Working the toddler group circuit

Toddler groups. They aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, and I totally get that.

For me, staying at home on the hamster wheel of getting-out-toys-putting-away-toys isn’t for me 100% of the time either. Sure, in an ideal world, there would be a friend or relative at the end of the phone, ready to socialise with you midweek in a less ‘mumsy’ environment, but let’s face it, with pre-schoolers it’s normally a question of “My place or yours?” (YOURS?) which inevitably leads to a post tea time sob and a search for the floor in your home. (It was definitely there this morning).

Coffee shops and tea rooms aren’t exactly the most relaxing of environments to hang out with other Mums either, or should I say small children, and often the endless messaging organising is just way too much effort for what often ends up in a late arrival or worst still, total blow out.

No, I quickly realised in my first maternity leave, that the answer to staying sane was to get out and entertain the tot somewhere that someone else would do the tidying up, and there would be stuff for the little one to do whilst I used up some of my daily 20,000 word count in conversation with another adult human being.

We’ve learnt our Messy play from our Creation Station, our Bounce and rhyme from our Jo Jingles, and I can pretty much tell you any day of the week which church hall you can get a brew and a cuppa for £2 while your kid plays with a load of old happyland toys. Baby gym, soft play, library groups, leisure centres – we’ve covered them all at some point or another.

These places are where my parenting network began, and continues to grow to this day still. I’ve met some really decent people, those who volunteer to run these shin digs just for the love of the group and those who, like me, are just looking to let their smalls burn off steam while they get a change of scene. I’ve met Mums who have Mums the same age as me, and I’ve become friends with Grandmothers who are doing it all again now they are super-Nanny to their grandchildren. I’ve got to know people who live on my road, and I have met people brand new to the area, and even to the country . They have all found a sense of community through these hubs for parents looking for solace in a decent coffee and a chat, a community that they never really knew existed.

I can honestly say the local Sure Start centre at times felt like an extension to our home. We have always been on first name terms with all the staff – and even watched them journey through their own trials and tribulations of parenthood. We graduated from baby talk, to waddle to toddle, on to stay and play with our growing brood, and the sanctuary of a free place to play for our children with their friends was nothing short of a life line.

As a stay at home Mum, the years are short but the days really are long. But, the days have always felt a little less long with the ability to distance myself from the laundry and the TV. As I tell myself I’m taking the Mouse out so ‘she can play’, we both know the real reason why Mummy is wrestling her coat on amidst her screams of “stay at home”.

The winter months can be tough on parents – the lack of green parks to roam in, the cold wind and rain putting off even the most outdoorsy of us from a ‘nice wintery walk’. In all honesty, after defrosting from the school run, that’s the last thing on earth I feel like doing.

We can’t exactly invite ourselves to other people’s houses to play, that just isn’t the done thing any more is it? (Well, maybe with some really good mates I could, if I really needed to). So, when faced with three options; stay indoors, invite someone here (not exactly getting me out of these four walls) or head off to X-church tots. Hence option #3 has become our safe option.

The community playgroup will always be waiting for me when I turn up ridiculously on time. I don’t have to rely on anyone else; but I can throw open an invite to anyone who fancies joining me. My day will take a random turn as I don’t know who I am going to meet, bump into, what I’ll experience or get to craft with my child (without a drop of paint touching my floor). I have even been known to almost (but not quite) decline an impromptu meet up with a friend passing by because it’s Friday afternoon – and that’s when we go to a particular group that I really like.

And so, five years into motherhood, with one offspring already graduated from the toddler group circuit I know my way around these parts. But, it wasn’t always that way, and I’ll never forget the fear and anxiety of going to these types of things for the first time. Alone (well apart from the baby that is), looking for company and a structure to my new found life. Everyone else seemed to know each other and there were certain places I swore I’d never return to when I left welling up with tears feeling more isolated than ever.

I did return of course, as my confidence grew and my new Monday to Friday crew with it.

I will always however look out for, and be as welcoming as possible, to that new Mum standing alone in the corner; with her crying baby, looking for where the baby change is. I will offer to hold the newborn baby of the Mum rushing her potty training toddler to the loo. I’ll say hello and ask if you come here often, even though I know you don’t, and I’ll make small talk cliches about your beautiful baby and how you are getting on. I’m sorry if I have become that smug Mum who seems to know everyone over the years, and if I ever excluded anyone. I can only blame it on my own self indulgence in a good chin wag with someone I only see once a week, or being totally oblivious as I multi-task; watching my child, not scalding someone else’s child with my tea, thinking about what we’re having for dinner and if I turned the tumble drier off, whilst making small talk with the person stood next to me.

