Every Monday morning, I take Milin and Jasmin to our local playgroup. It’s in a cold church hall, the carpet looks like it was last hoovered 3 years ago, and the wall of noise that hits you when you open the front door gives me a headache. But the children love it.
My relationship with playgroup has never been easy. It’s always been somewhere I have gone to out of a sense of obligation – and I can’t say I’ve ever looked forward to it. This week though, something changed. I realised it’s time to stop carrying around the burden of guilt I take through the door with me each week. I don’t like it, and that’s ok.
I’m in the midst of my longest continuous stint of going to playgroup. You might remember that this stint started back in September. It was a new term full of promise, I was feeling confident about outings with two children, I was looking for something for us to do on Monday mornings… and so I went back to playgroup. (I’d abandoned it a year earlier because keeping an eye on a toddler and a newborn in a room full of toys and 30 other children was too much hard work). This September though, I braved our return. That first week went ok – I even wrote a post about how I thought it might be different this time, and I made a little video of the kids playing happily on the dirty carpet.
But we’re two months in now and I can say it. Nothing’s changed. The kids are still happy there. But I don’t like playgroup.
Yes – the benefits remain – it’s an easy rainy day option which gets us out of the house, it’s cheap and there’s no termly sign-up fee or register, the kids get to socialise with other children and play with other toys… I’m sure there’s other great things about it too.
But – then there’s the other stuff. I never, ever, ever manage to drink a coffee. I know this isn’t a big problem in the scheme of things, but I like coffee. It’s the thing that makes life work for me and I’d be a mess without it. So when something is noisy and bad and dirty – good coffee can make it better. This never happens at playgroup though because I don’t get both hands free for long enough.
The small talk is worse than not having a coffee. I’ve stopped joining in – I’ve realised. Broken conversations, left hurriedly because Jasmin is crying because a big girl pushed her over, just don’t do it for me. In the 27 seconds I get between joining in a play rescue with Milin and picking pushed-over Jasmin off the floor – I’m not going to suddenly bond with someone I might never meet again just because our kids look like they might be the same age.
I know playgroup isn’t about finding a best friend. And I know that for new mums it can be a lifeline. In fact, the kind-of-playgroup (SPACE programme) I went to in New Zealand from when Milin was five weeks old was a time of the week I looked forward to desperately. I made friends who I still keep in touch with, despite being on the other side of the world. But the sessions were calmer, more structured, and I was a new mum who needed that contact with others in my situation.
Now, perhaps, I’ve just accepted that we all go through rubbish times, and my good times will alternate with the bad, but no-one knows my children better than me and talking about how my child doesn’t eat won’t make things change.
And then – to return to the not-great-things-about-playgroup – then, there’s the guilt. I go to playgroup because I feel like I should. I’m not blaming anyone else for this – it’s a situation I’ve crafted all by myself – but I for some reason have felt like like it’s good for the kids to spend their Monday mornings in a big cold room full of mismatched toys and a snack of a little fruit and biscuits I’d rather they didn’t know about.
So it stops here.
I don’t get enough time with my children. My three days at work mean there’s three days in the week when I don’t get to hang out with them. On one of the four remaining, I’m over doing things because I feel like I should.
Milin goes to nursery. Jasmin goes to music. The kids go to swimming. They have cousins and friends and play dates, they’re spoilt with trips to the zoo, museums, the theatre. We go walking loads – playing pooh sticks, going to the park, collecting pretty leaves and going on bear hunts – we have all this wrapped up. We paint silly pictures, we make train tracks, we play crazy funny games, we read, we laugh…. we don’t need playgroup.
I know it’s right for some people. But for me, just now, I’m giving away my sense of obligation that it’s good for the kids. Everything I do for Milin and Jasmin is good for them. Not going to a weekly playgroup won’t make them live less fulfilled lives, it won’t make them hate me, it won’t make them want for fun.
There might be the odd week, I know, particularly through the winter, when I’ll crave the easy set-up of that church hall – and so, we’ll go back. But until then, I’m putting a stop to doing things because I’ve told myself I should.
It’s not a coincidence that I started taking Milin and Jasmin to playgroup when I returned to work. But enough with the guilt of filling up our days off together. I know our hours together are happy and full. From now on, that’s going to be enough.