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The Politics of Playgroup

By Megan Kerns

By the time my daughter, Penelope, reached six months I was ready. I had recovered from my caesarean section, struggled with and finally mastered breastfeeding, and watched enough episodes of "The Golden Girls" on Lifetime to have seen them all, twice. I was ready to join a playgroup. I envisioned meeting other young, hip moms whose parenting philosophies were the same as mine and enjoying midday lattes while our children, always anxious to see one another, played quietly at our feet. My vision was a bit lofty, I admit, but I enthusiastically did a Google.com search for a playgroup in my area anyway.

The first playgroup I found was a very structured outfit with its own Web site and message boards. This appealed to me because with a baby that napped sporadically at best, I knew I could always check a message board or the online calendar to see what was up with its members at any particular time and we would all immediately know of any updates or changes in the schedule without the hassles of a phone tree. It seemed reasonable at the time that I would have to fill out a lengthy application just to become a member with questions about how I spent my free time and what my occupation was before I became a stay-at-home mom or "SAHM." In hindsight I think I was just desperate to find something close to home so it was easy to gloss over the application filled with questions about my private life or the "Terms of Membership" that included a whole section on how it was our responsibility to remain active within the group and if we did not make a it a priority to do so, we would promptly be asked to leave. I waited anxiously for two days before my application went through and was accepted.

My first outing with the group was not a playgroup, but a weekly meet-up at a local brewery for Happy Hour called, "Mom’s Night Out." Anxious to do something sans baby and husband, I put on makeup, heels, blew my hair dry for the first time in months and went. I immediately connected with another mom there but the group leader left me feeling a little cold. No big deal, I thought, the point of joining was to meet other moms, I didn’t have to connect with all of them, even if that included the group leader. The next day was the weekly playgroup, which I excitedly attended with my daughter. At seven months, she mostly sat on the floor, with me behind her, and gummed a teething ring. Still, I was hopeful and enjoyed the play hour until the group leader leaned over to me at one point and whispered, "You really should’ve taken your shoes off before you walked on the carpet." Mortified, I said nothing but slipped them off and tucked them away next to her couch. Later that day I received an e-mail from the group leader informing the rest of us members that a longtime member had abruptly left with no explanation, but it was of the group leader’s opinion that she left because, "her marriage is based on jealousy."

As my few short weeks in this group continued, the group leader continued to rule with an iron, carefully manicured fist and would alienate and then routinely ban members she found unsuitable for the group. In an attempt to minimize my contact with her I asked that since the group was so large (at the time membership had approximately 30 members, give or take the group leader’s whims), maybe we could split the group with babies under the age of 1 year (this would include my daughter) in one group, and the toddlers (this included her son) in another. I had the support of some other weary members and even showed her a book written about playgroups that said they worked best when the ages of the children were close together. She immediately called an emergency meeting about the playgroup where a vote was held as to whether or not we could have a separate group for the babies. The vote was in my favor and I went home feeling good about playgroup again. Right before bed that night I checked the message boards to see if the group leader had set up the forum she had promised me at the meeting where I could post information about the new "babies only" playgroup. Instead I found a message from the group leader asking if we could again vote on my idea. I was livid! I posted on the boards once more saying I would have to opt out of such a playgroup as it was not at all that I’d envisioned (I still had not gotten that latte).

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