocity is definitely expected in playdates.

Midwest Nanny said...

I think it makes a huge difference how old the child is and how many children there are. Personally, I think a 'loose' rule of thumb could be something like divide the child's age in half and that's how long to make the playdate. For example, if my charge is 4, then have about a 2 hour playdate. Especially if the playdate has has more then 2 children in it. Obviously, this could totally fluctuate depending on the child/friends, but I've noticed anything more then this (esp. with younger kids) will really wear the child out . . lead to crankiness, etc.,

Have you talked to your employer about the all day playdate where the sitter had called in sick? As an employer, I would probably resent that if I hadn't been asked/told by the other parent. Considering that they are paying you to take care of their child; if you're watching other children that decreases the attention you can give to the one you're being paid to care for. Perhaps that might be one way to approach it with the other parents as well. After all, you aren't a daycare, you're a nanny.

nyc mom said...

I think the length of the playdate depends very much on the age of the kids. At 4-6yo, my kids playdates were usually about 2 hours. But at 8yo, my daughter will often have playdates that last for 4-8 hours and she and her friend still think that's too short!

Whenever my nanny or I hosts or drops my kids off for a playdate, I always make sure to reciprocate with an offer - and always encourage the moms/nannies to leave their child for as long as they want. There is one nanny of a friend of my kids who always wants to have 1.5hr playdates and I hate it because it is just too short. All the kids want to play longer and I am barely getting home before I leave to go pick them up again or vice versa.

OP, how old is the child you care for?

Do the other families host playdates in return?

Phoenix said...

My step-sons play date i only allow to go on for 2 hours tops unless my boyfriend is home and it's a sleep over. My step-sons friend is so hyper and gets into everything he's like 4 kids rolled into one and somehow all his energy is doing multiple things at once.
If you have a kid that is hyper and can't deal with long playdates tell your employer, and don't be afraid to mention the need for extra pay during these crazy times

Anonymous said...

why do you just tell the other kids parents that next week you will bring your kid over for a whole day play..while you go shopping...lol

KC said...

Anything over 3 hours to me, as a nanny, would be completely unacceptable. Especially if you are not being paid! Your employer should not be "loaning" you out to her friends so they can all go out together. At the last family I nannied for, the mom would always ask me at least 2 or 3 days in advance if I wouldn't mind watching one other child, the daughter of a friend, for a few hours. It was never more than the length of a movie and lunch, and she always made sure I was comfortable with it. That's how it should be done.

LindaLou said...

i think you're being taken advantage of. as a sahm, i've also had that happen and had to put my foot down. if you want me to baby-sit your child all day, don't call it a *playdate*. a playdate only lasts a few hours. ime, with preschool aged children, the caregiver sticks around. for older kids, drop off and pick up at a specified time that we both agree to.

mpp, sorry about your birthday party experience. i think with birthday parties you should expect drop offs, but you should also expect that the child will be picked up when you specified, not HOURS late. good grief!

kathleencares said...

That is totally unacceptable! And I can't believe these parents don't feel bad about it. Really tacky! In my opinion, you are definitely being taken advantage of. I would talk to you employer and let her know that you need to paid by these other parents when they leave their kids for extended periods of time - and more than an hour is an extended period of time. It sounds like you are doing a nanny share but only getting paid by one family.

Jess said...

Perhaps you should address this with your employer. Perhaps your employer is reaping some sort of benefit from the extended childcare you are providing the charge. Perhaps the family is giving back on the weekends, when you are not around?

ericsmom said...

Good point Jess

Marypoppin'pills said...

Yeah, I'm still learning, lol. I have now figured out that it is actually customary for the kids to be dropped off at the Birthday child's house .... I just didn't know about it beforehand!

texas said...

I am very fortunate that my employers, when it is their turn to host a playdate, do it when they are available to be home.

mom said...

MPP your birthday story rings a bell...and not surprisingly, I'm sure, reminds me of a specific incident. (The people who did the hours late pickup trick to me didn't get an invite the next year. That's how we solved that.)

We had one neighbor, who was actually an excellent mother, and sort of a friend...but her middle son had some severe emotional problems...as in, he was sometimes completely uncontrollable...even for the parents. In fact, when he misbehaved in public (and sometimes his misbehavior was horrific) they were actually better off to let him go on doing whatever it was than to correct him, because that presented the danger of him screeching and flailing uncontrollably...so much so that he could not even be picked up and carted off safely. I felt so bad for the parents and made sure mom got playgroup invitations and the like, when others sometimes tried to exclude them...because I knew it was not her fault and that she was already overwhelmed and at wits end, and I thought being ostricized would make it all the worse. Her other two kids were perfectly sweet and well behaved. It was not a parenting issue at all (which I have far less patience for.)