The irony now however is that our toddler group days are numbered and this brings a whole new fear. As my second and probably last child starts preschool in January, that’s 50% of the weekly groups gone forever…in the run up to the very last time in September 2019. I’ve seen it first hand – other Mums I’ve got to know really well disappear from our lives overnight as their youngest starts school. With empty promises of meeting up for coffee, explaining over and over again that I’m not on facebook and futile exchanges of numbers with genuine intentions to stay in touch.

We’ll see each other again for sure – paths cross in the aisles of Aldi, at swimming lessons, or in the park during the holidays. We’ll gasp at how the kids have grown and those days at playgroup when my child smashed yours in the face with a toy cow will seem so long ago.

But the biggest question of all? What exactly happens then to a stay at home Mum with no toddler to take to a toddler group? I mean, I know there are 101 things to do with a child free morning, but how will 5 child free mornings feel after the initial novelty wears off?

I guess only time will tell, but one thing I do know, is that I’ll always be incredibly grateful for my years working the toddler group circuit with my children. I’ll never forget the lovely people I’ve met, who have shared some hilarious laughs, some seemingly unimportant chats that made such a positive impact to my life at this stage of parenthood. Maybe one day I’ll be one of the old dears serving life saving coffee from the hatch to tired young mothers, reminiscing about the good old days with my girls.

x MMT

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30 thoughts on “Working the toddler group circuit

  1. A Mum Called Lucy Reply

    I can totally relate to this post. Our days of toddler groups are coming to an end too! Very daunting prospect x

  2. The Squirmy Popple Reply

    Toddler groups can be key to keeping your sanity. I recently had to watch my daughter while my husband was away (he watches her most days while I work), and the first thing we did was head over to the local church hall. It gave her two hours to play with toys that weren’t ours and a mess I didn’t have to clean. Brilliant. #DreamTeam

  3. Nicole Reply

    Toddler groups were my go-to-sanity-place in the early months… I still remember those sensory play sessions:) It is also where I made so many friends – mum friends, that could relate to me and support me. Reading this post got me a tad nostalgic – and sad – realising that my little boy is growing up so fast!!!
    #coolmumclub

  4. Stephanie Reply

    I really appreciate that you reach out to the new moms at these groups. A lot of posts don’t mention how important it is as a more seasoned mom to give back in that way, and I’m always really happy to see that, especially as a new mom with basically no mommy friends. #coolmumclub

  5. beautybabyandme Reply

    I love this post – I’ve been braving a few toddler groups and I am so glad I do cause it really does help on those days where mummyhood is a killer! xx #coolmumclub

  6. Laura Beresford Reply

    I did loads of stuff with my eldest, especially the Sure Start groups but then with Anya it was harder to find groups that could accommodate both children. Now with Zach the Sure Start has closed down 🙁 and he gets plenty of child interactions with his siblings and their friends #coolmumclub

  7. Briony Reply

    Aww I wish I’d had toddler groups like yours. Mine were not fun which is sad. #coolmumclub

  8. Tubbs Reply

    I’ll show this to Rev T who runs the toddler group at our church. It’s nice to be appreciated 🙂 It’s great you look out for the new mums as going for the first few times is so hard. One plea – be nice and welcoming to the Dads as well. It ain’t easy being the only Dad there.

    1. MMT Reply

      I’ll bear that in mind – to be honest though I can’t really remember seeing any there?! x

  9. Something About Baby Reply

    I have to admit being back at work, toddler groups are the one thing I really do miss! I miss that hour I got to socialise with like-minded mums, whilst the baby had fun making friends of his own. I didn’t go to a huge amount of baby groups, but the ones I did were fab and I really miss them! #coolmumclub

  10. motherhoodtherealdeal Reply

    So get this hon – it’s the end of an era and I remember it to be a bit of a funny transition but at least you have the spring and summer months on your side now to help you through it. Sending lots of #coolmumclub loving xoxo

  11. PassTheProseccoPlease Reply

    Totally can relate to this, i’m not the biggest fan of these groups but they are great for a cuppa and a rant sometimes! #coolmumclub xx

