Every day thousands of toddler groups take place in community venues and church halls across the country. Different from their more formal cousin, the baby and toddler class, they are intended to be a way for parents of the under 5s to meet each other while the children burn off some of their endless energy. They have a reputation for dirty toys, draughty halls, tantruming toddlers and bad coffee, but what they are most often known for, is bitchiness and cliques.
Why Do We Need Toddler Groups
So, given this poor reputation, what makes people go? Well, parenting can be a lonely business and, much of the time if we’re honest, mind numbingly boring. Boring enough that, if you don’t have family or friends with young children close by, desperation will make you want to spend two hours in a room with other people’s screaming children as well as your own, drinking bad coffee and attempting to make small talk with total strangers. At least that’s what made me visit my first toddler group.
A Bad First Experience
Boy Child was 18 months old, all my friends with children lived far away and I hadn’t exactly taken to parenting like a duck to water. I was pregnant with Girl Child and I knew I needed to do something. So, in the hope of making some local mummy friends, I took myself off to the local church toddler group.
It didn’t go well. I do not exaggerate when I say that no one spoke to me. Everyone seemed to have their own little group of friends with no room for an addition. What’s worse was that the doors were locked, to thwart any toddler escape plans, so I didn’t even feel like I could get up and leave without drawing attention to my lonely state. Towards the end of the session Boy Child banged his face, just next to his eye. It was bleeding and he was screaming like a banshee and still no one spoke to me. Unsurprisingly, I never went back.
Trying a Different Toddler Group
About 6 months later Boy Child developed an irrational fear of other children. He would cower in terror when they came within 10 feet of him. That, along with the fear that my postnatal depression would return after my daughter was born in a few months time, pushed me to give baby and toddler groups another go.
I decided to try a different one, and that I would just focus on helping Boy Child get used to other children, if I made friends that was a bonus. It was really hard to start with. I spent most of the time playing cars with Boy Child, which I could have done at home with a decent cup of tea and better biscuits. I can remember each week reporting back to my husband how many people had spoken to me. Despite that, I stuck it out and each week, that number slowly increased. New people came who also didn’t know anyone and we banded together and became friends. Eventually I started to look forward to the group and so did Boy Child.
Learning To Love it
When Girl Child was 3 months old the lady who ran the group moved away and I somehow ended up taking over from her. I was keen to make the group friendly. I tried to introduce new people to regulars and make sure they felt welcomed. But it wasn’t easy. The wonderful group of friends I had made didn’t seem all that keen on talking to newbies. And that’s when I realised. People don’t not talk to the new Mum at the group because they are mean. People are simply creatures of habit. They look forward each week to sitting in their favourite corner and catching up with their friends. They are also exhausted by parenthood and making small talk with strangers is hard work compared to having a moan about your lack of sleep to a Mum you already know won’t judge you because your kids drove you to drink well before gin o’clock.
How you can Embrace Toddler Groups Too
So what should you do if you want to learn to embrace toddler groups but fear being ignored? The key is sticking with it. If you keep going long enough other new mums will come and you will be the friendly face they see. Plus, if you just keep on going the regulars will realise you’re there to stay and eventually make an effort.
Play with your child, play with other people’s children if you can face it. Offer to help out, even if it’s just tidying up the toys. Most importantly, remember, just because they aren’t talking to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are talking about you. In 2 years of running the toddler group I never saw anyone talking about a newbie. Frankly they are far to concerned with their own problems to be taking any notice of you. And when at last you are one of the happy, chatting friends at the centre of the group, spare a moment to say hi and to the new Mum looking lonely while she plays with her child, because you were her once!
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A version of this post originally appeared on Huffpost