Anyway, my son was having a birthday party with a Power Ranger performer and had invited only her oldest child. The middle son was not even anywhere in his age range, so this made perfect sense. Well, in the middle of the party she called to say her middle son was having a fit because he wanted to see the Power Ranger, and could he come to the party too? Of course I said he could come...assuming she would be there to handle him, of course, because it was a no brainer that he needed her assistance at all times. A few minutes late the child showed up at my door, ALONE, and it was a complete nightmare trying to conduct a party and take care of him too...because he needed CONSTANT care. I called her after a little bit and told her he was on his way back home. She seemed surprised...but GOOD GRIEF.

I can't remember for sure, but I believe she may have then come back and attended the party with him.

North Jersey Nanny said...

This used to happen to me all the time at my previous position. I was the lone nanny in a class full of stay at home mothers and was always pleased to host one of my charge's classmates. However, it began to get out of hand. My charge was a 5 year old girl and her playmates moms used to use us as a drop in daycare - we're talking 5-6 hour play dates ONLY at our house. Poor K used to get sad because she never was never invited to anyones house!

I was never sure of the proper etiquette but informed my boss of how I felt and was given permission to address the issue. The next time a play date was requested, I accepted but made it clear that our hospitality had to be reciprocated. Of course, I would stay and supervise K but she deserved to get to play with someone else's toys once in a while! If someone needed coverage (a kid home sick, an unexpected doctor's appointment, etc.) for a longer period of time, I would be happy to help on occasion, with my employers' consent, but it would not be a weekly thing.

K got to visit her friends houses, the nonsense stopped, and parents who were unwilling to respect my employers' wishes... well, their children stopped coming over.

Please speak to your employer and let her know what is going on; you're not trying to duck your responsibilities, you are looking out for the best interest of a child.

dfields said...

Maybe it's a different situation if your charge is younger than my 21 month old son, but I would be unhappy if anyone assumed that his nanny was going to be watching anyone but him at a playdate. Her role (which she does fabulously) is to take care of/teach/play with my son, and not to spread her attention on other children for hours at a time.

chick said...

I think the first thing to do is talk with your employers about the good parts of hosting "playgroup", and then add that their child is having difficulties when xyz happens.

If your bosses are happily pimping you out to their friends who need childcare, they will be happy about the good stuff, and brush off the bad stuff. At that point, you can tell them you'd like their friends to pay $X per hour upfront when they drop their kids off, and that you will be instituting a $5 per minute late fee. Explain that doubling or tripling your workload must be compensated.

If your bosses DON'T know their "friends" are using you, they will likely be disturbed by the bad effects on their child, and will hopefully speak to their friends about limiting playdates to 1.5 - 2 hours, and then insist on reciprocation.

I am likely reading between the lines here, but the impression I get from your post is that scenario #1 is more than likely the case. If so, and outrage occurs when you ask to be paid by their friends, you may be in the position of having to decide to either suck it up and stay, or give notice and leave.

Westchester nanny said...

I agree with many that you are being taken advantage of. Especially with the woman who's sitter called in sick! Could she not have just phoned you earlier and told you that instead of passing it off as a playdate?? You should talk to your employer definitely. Tell them that you love having kids at the house but are beginning to feel like your kindness is being taken advantage of. If they are good employers they will offer you a helpful solution in dealing with their friends.

Manhattan Nanny said...

Play dates are play dates if the host child is invited to the other child's house the next time. If your charge isn't "paid back" you are babysitting.
Toddlers and preschoolers are usually accompanied by a mom/nanny who pitches in with supervision, clean up etc. Drop offs with school age children are usually easy, the kids entertain themselves, you just have to make some good snacks. The etiquette is, when you leave a play date, you and your charge help pickup and put away the toys.
It sounds like you are being used as a babysitter. In a situation like the child who's nanny was out sick. Your employer should have asked you if you were willing to take the child for the day, and her mother should have paid you. Nanny salaries are based on the number of children they care for. If you were caring for two, three or four children, your hourly rate would be accordingly higher. If it was a play date, then that mom owes you a free day!
Sit down and have a talk with your employer. Now that you know the other families, maybe you can start setting up some of the play dates yourself, and you will have more control over the length.

elizabeth said...

Do you have any say about who you have playdates with, or are they scheduled for you? There are many nannies in my area, and it is lots of fun to organise playdates with them. The nannies get a chance to talk or organise big group games (tomorrow we're having a water balloon fight!), and the kids have fun playing with each other.

If you have the freedom to organise the playdates yourself, it could help a lot if you do so :)

No Longer Anonymous Regular said...

Playdate approach varies by age in my house. The rule of thumb I use with my seven year old is that playdates must be reciprocated, or my Nanny does not do them. So, if she supervises another child for four hours, she can count on having the opportunity to have that Mom or Nanny give her a break and supervise my daughter for four hours another day. A four hour playdate is not unusual for age 6 or older children, especially on vacation days.