  12. Lucy At Home Reply

    Oooh I love this post so much! I’ve been a SAHM for 6 years and, like you, my youngest will be starting nursery in January. I actually run one of the baby groups myself, but we also go to other groups where mummy can sit down and chill out for a change! I do think these sorts of groups can be really cliquey so I try my best to be welcoming to new mums (because I know exactly what it feels like to be her). GREAT post! #coolmumclub

  13. Hayley McLean Reply

    Love this, and so lovely that you’re looking out for the new mum. I find these places too intimidating :/ Ive tried so many and they never work out for me. #CoolMuMClub

  14. Peachy Reply

    Our days of toddler groups are just about to begin. I have been hesitant go join any as I’m not that social and Peachy seemed perfectly content to socialize with her own feet. But she is getting big now and since she is not in daycare it’s up to me to find her some little friends. I’ll have to set my fears aside and jump into the toddler group circuit for her sake. #coolmumclub

  15. thetaleofmummyhood Reply

    The Winter months really are long as a SAHM, I’m always glad when the Springs arrives with its light nights and warmth! #coolmumclub

  16. Janine Reply

    I have to admit toddler groups really aren’t my thing. I go to one a week for my daughters sake when I can but I guess I’m what you would call socially awkward. I find it really uncomfortable being in the presence of groups of people o don’t know. Reading your post you sound like a bit of a social butterfly and that must make a huge difference to wanting to get out and about. As sad as it sounds I’m happiest at home living in my little bubble which i know isn’t great for my daughter, hence forcing myself to take her to a group once a week. I envy mums who find lifelonh friendships in these groups but sadly that’s not me.

    #coolmumclub

  17. Amina Reply

    I was actually thinking about this the other day! I was like I guess I’m going to have to have another baby just so I can keep attending! (Joking obviously) But I am so lucky that the children’s centre runs a group every day and sometimes two. They also have groups for unto the age of 5 so I am ok for a little while.

    Amina xx | http://www.AliandHer.com

    #coolmumclub

  18. Left Back Reply

    I am a big fan of hartbeeps #coolmumclub

  19. nowmynameismummy Reply

    I don’t know how you do it but your posts always seem impeccably timed as to just what I’ve started doing! We’ve just started a few toddler groups. I thought I’d hate them but actually I love it. Out of the house, adults to talk to, a warm drink… it’s much easier than being at home! Although Henry was knocked over by an older child last week the second I turned to reach for my tea. I felt terrible! #coolmumclub

  20. Mrs Lighty Reply

    I couldn’t agree more with this! We love a toddler group for all the reasons you’ve mentioned (i.e. tea and conversation for Mrs Lighty). Please let me know how things go once the toddler groups stop?! #coolmumclub xxx

  21. Erica Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this. I’m one of those that isn’t keen on baby groups. I might even have written a blog about my hatred for them . But I love the sense of community you got from it. I never felt that at the ones I tried. I found them very cliquey. That was 5 years ago, you might have given me a reason to try again with my youngest xx

    1. Erica Reply

      #coolmumclub

  22. Angela Watling Reply

    You’re so right. I don’t often chat much at these groups but just being in the company of others, with new things to entertain my daughter, helps to keep me sane! Plus, you’re so right about being able to arrange a meet-up without having to invite everyone to your house. #BlogCrush

  23. Helena Reply

    I tend to go through phases where I go and then don’t. They are great places for meeting fellow new mothers. #coolmumclub

  24. yvonne Reply

    I thought the same when the boys started kindergarten but I soon managed to fill my time! I loved going to playgroups – just to get out of the house and be with other mums was a lifesaver for me x #coolmumclub

  25. Naptime Natter Wendy Reply

    Yes I totally agree, getting out the house to toddler groups is a much better option than stating stuck indoors for a whole day. I have been taking Leo to them since he was 6weeks old…he starts school in September so it will just be me and Alex. It’s going to be so strange going to all these groups without him! No idea what I will do when Alex starts school..it’s a whole off yet so I won’t worry for now. Lovely post hun xx #dreamteam

  26. Lucy At Home Reply

    Just popping back as someone chose this fab post as their #blogcrush. I’m so glad that toddler groups have been such a positive experience for you – I think they often get a bad press. I think they very much depend on how much you put in – if you go determined to chat to people, you’ll find people who want to chat 🙂

    #blogcrush

  27. bridiebythesea Reply

    I always felt a bit awkward going to baby and toddler groups but it totally saved my sanity. I would have cried in the frustration without them! It’s so nice that you look out for the mum on her own too, really lovely as sometimes it is hard to make conversation with mums when you don’t know anyone. Thanks for linking to #dreamteam x

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