I clearly remember my first day at parent and tot playgroup. I was a few weeks away from returning to work, having spent most of the my maternity leave at home, too anxious to leave the house. But returning to work meant that both myself and my son would have to spend time away from the house and each other. I dreaded going because, frankly, I didn’t consider myself to be a playgroup mom. I mean, didn’t playgroup moms know all the words to all the nursery rhymes, recite muffin recipes off the top of their heads and look fabulous in designer yoga wear?
My hunches were right: It seemed like every mom woke up at the crack of dawn to prepare bento box snacks, iron their yoga pants and put on makeup. At circle time I hummed out of tune to the three songs I kind of knew and during craft time my son squatted behind a potted plant to hide a disastrous diaper blowout. Worst of all was that the moms huddled in groups bragging about percentile charts and I sat in a corner with my pantless son, vowing to never go back to another playgroup. I felt like I was back in high school, awkwardly trying to find something in common with these women. I was happy to return to work and leave playgroup politics to the nanny-caring for my son.
Three years later, I found myself standing in the doorway of another playgroup, this time in my hometown, with a six-month-old on my hip and a three-year-old begging for kids his age to play with. We had just moved from Winnipeg to rural Ontario and, other than a family friend with children the same age, we had no one to play with. My son is a social and chatty boy and was unhappy about being uprooted, leaving all of his city friends behind.
Again, I didn’t know anyone and felt horribly out of place. However, I was determined to put my own fears aside so that Gillian and Isaac wouldn’t be socially-stunted rural rugrats just because I was afraid of not knowing all of the words to “Roly-Poly” and refused to spend $90 on yoga pants. To my surprise I was warmly welcomed by staff and even old classmates. I met other city slicker mamas trying to adjust to the slower pace of small-town living. Since that day, I’ve learned all of the words to “Roly-Poly” and I’ve made so many wonderful friends. The only thing I haven’t done is found a good recipe for play dough or found the secret to get toddlers to share toys. I mean, playgroup isn’t that magical.
5 great reasons to go to playgroup
Playgroups are about networking. Looking for hand-me-down clothes, a contractor or a mechanic? In a small town like ours, the contractor is likely married to the woman sitting next to you at snack time and everyone is always looking to donate their hand-me-downs to a new friend.
Playgroups need parents, too. The Ontario Early Years Centre receives funding based on the number of families that attend their program, and in our rural outreach centre, the outlook is bleak because it is poorly attended. By visiting an Ontario Early Years Centre, you help secure funding for future programs. And in privately-run playgroups, like the singing and circle time program my pal Karen runs, you support a mompreneur and her family.
You finally have someone who wants to hear your advice. I do not consider myself a parenting expert, but I’m often asked by moms to help them with potty training and breastfeeding. It is a great feeling to help another mom out with something they are struggling with. And vice-versa — I’m always asking playgroup staff for advice on how to tackle common school age problems (for example, we are in the “talking back” stage with Isaac).
You strengthen your child’s immune system. No, you’re not supposed to take your booger-nosed kid to playgroup. But yes, we all do. It was a rough first year of colds with my youngest, but she rarely gets sick now. However, if you unknowingly take a feverish child to playgroup (I did that once), call the staff to let them know. They appreciate it.
Parents need each other. When I polled my friends about what surprised them the most about being a stay-at-home mom, nearly everyone told me that it was lonely. Guess what? Playgroup is full of parents just like you, desperate to someone to commiserate with.
What do you like best about playgroup?