Dear Miriam,

My daughter is in junior infants and has struck up a friendship with the little girl that she is sitting beside. I have gotten to know the mother a little bit at the school gate and she seems to be very nice. However, my sister-in-law says that the husband has been known to have issues with drink in the past and that she would steer clear of the family if it was her child.

I’m not from the area originally, so I don’t know if this is true or false, though I assume there is no smoke without fire. But either way, I would not like to force the end of an innocent childhood friendship based on the actions of this child’s father. At the end of the day, it’s not the child’s fault, or the mother’s for that matter. The child herself seems to be well looked after and loved, so I don’t have concerns in that regard.

My problem is this. My little girl has been asking to invite this child over for a playdate. Again, I have no issue with having the child over, I’d be delighted to welcome her to our home. My only fear is that if the invite is returned, what would I do then? While I am not one to judge anybody’s situation, I have to confess that I would be anxious about allowing my child into a house where there might be issues with addiction etc, as I just don’t know what she might be exposed to in that situation.

Again Miriam, I am not a judgmental person and I don’t want to stop my child being friends with this little girl. But how do I handle this situation delicately?

Concerned mother

Miriam responds

Dear Concerned mother,

Thank you for your email. My heart goes out to this little girl. If there are issues in the home, I’m sure she needs to have as much “normality” as possible in her life, including friendships with other children. But I also absolutely understand your concerns about playdates in the home when you have fears about the environment there.

Maybe the best way to deal with the request for a playdate is to have it at a neutral venue, such as the local park or playground, with both of you in attendance. You could even explain to the child’s mother that you are not comfortable with playdates in your own home due to farm safety (that is, of course, if you are living on a farm) and that this might be the easiest option for you both as there is no need to provide entertainment etc.

Chances are that if she is facing issues at home, she might be dreading having to extend a playdate invite on her side. So, this solution might come as a relief to her also.

While the children play, you could grab a takeaway coffee and get to know each other. I’m not suggesting this is an opportunity to interrogate her as to her home life. But I think if the children are going to be friends and if playdates are going to be a regular event, it does make sense to get to know the other parent on some level.

Her husband’s issues with alcohol could well be in the past, but I think that a neutral venue is the answer for the time being, so that both children can just enjoy their play without any fear or anxiety on either side. Over time, perhaps you will understand the family situation better and get to a more comfortable position with a playdate. Also children in junior infants are so young and only at the very start of their journey so there is loads of time for your child and her friend to do things together.

I hope that this is helpful.

Reader writes

Dear Miriam,

In response to the recent letter (“I’m dreading surprise birthday”, published 21 January edition) a friend of mine got wind of a surprise party her family were organising and she took charge of the guest list. Lucky enough as the children didn’t know the friends the mother had growing up!

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