Monday, January 30, 2006

Moms On The Playground

If you are like me, the whole notion of the mommy group is something that is foreign to you. I did not grow up in an area where we needed mommy groups at the playground to find friends. We did not have baby classes. We did not have play dates. Now, though, that has become the norm, and where we live, it is the only way we have of connecting with other parents of little ones. Still, the whole notion can be intimidating, so here are some ways for you and your baby to get the most out of your playtime.

First do not take a very small baby to a playgroup. When I was pregnant, I read story after story of how many moms and dads took their small infants, and we are talking a few weeks old here, to play groups. They wanted the social interaction they thought their babies would find. When I had my son, I would look at him and wonder how much he could get from going to the park at eight weeks old. Finally, my husband said, "there is something to be said for experiences, but this is ridiculous."

Thankfully I concurred. While I had secretly thought we were not doing much good, I had been uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. With that said, taking baby to the park alone can be a wonderful experience. You will get some fresh air as will baby, and the two of you can enjoy just watching the trees sway in the breeze.

Once you have a baby who is interested in a little more interaction, which admittedly may not be until he or she is close to a year old, you can start looking for a playgroup. Still you may find that you will need to learn to navigate the wonders of the other parents on the playground.

A recent report examining new mothers and how they feel about their little tykes suggests that while many older babies enjoy the playground, the moms and dads may feel left out of the social milieu of the other parents. There are some ways to remedy that situation.

First remind yourself that you are doing the whole playground thing for your baby - not you. Sorry, but you are not the most important person in the equation. Babies are volatile creatures, so if you are able to find a group of other babies and toddlers who enjoy your child (and the feeling is mutual), your best bet is to tough it out.

Take something else to do with you. Most of these playgroups meet at parks or other outdoor areas. If you find that your baby tends to enjoy the children who visit the park on Wednesday mornings, but you would rather slink away from the other parents, be sure to bring a journal to write, a compact disc player to listen to tunes, or a book to read. (Be sure to pay careful attention to your child, however!) You should be able to find something you enjoy to help you pass the time.

Another option is to bite the bullet and talk to one of the other parents. Try to find common ground. If another mommy looks like she is expecting another baby, ask when she is due. Talk about what your baby is doing (without bragging!). Ask other parents for their ideas and suggestions on issues you are having. Finding something that you have in common with these moms and dads is the best way to start to fit in.

If you are uncomfortable talking to the group, then ask a specific mom over. If you notice that your baby really seems to enjoy another one, then you should ask that mom if the two of you can get the babies together so that they can enjoy each other's company. You may find it easier and more relaxing to make friends this way.

Be sure to give it your best effort or to entertain yourself in other ways. Remember that your baby's social interaction is vitally important, so you should not deprive baby of the opportunity to hang out with others. He or she can learn new ways of communicating and can become familiar with working in social settings. These lessons are important, so work out your own concerns for the sake of your baby.

By Julia Mercer

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