Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Playgroup: Saving Civilization, One Week at a Time

When your kids are little the years may fly by, but the days can drag on!  That's why being part of a weekly playgroup can be a lifesaver, both for you AND your child.  It's okay if the other kids aren't exactly the same age as yours, and it's okay if at first it doesn't seem like you'll have anything in common with the other moms.  

Other ok things: 
  • if dads come, too; 
  • if you are WAY older/younger than the other moms; 
  • if you have WAY more kids than the other moms; 
  • if you work out of the home;
  • if you have a tiny apartment and can't host a playgroup yourself.

Let me explain.  Playgroups are about encouraging one another, not competing.  They are about getting out of the house (or seeing fresh faces if you're hosting it at your house).  They are about sharing your struggles and ups and downs, not trying to act like you've got your act together at all times.  They're about giving and getting advice; begging for prayers when you're scared or worried; borrowing bassinets, getting the low-down on babysitters.  This playgroup has been a ministry to moms with young children as part of my work in the Legion of Mary, an international organization to which I belong.

Our playgroup has been at my house just because my house and backyard are ideal for small children (I used to run a small Montessori school here).  I realize that some playgroups rotate to different houses, but the advantage to staying in one place is that the kids become accustomed to the environment and to one set of house rules.  I don't mind tidying up once per week and I try to keep things somewhat baby-proofed.  

Years ago, when we just had two small children and were living in an apartment I asked the apartment complex management if I could use their clubhouse once per week for a Mom's group or story time.  Not only did they say, "Yes!" but they also let me use the office photocopier to make a newsletter for our group.  Another time, when we lived in Ohio, the local library let me use a meeting room in order to host a Red Cross First Aid or CPR class for me and my mommy friends.  These are just two examples of ways you can organize a playgroup without the worry of cleaning your own home!

It's a blessing now that I can host our weekly playgroup, providing coffee and a comfortable setting.  At first I was providing snacks each week, but now moms usually offer to bring something.

The key to a good playgroup is, first, some ground rules.  Ours has 3 written rules:
  1. RSVP the night before (e-mail works best)
  2. Don't come if you or your child is sick
  3. Only bring children who are up-to-date on their childhood immunizations

Your playgroup can have a different set of rules, but those are ours.  I think we'd agree we also have some unwritten rules, such as:
  • we don't gossip;
  • if we are sharing a struggle related to marriage or home life we try to stay positive and remember the sacred nature of a family;
  • the kids and moms help to clean up before they leave; and
  • we kind of keep the morning more "Mom-focused" than "child-focused."  What do I mean by that?  I mean that instead of bending over backwards to keep the kids entertained and happy, we try to make the most of the opportunity for adult conversation.  We keep things simple.  If we need to re-direct a child or intervene, we try to do it and get back to yacking.

The friendships I've made have been a real blessing over the past two years.  At first the mommies came from my neighborhood and church, but then others joined in.  Some members have moved or have had to step out for a time due to changing nap schedules or morning sickness, but we've also had a new mommy and little boy join us, too.  Two mommies have had new babies and more are expecting, so I guess our group may be growing!

What about you?  Have you had or wanted to have a playgroup?  If so, what have been your ground rules?  Challenges?  Joys?

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