25th August 2016
As I went to our usual monthly under 5’s weekend playgroup not so long ago and yes, bumped into mummy nemesis from playground meet up and online mum group, it made me start to think more about all the playgroups I have ever gone to and what has made them good or bad experiences. So, thought I do a little blog about it.
A few days after we were first discharged from hospital, I was bombarded with lots of information by a female representative from one of the local children centres about playgroups and various other things, and also the fact that most the baby ones wouldn’t be running over the summer as unfortunately I had a summer baby and that term was nearly over for the year. I remember her coming to visit sometime in July and that we would have to wait until September when they all resumed again. At the time I thought no big deal, and hadn’t taken in all of what she said anyway, apart from I remember agreeing to a baby massage course and forgetting it clashed with a holiday we booked, so had to rebook it for later in the year. The lady was nice and calm, although found her a bit stand offish, not sure it was deliberate, but thought she was a bit reserved to run so many playgroups and courses, as I say I am very quiet myself, but then I wouldn’t put myself forward to organise these kind of things, but anyhow.
Anyway what turned out to be no big deal ended up me craving to get out to them, walking round the local shopping mall and stopping for a coffee again was getting boring and repetitive. As I had a back problem I was getting over, the only place I could get out to in the first few months was the shopping centre and it was heaving because of the school summer holidays. I found the whole thing stressful and I craved getting to the park, somewhere more peaceful, but it was too far away. A place that was never that far away before without a newborn or a back problem, but those days I had to start thinking where is the nearest baby change, a place I can sit down to feed my baby and was the journey doable with a back problem as we don’t own a car, and a very hungry demanding baby. In my desperation to get out and to do something before September, I enquired about a Gymboree baby sensory class that was run on one of the upper floors in the shopping centre and I asked whether it was age appropriate for a 2 month old baby. They said yes, so I went along for a trial session with my mum, and I have to say the experience was awful. My son just cried every time I put him down. I remember sitting down in a circle with a few other mums before everything started, and the lady I was sitting next to proceeded to get up with her baby and move across the room when she saw her friend arrive, which is fine I understand she wanted to be with her friend that she knew better or was it the fact because I had such an unsettled baby. I may have been feeling sensitive then, but it wasn’t very welcoming. The person in charge looked like she didn’t have any children of her own, and was probably fresh from drama school, I didn’t know any of their songs, it wasn’t the usual nursery rhymes, the ones from your childhood. My son didn’t want to be put on his back and just wanted to be held, and well, the singing was all a bit too American (sorry it looks like I have something against them), my mum made eye contact with me as in saying let’s get out of here and I did. The lady that obviously wanted me to sign up for more classes protested that it was fine and a lot of babies are like this at first, and that we could stay. However, although realise you can have off days at something and then you might go back, and then it’s a different story, but I agree with my mum, my son wasn’t enjoying it one bit and if I stayed it would have been about me and not him, and the fact was neither of us were enjoying it. I was also glad that I had my mum there as back up as I realise some people don’t have relatives to support them. It was one of those moments where you wish just to be teleported out of there lol Funny thing is my son now attends Gymboree sessions at his nursery and I am lead to believe he enjoys them, so it is funny how things change.
After that disaster I had to wait for September until the usual children’s centres and church playgroups started running again. I decided on two to try out and the first one I went to was at a church within walking distance. The only pain with this playgroup was getting my heavy pushchair up the steps to it. My first experience was something else, the first one I went to was very busy and as a newbie I just felt all eyes were on me, my son still wasn’t very happy and I think I spent most of the session trying all sorts of ways to make him happy and probably feeling judged that I had to bottle feed him, whether I was I don’t know. I remember feeling that I had sweetest grilling by these interrogating mums or should say the Spanish Inquisition. I am not sure the mums meant to make me feel uncomfortable, maybe that was their way of trying to make me feel welcome by taking an interest, but I had so many questions thrown at me about can your baby do this or that, that it just left me feeling like no, he doesn’t yet, is something wrong? Of course, there was nothing wrong, the welcome if that is what you call it left me feeling anxious and if I could have done I might have walked straight into a bar afterwards, but instead I went to John Lewis for a coffee to steady my nerves, after that initial attempt it took me a month to summon up the courage to go there again.
