Everyone has advice for new parents-to-be. Breastfeed. Co-sleep. Don't co-sleep. BPA is bad. Vaccinate. All sorts of opinions are floating in the air, no doubt bewildering to these poor expecting parents who have no idea what BPA stands for or what's in store for them. I have one piece of advice that almost everyone will agree with: Join a playgroup or a co-op or a parents group. Whether you form or join a formal group or just find a bunch of friends with kids the same age as yours, it will save your sanity. It certainly saved mine!
I met my first set of parent friends when The Pea was about fifteen months old. I started taking her to the local children's library for storytime, and I noticed a woman with a little boy. I approached them because I was positive she was Filipina; it turned out she was actually Asian American, but had married a Filipino so her son was half Filipino. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Her son and The Pea quickly became fast friends, and soon we were meeting in the park for playdates. She introduced us to two other friends, both with little girls, and our playgroup was born.
I met my second set of playgroup friends when 3Po was about 14 months old and started biting a little girl at the YMCA gym childcare. Fortunately, her mother, the Divine Miss B, is an extremely understanding and laid-back woman, and she didn't hold 3Po's teeth against me! She had been thinking of forming a Spanish playgroup, where the parents would sing songs and play games in Spanish in order to expose our children to a second language. I quickly signed myself, 3Po and Jammy up during the mornings when The Pea would be in preschool. The playgroup was a huge success initially, but after a while people stopped offering to host, the snack brigade ground to a halt, and parents started dropping out. The ones who remained started skipping the "Spanish" part and concentrating on the "playgroup" part because it was a lot more fun than dealing with who was going to lead the group in "Uno Dos Tres" that day. The rest of the parents looking for bilingual education turned elsewhere, and we were left with a group of five moms who just really loved hanging out together.
The Pea, 3Po and Jammy are now in elementary school, and so are their old playgroup friends. They go to separate schools, and a couple have moved away from the area altogether. But they still remain friends, as do their parents, and we will always look fondly back on those days. My children (first, The Pea, and then 3Po and Jammy) always had other children to play with, so I could stop with the new-parent obsession about their social skill development. Our playdates were a regular routine that everyone looked forward to because both kids and parents knew they'd have fun. I had a peer group I could count on for sympathy and advice because they were going through the same things as I was, so I felt less isolated. And in between the conversations about teething and diaper rash and toilet training, I was actually talking about movies, food, shipping, husbands, politics, careers -- in other words, getting some stimulating, intelligent adult conversation.
I think I only have two regrets with respect to playgroups. I kind of wish we had continued with our formal Spanish playgroup -- our little group of friends could have played together at other times and still kept the bigger Spanish playgroup going. Maybe we just lacked organization, or a set schedule, or a list of tasks.
My second regret is that we never traded babysitting favors more. I would have been willing to babysit for any of my friends and I suspect they would have done the same, but they never asked me, and I never asked them either. I think that sometimes we're too afraid of overstepping our bounds and asking for favors -- so we end up hiring babysitters who cost lots of money and don't know our kids as well as our friends do. Maybe if there had been online communities for babysitting co-ops -- like a community that I was recently introduced to, HiveMoms -- it would have been easier for us to formalize things and trade favors with no reluctance or sense of overstepping any boundaries.
One thing that my playgroup experiences have proved is that having a village to raise your child really helps -- but administering that village is hard. So new parents, as soon as your baby starts letting you sleep a bit more at night, gather your thoughts and get thee to a playgroup! And consider leaving the running of that village to a community like HiveMoms -- think of them as your friendly village administrative office who takes care of the details so the only things you and your friends have to concentrate on are your children and each other.
Disclosure: This is a compensated post. I'd like to thank HiveMoms.com for sponsoring this post! HiveMoms is an online community of babysitting moms who form co-ops in order to exchange babysitting and other favors. You can find and join co-ops by zip code and by school (or form your own!), and HiveMoms keeps track of member information, babysitting "points", feedback, job requests, and everything else you need to manage your co-op. Registration is free, so sign up now!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own.