Do you have tips for creating a baby play group that I'll actually LIKE?

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By: Andrew MaloneCC BY 2.0
My highly sociable 15-month-old baby is now at an age where he is intrigued by other kids. He loves playing and constantly wants to interact. This sounds great… but I've happily avoided local play groups now for the past 15 months and the idea of going to one fills me with dread.

I am also quite sociable, but know that the local groups are quite clique-y.

So, do I suck it up and go for an hour every now and again? Or do any offbeat families have any good ideas about how I can create my own play group that won't feel like it's a chore? — Vix

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  1. I couldn't bust into the groups in my area, so I made my own 😛
    I put a call out in a local Facebook group inviting the moms to a knitting meet-up, children welcome. Worked great – like minded people showed up, the kids all met and good times were had.

    My advice: choose an interest typical of moms you want to be friends with, and start a group of your own! I wanted to meet more diy/crunchy moms, and knitting was perfect for that. Now we get together weekly, the kids play and we actually have a good time, too!

    Good luck!

    9 agree
  2. I struggled with this, too. I joined one group that was full of moms I had NOTHING in common with (besides the babies). Then I scoured meetup.com and found a group called Minneapolis Hip Mamas – which sounded a tad more promising – and read through a bunch of the profiles of the members and found that many of them were in the same boat – looking for friends with similar interests (art, music, science, politics, etc…) who also happened to have children their kids could play with. The group has been a fantastic experience and I've met some really interesting women through it that I never would have known otherwise. So, my advice – if you go through Meetup – just try to read through the profiles of people in the group to see if there's people with similar interests. Sometimes you have to join the group before you get access to people's profiles, but that doesn't mean you have to stick around if it doesn't seem like it's for you.

    2 agree
  3. I met the other mamas of my "playgroup" through an organization that offers baby-mom activities in my area. There are many of them around here, so I chose one that offered workshops that appealed to me (babywearing, medicinal plants, knitting, cooking, baby massage…) Since it was the same for the other moms, we had similar interests. For a while, we were about 6-8 who met quite frequently and got along well. (Now the children have grown and many have moved so I only still see only one of them)

  4. If a play group is a little intimidating, try something public and low key, like story time at the library. My girl and I went every week from the time she was 6 months to about 3 years old. We didn't make any real friends that way, but, when she started kindergarten, we knew some of the other kids and parents by sight, which made it a little easier to start conversations with people we would have to interact with all through elementary school.

    1 agrees
    • I always found story time at our library to be very intimidating and very cliquey. AND every time we'd go bub would catch some sick from another kid. The librarian was great, but the other stuff was not for me and we quit going.

  5. Thanks for posting this! I look forward to more responses. I'm also a full-time working mom and an introvert which has made baby play groups seem really scary and tough to schedule in, but I know it's important as my baby gets older. Especially because we're doing at home daycare, we don't have any close family with kids and no siblings yet.

    7 agree
    • Me too!! I'm a full time working mom…introvert…AND named Liz! haha 🙂 Most of the local groups seem to meet during the work week and it's really frustrating.

      1 agrees
  6. I couldn't find a playgroup/parents' group that didn't scare me (the descriptions were so generic and mainstream…I felt like I would show up and feel very out of place) so I made my own. I went all-out and described supportive relationships among parents, inclusiveness, alternative family structures, DIY projects and urban farming, alternative birth and child nutrition choices–basically I spilled my guts and put everything out there that I was hoping for, figuring it was a long shot in my south atlantic (almost southern) east coast city. I was so pleasantly surprised when there was a lot of interest! I used the meetup website, which costs $, but I figured it was worth it to see if it got off the ground for a few months, then I'd ask any participants whether they wanted to chip in to cover the cost or just use other means of communication/organization after that time. I found about 30 other parents that way, and so far it seems like a wonderful group of people. Diverse in cultural backgrounds, age(s) of parent(s), family structures, genders, ages of kids, etc. Mostly babies 6 months to 2 years. So far I've figured we can frame our meetups around family-friendly activities like baby-friendly yoga in my babyproofed downstairs space, trips to the farmers' market, family hikes and bike rides, etc. Working out well so far 🙂

    7 agree
    • I found my tribe on meetup too! I have a great group of friends in my part of town, and it's no surprise they're generally like minded because they're fellow east side mamas.

