My Turn: Managing Socially Awkward Interactions

How should we handle playdates and keep our kids safe?

Sandi Schwartz

The school year is already a few weeks in, and it feels overwhelming in a whole new way. It’s hard to believe this is the third school year impacted by COVID; you would think we would be experts at this by now, but each year has had its unique set of challenges. The first, of course, was all about managing lockdown and worrying if my kids could learn virtually once the pandemic hit.

Last year felt stressful because we had to choose between in-person or virtual school — both my kids went virtual through the end of January, then headed into the classroom with tons of protocols. By late spring/early summer, we all felt a huge sense of relief when COVID numbers dipped. I sent my kids to sleepaway camp feeling grateful that things were heading in the right direction, and that they could finally be free and enjoy themselves. While I have been cautious all along, I started to ditch the mask when shopping and eating in restaurants, and my husband and I even went on a week-long vacation without wearing masks at all. That was the too-short period early this summer when masks were the anomaly.

Then the big shift came and I retreated back into my shell, even as others continued to party and travel. My kids were not home from camp yet, but I dreaded breaking the news to them that they would have to put their masks back on.

When school time arrived, my stress level rocketed. While our school still had key protocols in place, like requiring students and staff to wear masks, they no longer offered a virtual option or had temperature checks, and the campus was opened to more activities and events.

But even more unsettling than sending kids to school during the delta variant spike is the flood of social invitations.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that my kids have friends and are being invited to playdates and birthday parties. Even so, it only adds more pressure to the decision of whether I should allow them to participate in activities that can increase their exposure.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been told that everyone has different comfort and risk levels, and it is up to individual families to decide what’s best for them. So, how do I determine when to accept and when to decline social invitations?

Our knowledge of COVID and delta and vaccines is fluid and, as a result, so are my thoughts on the matter, but at this moment in time, my rule is simple: Keep the masks on inside and make every effort to stay outside.

Some examples of how this works in real life:

• I said “no” to gymnastics for my daughter, but she is very excited to try horseback riding.
• We declined an invitation to an indoor birthday party, but I am allowing my son to attend a friend’s party where there will be an outside terrace for the kids to hang out.
• We’ve hosted our family holiday dinners in our backyard.
• The kids’ friends can come over, but they should play outside as much as
possible and wear masks when inside.

As it turns out, spending time outdoors works better for us anyway. It’s safer, healthier and more relaxing, and the silver lining of the pandemic for me is the increased time we’re spending in nature. Even when the weather isn’t ideal, we can make adjustments to enable us to get outdoors. Pre-pandemic, by contrast, I never would have taken a walk in the rain, but now I just throw on a rain jacket and enjoy the refreshing breathing the fresh air.

And even though I still struggle every time we get an invite, I stick to my rule and it’s worked out so far.

When in doubt, I choose nature.

Sandi Schwartz grew up in Cherry Hill and is an author, journalist and mother of two in Margate. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness and environmental issues, and her new book, “Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer,” comes out in the spring. Learn more at

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Categories: Family Life