Voices: I’m considering charging for playdates – why shouldn’t I be reimbursed?

A mum sent a list of expenses after a playdate that included wear and tear of the family’s sofa  (Melissa Richards/Tiktok)
A mum sent a list of expenses after a playdate that included wear and tear of the family’s sofa (Melissa Richards/Tiktok)

A mother has sparked outrage online for claiming that she charged another parent $15 (nearly £12) to cover the expenses from a playdate their children had recently – but as a parent of two who often hosts other people’s kids, I can’t think of anything fairer.

In a video on Tik Tok that has since gone viral with more than 3.5m views, the mum shared screenshots of an alleged exchange between her and another parent that included an itemised breakdown of “expenses”, such as – wait for it – a broken LOL Surprise toy ($5), wear and tear from sitting on the sofa ($1), snacks and drinks ($5), pavement chalk ($1) and three trips to the bathroom where her child used toiletry supplies like soap ($3).

“Please help out with your share of the expenses for the playdate... because I can’t keep doing these playdates if it’s so expensive,” she wrote. “...this way we can do this more often without a monetary obligation on just one party.”

She claims she wants to “normalise” paying for playdates so it’s the done thing for other parents – and what a brilliant idea. This might be a new parenting trend that actually works.

It works for me, anyway – even though I do admit the unabashed ask is... unusual. After all, the no-frills playdate was at the family home – it’s not as if she took them to a roller disco, to see Inside Out 2, or whizzed them on to the Harry Potter studio tour (where tickets can cost upwards of £100 for a family of four). If the aim of the day is doing something pricey, you’d be mad not to offer to contribute towards it if another parent took your child.

But when I look at her reasoning (and I think of all the horror playdates I’ve hosted at my house), I get it. Fundamentally: why is it any different, say, to going out for dinner with a mum friend? In that situation, you often split the bill – you wouldn’t expect one of you to foot it. Most of us are struggling to make ends meet. It’s only fair to reimburse those who take an extra child home for a slap-up meal and to destroy every room in the house (as generally happens).

Plus, if we all decided to go halves, then those on a tighter budget would be able to afford a memorable playdate, too. It’s about equal opportunities.

But until this becomes routine and everyone starts doing it, it’ll always stick out as a bitter pill to swallow. Trailblazing ideas often do. And I’ve been on the other side of this: I was unexpectedly charged for a party at Westfield’s KidZania a few years ago; a fun role-play city where kids can “work” and “earn money”.

My daughter Lola, then five, was having the time of her life hanging off the back of a moving fire truck while dressed up as a firefighter, before donning a doctor’s outfit in a maternity ward.

But the excitement soon soured. Many parents felt blindsided – as I did – when after the party the mum sent us a message with a low-down of the costing: it was about £27 a head, not including extras, which she helpfully totted up for us.

“Give what you can towards a wonderful memory for [my son],” read the WhatsApp message, followed by hearts and balloon emojis. At the time, I was gobsmacked – it felt like a GoFundMe party.

Another parent invited us to a birthday at Legoland last year – but after I accepted the invitation on WhatsApp, it came to light that everybody was "paying their way". To top it off, the mum wanted us all to stay overnight in the Legoland Resort Hotel to make it “super special”. Quite a few of us pulled out after that bombshell (including me).

At an all-day playdate once in Guildford, I wasn’t charged “expenses”, but the mum did insist that we deep clean the house afterwards, as if we were hired help.

Disgruntled, I rolled up my sleeves and dived in. It took us 1.5 hours to wash grubby hand marks off the walls and put all the toys away, including the contents of a 790-piece Lego box. She even handed me a mop.

But my thoughts have changed, somewhat. I’m left feeling entitled to a bit of help when I put so much effort into caring for other people’s kids.

A bit of reimbursement would certainly go some way to easing the pain I felt last month, when a six-year-old child dropped my iPhone and smashed the screen when she sneaked off to take selfies. A few quid would help me replace the LOL toy camper van another child sat on – now, the roof doesn’t close and the wing mirror has fallen off. It was a birthday present for my daughter and had cost me £78.

Some pennies, please, for the catering – children rarely even eat the same food when they come over, so you end up serving about four different meals. Not to mention... trips to art shops to stock up on acrylic paints, brushes and paper, as well as glue... plus, I often have to leave my giant golden retriever elsewhere, as so many children are dog phobic – that means paying a dog walker £20.

I strongly believe in generosity of spirit – but I also understand the financial pressure faced by mums who end up lumped with being the “free house” (and substitute childcare) for everyone else’s kids. In fact, I might start introducing a “playdate price tag” myself....