  7. Any advice on doing the mom group thing when you're a working mom? I'm finding it impossible. Working moms have no time for this stuff.

    16 agree
  8. so I wonder how fathers , non-birth parents, and non-cisgendered parents feel about the level of mommy-centricity of these kinds of things. Its always mommy and me, not parent and me. I bet its doubley hard for fathers, we should keep that in mind both in our language and in our choices here.

    23 agree
    • A good friend of ours has been a stay-at-home dad, and from what I understand, he stayed home with their son a lot more because so many outside activities were branded for "mom and baby" rather than "parent and baby" and he didn't feel comfortable going there. I've never gone looking for "dad and baby" or "parent and baby" activities myself besides swimming lessons for our six month old (parent and tot swimming levels) and post-baby-yoga classes. But even with that, because it's mainly moms staying home with the wee ones in this area, you're still encountering mainly moms n babies. And I don't know how you get away from that.

    • Yes, I totally agree. Even though I am a mom, I want to go to parenting groups, not "moms" groups! (Or actually, caregiver and child groups — non-parental caregivers may also want to find community and support!) I mean, I do think there is also a place for the discussion of what it is like to be a woman in this world and raising a child — but I hate that the default assumption is that it will only ever be moms who are out doing activities with their child.

      10 agree
    • Truth time… we shop at buy, buy baby more often than Babies R us. Why? When we were out, my husband could go into the feeding room to change a diaper/give our daughter a bottle. He wasn't able to go into the Mother's room.

    • my husband and I often discuss this … I am the primary working parent with a gone-lots, high-stress job. My husband works from home. We do have a nanny to help out. But he'd like to go and do things with our little boy … he just feels really left out of the parenting things in our little community. We live in a small, quite affluent suburb of a medium-sized city in the deep South … it's all stay-at-home moms in our neighborhood and the mommy-centricity of all the child-related activities is hard to ignore. Even for me – it's a hard clique to break into. We just moved here, and the baby is still young – so we are just now contemplating taking our little bug to activities, but we're open to suggestions about addressing this gender division and still feeling comfortable as the parent/child in the group. We are personally trying to seek out "PARENT and me" activities, rather than mommy ones, but it's hard in this community. :/

  9. I wonder if the Offbeat website could host some sort of message board for parents and children hoping to meet up in different cities? (Something a bit like a dating site — where parents post a bit about themselves, their kid(s), what they're looking for, etc.?)

    10 agree
    • We used to list meet ups on our Facebook page – readers would send them in and we'd post it. People stopped sending them. We also had a Classifieds page for a while, but no one really used it. Totally open to new ideas if you have them!

      2 agree
  10. I agree with the comment above about finding a storytime at your local library…or even a music or art class (you often have to pay for those, unlike the library programs, which are free!). Then your little one can socialize with other kids and be entertained by music, songs, stories, etc., and there's less pressure on you to make chit-chat with other moms (how long do they nap, are they sleeping through the night, blah blah blah). But you may find you meet a few other parents you end up liking after all.

    I'm in a local moms club and I go to music classes and library storytime, and I've found a few moms I like at each group.

  11. I'd love it if the Facebook meet ups made a return. We're moving from Brisbane Australia to Palmdale CA in November and I'm already stressing about how I'm going to meet new mums. I looked at meet up and it seems intense 🙂

    1 agrees
  12. I haven't met anyone through story times and such, but I have a few friends who have made wonderful friends /playmates at them. So you never know. My best luck has been a Facebook group. Someone I kind of knew invited me, and it has introduced me to a ton of awesome parents in my hood. The group isn't exclusive to my area, but when one person invites a couple people then they invite a couple people, well, it spreads quick. The great thing about it is that people are very active online (many moms love having a community even though they are trapped on the couch feeding a babe at 3 am!) so you can get to know them a bit and get a feel for who you might click with.

