I'm Too Embarrassed to Reciprocate Play Dates at My Messy House

Play DateThis is hard to admit, but I feel like I’m not alone here: When I take my toddler and 1-year-old on play dates, I often feel like I can’t have the people over in return. For various reasons, we live in an apartment that’s pretty small, with no backyard. To make matters worse, neither my husband or I are particularly good at de-cluttering or cleaning. The result is that my home usually doesn’t look good enough for company, and I’m embarrassed to have people see that we pretty much live like college students.

But I can’t keep offering to meet people at the playground. Part of friendship is reciprocation. A huge re-haul is not in the cards: we don’t have the time, the money, or the energy. What, I wondered, could I do if my home didn’t feel ready for prime time?


For answers, I checked in with Barbara Desmarais of TheParentingCoach.com. I was surprised to find that she would give me no de-cluttering tips. In fact, she would not hear of me beating myself up over this no matter how I phrased the problem.

“A huge part of parenting is role modeling,” she told me. “When you decide you are embarrassed about your home and don’t want to have play dates, that sends an unconscious message to your child: ‘We’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.’ It also tells them that things and status are more important than people.”

Instead, she said, focus on what’s important. “Kids need the chance to play in someone else’s home, and also to learn to host and share their space with others,” she says. In other words, the value of having play dates supersedes your anguish over your unkempt abode.

“Maybe I should involve the kids in a quick cleanup before our friends arrive,” I suggested, but Barb was dubious of that idea. “Of course, it’s great to do a few little things in respect of our company,” she says. “But you don’t want the preparation for the play-date to become a stress, so that having people over becomes a tense situation.” Toddlers are too little to care, she insisted.

I countered with my own mortification at my parents’ cluttered house when I was a kid. “Hm. How old were you when you felt that way?” she asked.

Busted: I was a teenager. They’re mortified no matter what you do.

Going forward, here’s my plan for bravely going forth into the world of hosting play-dates:

  • Throw kitchen clutter into the oven (but remember to take it out before I cook!)
  • Swiffer the kitchen and bathroom floors
  • Throw living-room clutter into our bedroom and close the door
  • Run the vacuum cleaner for 10 minutes
  • Stop worrying

Barb’s core message was the same one my mom told me years ago: You don’t want friends if they’ll judge you for stupid stuff. So if you have them over and they never come again, good riddance. Easier said than done, of course, but I’m going to try.

Have you ever felt like your home is too modest for your friends? How did you handle it?

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