For my four year old, there are no drop off playdates, so either that child's Mom or Nanny comes with, or it doesn't happen. Most of my four year old's playdates are "meet you at the park/pool/pizza parlor/etc. playdates" for that reason. My nanny arranges playdates since she knows her schedule best, but I ask her to write down the playdates and to not to arrange for a playdate for my older child with a new playmate without discussing with me--not because I question her judgement, but becuase I want to make sure that playmate's caregiver is someone I would allow to supervise a playdate with my child at their home. If the answer is no (and there are some nannies and Moms I would not want supervising my child), playdates with that child are restricted to weekends when I can supervise rather than have my nanny end up being their free babysitter.

m said...

I schedule my play dates according to my schedule for my charges, so pretty much the slot for playing time is just that, it doesn't go over because I move on with my schedule, and a nanny always comes along; afterall who is going to watch the other children. I watch my 2 (I specialize in twins)
So needless to say there is no dropping off.
No more than 2 hours because I don't like sitting around twidling my thumbs making small talk with any nannies. I usually have lots of things to do, albeit self imposed.

My last job, my employer didn't know this rule of mine and asked if her friend could drop off a playdate. I said 'excuse me?'
I didn't understand what she meant, then she explained. I declined and that was the end of that.
Every other playdate came with a sitter.

I don't appreciate when parents run off to make playdates without the nanny knowing- afterall who is going to watch them?
That being said, I enjoy the linited time playdates because I do love to see how my charges interact with other children.

a texas nanny said...

Similar situation happened to me.

I was just supposed to be doing a 5-week temp job during the summer before the mom's kids went to another state to be with their dad the second half of the summer. It was for 2 kids. The second to last week I was due to be there one of the boy's friends came over for like the last 3 days of the week for the entire day. He also would not bring a swimsuit, so we couldn't go swimming. The little girl couldn't have any friends over because none of them were old enough to sit in the front seat and he took the third seat in the back. Or his mom didn't give him any petty cash so we couldn't stop for lunch or anything. It really limited what we could do. Plus the first two kids I was responsible for were the brattiest kids I have ever encountered, so I already had enough to deal with! Well on Friday I had heard the moms say something when she dropped him off about the "next week".

At the end of the day I confronted the mom I worked for. I explained it wasn't fair to the kids because of the reasons I mentioned above (limited where they could go/do, daughter couldn't have a friend over, etc), not fair to her because she was paying me to watch her kids and I had to divide my attention, and unfair to me to watch an additional child with no compensation. I was only making like $60 a day, so I suggested she have the other mom give me $30/day for the days she had the kid over.

Then I was made to feel like crap because it turned out he was over because his grandmother, who was usually his childcare provider, was in the hospital! His mom really gave me guilt-inspiring looks when she paid me. And of course they didn't pay me for the 3 days I had already had him...

But I said something and the situation was at least somewhat alleviated!

K said...

Whenever I host playdates that are going to be over a certain amount of time, my boss always makes sure to tell the other mom that I'll need to be paid for the extra time. I watch a 3 year old so long playdates are not ideal, especially with naps.
I had it happen once where a mom dropped off her 3 year old and 5 year old, with out any prior notice at all. I had to find a way to watch the other woman's children while still finding a way to put my charge down for a nap. That was the last time that happened.
Just say you want extra money if your going to be watching other kids for a time over what you agree on.

K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah said...

I think that when kids have playdates, the parent of the other child is expected to stay there the whole time and supervise their child. Otherwise it isn't a "playdate," it is you babysitting another family's kids! You should tell your employers about this and come up with another activity so you don't get stuck with someone else's children while not being compensated for it.

tina v. said...

No Sara, that is not correct.

A playdate need not have the parents there. Personally, I prefer the age when children can be dropped off.

A playdate MUST be reciprocated.

I would call the person or stop her as she is leaving with her child and said, "Mary is free next Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Which of those days would work for you to host?"

The end.

Trust me on this. When you are 80 years old, you aren't going to like looking back and realizing you didn't simply speak up about this. And who is this bitch to try and get one over on you?

That's So Cheap said...


A playdate is about 1-2 hours and the mother or nanny of the children must be present.

You need to make money if you are left alone with the kids. Otherwise, you are being taken advantage of.

I speak from experience. I am a nanny and my boss had me watch her friend's daughter (in addition to her kids) for three hours every Thrursday for about three months. I never received any compensation. Don't let this happen to you!

Manhattan Nanny said...

School age kids have drop off dates. My older charges would be humiliated if I stayed!

Nannyof2 said...

How much extra should I, as a nanny, be getting paid for one extra child for a drop off playdate? I watch a 10 year old girl with down sydrome and her 7 year old brother @ 14/hr. Sometimes it's a boy for the boy, but sometimes it's another girl with special needs, for the girl.