  13. I am pregnant now (21 wks) and was already thinking about that.
    I have to admit – I've always been a tomboy and really don't enjoy all-women events. Girls-night-out, bachelorette parties, bridal and baby showers, all that stuff makes me cringe. The dynamic is just wrong for me. It's bad enough in groups of dog people, I imagine "baby people" to be only worse.

    I would MUCH prefer just a group of interesting people (men, women, and everyone else on the gender spectrum) that also happen to be parents, over an actual baby group. Where the baby can socialize, and it's not bad if I change diapers in the middle of a conversation. But also where I can have an adult conversation that goes beyond complaining about men in general and mine in particular…

    8 agree
  14. I think the first thing is to clarify what, ideally, you'd like to get out of the experience of going to or creating a playgroup. Is this primarily about helping your baby have more social interaction with other toddlers? Are you hoping to make new friends yourself too? Both? Clarifying what you'd like to experience can help you decide how to get that and whether a playgroup, existing or new, is the best way to get it.

    Your time and emotional energy are too valuable for you to "suck it up" and go somewhere that fills you with "dread" every week, I think, or even to start a playgroup of your own if that sounds like a chore rather than a pleasure. I love the suggestions you have gotten so far. Here's what I'd consider trying assuming you're looking for both baby and you social opportunities:

    Parent+baby class like music, dance or gymnastics: Often less cliquey than playgroups because fewer of the parents already know each other and there is a shared activity to start conversations around. Also your post makes it sound like *maybe* you only want to do this for the kiddo's sake… in which case, a class can be a very time-efficient and painless way to get them some social time.

    Coffeeshops with kid play areas: I have found parents at these places in my city, Seattle, to be super friendly. I have only once ended up with an ongoing friendship out of the experience, but I have had a lot of fun conversations and my then-toddler got to play with… um, next to… a lot of other kids.

    Routines. Try taking walks at the same time of the morning, going to the zoo/park/kid-coffeeshop on the same day/time most weeks, etc. You'll find that you run into the same people more often and that gives you a chance to connect with them more easily.

    Introductions. Tell your existing social group that you'd like to meet more families. Ask them if they know anyone else with kids that they could introduce you to. Playdates are an alternative to playgroups.

    A playgroup partner. If you want to give the playgroups a whirl after all (maybe they aren't as cliquey as you think?) can you maybe find one other mom-friend who would go with you to a few of them? Sometimes it's easier to socialize in established groups with a wingwoman– that way you can draw people into an existing conversation you are having with her, introduce each other to people, etc. It can be easier than starting conversations solo, and hey, if nothing else you've had a fun few hours with your friend.

    Co-op preschool. Does your area have any co-op preschools? Despite the name many of them are open to young kids, with the parent spending most or all of the preschool time (sometimes just 4 hours a week or so) supervising their child until they are older. If your local college(s) have an education program, they are a great place to start asking about this if you want to locate one.

    Religious/spiritual community. May or may not be relevant to you, but if you practice a faith and already belong to any kind of spiritual community, that's a great place to start a playgroup or make an extra point to approach other parents you might see and try to get to know them with an eye towards eventually setting up a playdate.

    I'll also second the idea of interest-based social groups such as on Meetup.com, family-oriented classes in things that *you* are interested in and starting your own playgroup. Having a shared interest and/or common values beyond being parents is awesome and obviously conducive to making friends.

    Good luck to you! Being a new parent can be a surprisingly lonely time, but like most things, this will get easier.