So, I tried another one and persuaded my OH to take the day off of work to come with me after my initial church experience one. This one was located in a community centre and was a short bus journey away. Again it was busy, and the atmosphere seemed nicer and relaxed, maybe because I was with my OH as well. Although I do remember one mum dominating most of the conversation. However, I felt yes, I will definitely try this one again, but I had a baby massage course coming up that clashed with it, so I would miss the next 4 sessions unfortunately. The baby massage was good, and surprisingly the first thing that my son actually started to enjoy. So, I am glad I went with it, it didn’t help very much with his sleep unfortunately, but I think it helped with his reflux a bit and our bond, that is the only thing I did keep quiet about whilst on the course as it was kind of sold on it would really improve their sleep, but no not really for us, but it was nice to put it into our routine and think it helped with my son enjoying his bath nights more as those first few times it was like bathing a cat haha
After baby massage ended I resumed going to the playgroup that I thought seemed promising, but the numbers had dwindled, which was a shame, although domineering mummy was still there most of the time. I think even the playgroup leader was getting bored and tired of the effort to run the sessions. So, she decided to stop running them a month early and resume again next year after Christmas, when they would be moved back to their original location at the children’s centre. I didn’t show it, but was disappointed, one of the things that kept me sane was going out to this playgroup, even when the turnout was abysmal and yes, the conversation wasn’t always that interesting and half the time I turned up my son was asleep in my arms for the first 20 minutes as the bus ride would send him asleep. I look forward to him starting to play with the toys and yes, started to sadly enjoy the sing song at the end as he was beginning to like it. So, I had to rely on just going to the other group, where in truth I found some of the mums a little too nosy & interrogating and maybe a little snooty at the same time. I always had the other one to go to if I wasn’t in the mood to going to both of them that week and if truth be told I just found the other playgroup leader more approachable. However, by this point all these mums had gone, I didn’t end up going every week as sometimes my son was ill and sometimes well, I would change my mind and wasn’t in the mood for it. I did end up like going to it, I enjoyed seeing my son more happy, calmer, developing and taking an interest in their toys and his surroundings, and again the song at the end as he did enjoy it. I never really made any new friends as there was no real regulars and then we were forced in a position where we had to move house just after Christmas, and we spent pretty much the first month of the new year settling into our new place. I think we went two more times to this under 1’s group and then couldn’t anymore as I was back at work.
We struggled for a long time to find a weekend playgroup, although I knew there was a church one just up the road from us once a month. I was put off of it as it seemed aimed at older kids as it was very much activity craft based focus with a monthly religious theme. My partner and I are not church goers, so it was a bit off putting.
Eventually I found a new one advertising classes aimed at under 3’s located in a community room at a local supermarket. We went a few times with an open mind, we tried a texture sensory class, at first we liked it, the lady that ran it seemed welcoming and pleasant. Also we were pleasantly surprised as the first one was a food texture sensory class and my son had a issue with food textures at first, and we had a difficult time getting him to move on from smooth puree food. He never really took to the baby led weaning approach, which is all the rage these days, where as he was willing to give things a go here more than he did at home. So, I think at first because of this we left with positive feelings, despite lack of numbers and a few organisational problems. We returned in a few weeks time, but still the same thing hanging around for longer than necessary waiting for numbers to make running a class worthwhile and time for the preparation of the class. The classes started to become a little repetitive or not age appropriate for my son, and the organisation of them a little haphazard. The organiser then introduced a new idea of stay & play sessions, so we decided we would do that and see if numbers would turn up for a while and if they didn’t we would go home, instead of hanging around waiting for a class that would perhaps interest our son to take place, as a few times I am sure we had been there for 3 hours if not more as we are too polite to say we got to go now. My son never napped in his pushchair that much after he turned 1 and would only nap at home, as he would get easily over stimulated, so needed a quiet relaxing environment to sleep in. After these playgroup outings he would crash out at home as we had stayed there longer than intended, fortunately it was a Saturday, but late naps were not great for his routine. The final straw for us really is that her business idea kept changing as it was no longer just aimed at under 3’s, but all ages seemed to be coming. Her helpers seemed bored, and more forced into it rather than want to be there, one we turned round to see snoozing on the table with her head in her arms. Her husband had a chat with us about our jobs and seemed very money orientated, the straw that broke the camel’s back is when some older kids decided to kick a football really hard against a wall while little tots were running about or taking their first wobbly steps. My partner and I decided to never go again as we thought no one was taking control of the situation and it was just becoming badly run. I even wrote a positive review at first about it as she asked me to, but decided to take it down as I no longer felt what I wrote was true.
Then we found a great weekend playgroup in a church that is a short walk away from us. It is religious, but not in your face, just a short prayer at the end after the song. It was well structured, free play with various toys and usually some crafts, light breakfast and hot beverages provided, tidy up, song, prayer and goodbyes. The people that run it have put a lot of their time, own money and resources into running it and it’s not some just money making scheme like sorry I am going to be judgemental the other weekend group we tried. We haven’t made lots of new friends there, but we respect the people that run it, and enjoy going to it as both my partner and I can’t go to any playgroups during the week, and it is nice to see my son play and have fun in a large space, and now with other children as he becomes more social, especially during the winter months when you can run out of ideas what to do, and we can catch up on how much he has developed. I have publicised this group on my FB page as that is how much I like it and think it is the best one so far that we have been to.
This leads me back to the thought I much prefer toddler groups to baby playgroups, maybe I am being unfair as I mostly go to toddler ones with OH now, so I go with company I enjoy and feel connected with, whereas the baby ones I had to go by myself more often than not, which leads me to think maybe baby playgroups would be much better with mummy speed dating. Buddy up with local pregnant women on the same wavelength as each other as these groups will always be much better with company. My advice is to make the effort to buddy up with another mother to be or expecting mother before you have your baby, someone hopefully you can see eye to eye with, it won’t stop you from attending groups that are not always right for you and your baby, but might make the experience a little less daunting and more enjoyable along the way.