The Kids are Not the Same Age as Yours
As I learned firsthand, "when you have a newborn or a young baby, one week makes a huge difference in terms of development and what the baby is doing," says Andra Davidson, founder of Mothersclick.com, a social networking site for mothers. "It doesn't matter so much in a group of toddlers if there's an age difference of a few months, but if you have an infant, you really want to be with other mothers going through exactly what you are. And you don't want to worry about toddlers trampling on your baby," she adds.
Possible solution: If you're brand new to motherhood, be choosy. Try to join a group where most of the kids were born in the same month. To find such a specific age bracket, see if the hospital where you gave birth organizes playgroups. Your pediatrician may know of new groups that are forming.
It's not uncommon to join a playgroup thinking you'll be comparing notes on nap schedules and rice cereal and instead wind up with an earful of inappropriate tidbits.
Shortly after suburban Maryland mom Alyson Weinberg gave birth to her oldest daughter, Josephine, she joined a six-week-long new mothers' class. When it ended, Weinberg started her own less-formal version of the meeting, inviting a few women from the class and some neighbors with newborns. "In the beginning, it provided great support. We talked about poops, breastfeeding, and sleep deprivation," she recalls. But then Weinberg's group morphed into a forum for revealing personal information. "Moms talked about how much sex they were having," she says. "One woman told us how she conceived her child. I think people were dying to reconnect with who they were before they had babies, so they got into these pseudo-racy conversations. Most of the moms reveled in talking about things besides the baby. But to me it was forced intimacy." The final straw was when they asked about the kind of underwear her husband wore. "What color, what style." she says. "I sent the group an appreciative e-mail thanking them for their support, saying I wouldn't be coming anymore."
Possible solution: If the other moms seem to be enjoying the discussion, you don't want to say certain topics are off limits, so leaving the group is the way to go. To avoid the situation, consider groups that are already established so you can get a sense of what a typical session is like.
Issues with the Kids
Once the babies in your group turn into toddlers, what the other kids are like becomes as much a factor as how much you like the moms. A child who bullies, grabs, or bites can make playgroup no fun for your sensitive shrinking violet. Still, if you like most of the people in the group, it's worth trying to work through this rather than just ditching the whole affair. Try approaching the mother of the aggressive child by saying something like, "I love your child's energy and spirit, but sometimes my daughter feels intimidated by him. Would you be able to rein him in a little if I gave you a signal that trouble is brewing?"
Indeed, the parent of the problem child may not be aware of the situation and may appreciate your directness. New Hampshire mom Pegeen Dunne says that when her twins, the oldest in a playgroup of multiples, turned 3, they entered a challenging phase, and were a bit too aggressive for the group. "Instead of saying to me, 'Your guys are really wild, so why don't you take a break and work on it,' certain moms stopped showing up to playgroup or made plans around me. I felt like Jan Brady."
Eventually she became aware of the problem and took the summer off while she worked on a discipline plan. When summer ended, so did the behavior -- but Dunne didn't want to go back. "I wish people had just been up-front."
Possible solution: When you're talking to the mother about her child's behavior, avoid dispensing parenting advice. Focus on your child's feelings rather than on her child's problems -- even if you think he's a little terror. After all, they may end up in the same kindergarten class.