    3 agree
  15. I think it can be very easy to assume that mothers groups will be awful and cliquey and you will have nothing in common. When I got over being super defensive and paranoid that people will hate me and my beliefs I found a wonderful group of women. Some baby wear some dont, some bf some dont, some circumcised some dont, some are stay at home mums some are full time working mums some are single mum. Its a very diverse group of people and while we dont have the same beleifs politically or religiously etc we have nurtured a group where we can discuss things in an open way. Maybe you need to join a group and nurtue that feeling of openess and acceptance? At the end of the day you have raising a child in common!

    1 agrees
    • This is exactly what I was going to say – don't rule out playgroups. And I think the idea that we need to find "likeminded mamas" (which is really just a friendly way to say clique) in order to have a great social playdate for our kids is a bit closed-minded. My kids are in school full time, so our playgroup days are definitely not like they used to be when they were toddlers/preschoolers, but some of my very favourite girlfriends have all been discovered in places I least expected to find them. And we all have very different ideas and beliefs. It's wonderful for children, also, to see people of all sorts being able to get along and find pleasure in the things they SHARE instead of worrying about the things that make them different.

      2 agree
    • I agree! I found a great group of moms through a weekly breastfeeding group I attended at the hospital where I gave birth. It's in an affluent area, and I assumed that everyone would be walking in with Gucci diaper bags, oodles of money, and I'd feel like the odd little hippie out. I worried that they would all be friends already and I'd be too shy to break in to the group.
      But, that group became my lifeline and I found so much value in hearing shared experiences. Some people in the group I could relate to better than others, but over time we all bonded in one way or another. Now my son (14 months) and I have monthly play dates with about 6 moms from the group. Even though we all come from different backgrounds, we do have common ground and I've found friends in places I never would have looked before. One of the people I relate to the most is someone I would never in a million years think I could have a friendship with because we have such different politics. But aside from politics, we have a lot in common and it works.

      1 agrees
  16. I would not rule the local Playgroups out without going. I belong to a Playgroup and we have a large variety of parents (mums and dads) and grandparents who go, andmany have very different ideas about life and parenting – but we do not have to agree on everything or have loads in common necessarily to get on for a few hours. I like the diversity of ideas etc that we get because of that. And diversity is great – just because a group doesn't have any LGBT, particular ethnicities or alternative lifestylers or whatever doesn't mean the group wouldn't welcome them.

    Our group has a girl who identifies as a boy and the group all call her by her "boy" name as she requested. One of the ladies is in a polyamorous relationship and is accepted for that. I'm sure that wasn't easy for some people, but by chatting about it people have had their minds opened up and that is so valuable.

    Some people are really good friends out of the group too and others are more introverted and just play with their kids. There should be the freedom for everyone to get whatever they want from the experience.

    I say give it a go, maybe you'll meet some people you get on with, maybe you won't.

    2 agree
  17. If playgroups aren't your thing, then I don't think you should feel you have to go to or organise one for the sake of your kid. There are plenty of organised activities for kids out there that offer social opportunities for your kid, but which don't require you to socialise with other parents, such as story time, swimming, music and gym classes. Or scout out some great parks and playgrounds in your area and just hang out there. Kids make "friends" so easily! If you do go to a playgroup, I've found you can always interact with the kids rather than the parents. People at the playgroups I've been to seem to be happy if someone else takes a lead on supervising the kids so that they can have their cup of tea in peace!

  18. Don't join a play group. Join a group for moms with a common interest. I used Meetup to find a local baby wearing group, and from there I scheduled playgroups. We found that we actually have a lot more in common than just baby wearing (parenting approach/philosophy included, which is HUGE when having to deal with other moms). If you don't want to jump into a play group right away, you can attend other activities with the group, and then, when you're more comfortable with the group and the moms, then get involved in play groups.

    (FWIW, I found that my daughter, while social, didn't really care about the other kids until about 18 months old.)

    Good luck!

  19. It's possible to fulfill your child's need to socialize without having to commit. My LO is at the age where she likes to socialize and to allow her to do so, I bring her to the library for baby storytime and take her to the mall playground. Committing to a playgroup isn't in the cards for us now — because my husband and I are FT university students and big-time introverts.

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