Finding the right playgroup, online or in person, can be a critical source of support for women, says Diana Parry, professor and lead researcher on the study. These playgroups can create a sense of community akin to familial relationships that allows women to experience camaraderie, care and a feeling of connectedness. Here's how to find the perfect playgroup and build lasting friendships that will remain long after the diapers have disappeared.
Where to look for a baby playgroup
Women can experience challenges connecting with other moms for a variety of reasons—weather, recent moves or being the first of her friends to have children. "I remember stroller stalking in a desperate attempt to seek out other mothers with children of a similar age," recalls Parry. Luckily, there are easier ways to find a playgroup than approaching every woman pushing a pram on the street.
"I'm a big fan of public health nurses," says Kathy Lynn, a parenting speaker and author based in New Richmond, BC. Many will have information about new-mom groups in your area. "These often evolve into playgroups after the formalized meetings end," says Lynn.
Word-of-mouth is also a great way to find a place to connect. "Talk to your neighbours," says Lynn. You can also look to community centres or early-years learning centres. If you attend a mom-and-baby storytime program at the library, don't just sit back. "Be the one who goes up and talks to other moms." Ask if they'd like to grab a coffee afterward and see where things go.
Social media is another great way to find playgroups. Some mom sites create virtual neighbourhoods and, similar to online dating, enable women to talk to other moms before meeting face-to-face, says Parry.
Find the right fit for playdates
While the right playgroup can be a comforting and rewarding experience, the University of Waterloo study found that the wrong playgroups can result in exclusion and judgment. "Women have shared cautionary tales of disapproval for choices such as bottle-feeding, letting the baby 'cry it out,' and spending too much time away from the children." Tension can also arise when a father wants to join the group, or when moms feel there's a class privilege divide (some women might feel their house is too small to host the group, or that they would not have enough toys to entertain the children).
Essentially, it comes down to finding a warm, welcoming environment to share with moms you trust and like. Once the basics, like cleanliness and safety, are accounted for, focus on the other moms. Ask yourself if they are people you would form relationships with outside of parenthood. If you’re meeting with people you like and respect, differences in parenting style can make for interesting discussion rather than feelings of judgment. "I’ve seen moms with different parenting philosophies get along really well," says Ann-Marie Burton, president of momstown.ca, a site for moms to connect and find resources.
Start your own playgroup
"If you can't find a playgroup, start one," says Lynn. Put the word out by contacting your community health nurse, trying a social media callout or simply getting a few moms together and asking each to bring a friend. "It doesn't have to be super-formal," says Burton. Just be willing to open up your house and, chances are, other moms will do the same.
If you're ready to host, check out 8 tips for a successful playdate.
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