Are mommy groups or play dates a good way to make friends?

On mommy groups and play dates
My toddler doesn’t get to interact with too many kids his age. If he’s not with his parents, he’s at my aunt’s. Sure, he has cousins and even a few play mates, but we don’t see them on a regular basis. On one hand, I’m perfectly fine with this—I tend to think that children actually benefit from adult-oriented interactions than peer-oriented ones. But I also understand the important skills he’ll learn by mixing with other kids his age.

When my toddler was about eight months old, I signed up for a local mommy group. The group was active, but most of the kids were either too old or too young for my eight-month-old to play with. And with the exception of a few moms (one of whom I’m still friends with today), I also didn’t feel welcomed or comfortable. After a few play dates, I left the group.

So I started my own mommy group. I narrowed down the criteria to babies born within three months of my toddler who lived near by. Finally, I felt like I could at least be that welcoming committee that I sorely needed in the other group I left. I could plan fun play dates and outings. And I could meet many friendly moms, almost all of them close to my baby’s age. But since my group was so narrow, I didn’t have a wide membership. I also felt obligated to schedule and attend a zillion play dates that eventually wore down on my I-go-by-my-own-schedule baby. Plus, considering that running the mom group cost money that I couldn’t afford on my own, I had to close the group down.

While mommy groups provided the interactions I sought for my toddler to practice his social skills, they are far from what I consider a “village” type of community. We don’t have friendships with other families where we regularly get together, and where parents are friends among one another just as much as the kids are.

In my ideal world, we—children and adults—would develop close friendships so that our interactions aren’t solely for the kids’ sake, it’s for the adults’ too. My nieces and nephews have this relationship already—there’s a good group of them who are close in age, and my siblings and I love getting together among ourselves as well. 

As a kid, I was lucky because not only did I have siblings to play with, I also had cousins who lived right next door. Every day was a new adventure, whether it was to dance to Foot Loose in a darkened room with flash lights, pretend to be the A-Team (I was Murdock), mold play dough or build forts out of blankets. Even without cousins, I remember playing with neighborhood kids who usually went to our school. Making friends was easy.

Nowadays, not so much. Granted, my toddler is only two and isn’t exactly knocking on the neighbor’s door asking to play. But I find that parents initiate most of the social interactions. We sign them up for Gymboree or music class. We schedule play dates with friends who also have kids. And we attend mommy groups.

I’m actually happy that my toddler still prefers his parents over peers and that he doesn’t have friends trying to undermine our authority and guidance (“Kids rule… parents drool!” *rolls eyes*). At the same time, I’d still like for him to navigate the waters of socializing with kids his age and learn how to be kind, assert himself, communicate clearly, build his imagination, and all the other benefits of playing with kids.

So in my quest to find my toddler more opportunities to practice his social skills, I joined another mommy group. Except this one is a parents group, with moms and dads included. We attended our first play date at a local park yesterday and actually had a great time. Hopefully he’ll continue learning how to make friends, even if his mom and dad signed him up for it.

What are your thoughts on mommy groups, play dates and classes for kids? Why do you think there’s a proliferation of mommy groups and classes for kids?

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26 thoughts on “Are mommy groups or play dates a good way to make friends?

  1. I think that mommy groups (never been), playdates and classes are a great idea if you don’t have the opportunity to socialize your child on your own. Ally was incredibly shy before Kira was born, so I took the opportunity to sign her up for a toddler gymnastics. She loved it! She broke right out of her shell and is now outgoing and a leader amongst her friends. She’s also going to be attending Kindergarten this fall, and I am much more at ease knowing that she’ll be social instead of reserved in her classes.

  2. You always write insightful and thought provoking posts!! I love it. I’ve gotta say though that I got lucky finding a playgroup. I met a bunch of moms when I was doing Stroller Strides. All of our babies are the same age and we share the responsibilities of planning dates so the burden doesn’t fall on one person. At the same time, we’ve all become extremely close and have mom night outs, too. I don’t know what I would do without them! And since our kids are growing up together, it’s fun watching them play together now. So, yeah, I’m a fan, BUT we built this group already knowing we had stuff in common. I think it would be harder for me to join a meet up group because moms can be so opinionated. I know our group of girls don’t feel like we have to edit ourselves or judge each other. It’s relaxing.

  3. I had actually no idea there was a proliferation of mommy groups. I have never heard of one in my area. Emilia did not have very many opportunities for peer interaction until we put her into preschool. It was the perfect timing for her. She has blossomed socially, and to help her with her one-on-one interactions (something we talked about with her teachers), we have had several Saturday morning playdates with her preschool friends. I’ve even met a few of the moms that I feel could be real friends, not just acquaintances through my daughter.

  4. My mom had a mommy group when I was a toddler. Every Thursday, two or three moms would watch all the kids and give everyone else a few hours off. It rotated, so everyone took a turn at childcare as well.

    I have a mommy group that formed because (a) there are probably a dozen kids Baguette’s age within a square half-mile, and (b) Facebook exists.

    It’s a fairly loose group, with a mix of stay-at-home moms, work-from-home moms, and work-away-from-home moms. We have a mom’s night out once a month and have dinner in a nearby restaurant. Other than that, when one of us finds out about a local activity, we’ll post about it in the Facebook group.

  5. thanks for sharing this. we haven’t yet joined play groups since we’re away from our home base but are already plugged in with one and i am looking forward to participating in it when we return. i did not once think that feeling unwelcomed would be on the radar but now i’m at least a little more prepared to not necessarily find the right fit the first time round.

    you are right a lot of these mother/parent-child groups are not just for the children but for parents, too. especially since the children are still so young but when they get older i would imagine it would be more about just the kids’ socializations with one another over the parents’.

  6. This is very interesting. I had to join a mommy group when I first became a mommy because I gave birth in Tokyo, Japan!!! Met the most wonderful women and families. Moved on to Singapore, still with one child, more expats to befriend! I MISS ASIA SO MUCH because moving to NYC wasn’t too bad but didn’t feel as welcoming even though everyone is from somewhere in NYC (we are from Chicago). Our neighbors were awesome, met other Hispanic families in Tribeca. Really connected with families like ours. NOW in New Jersey, not working out so much. Either because I am expecting my third and really not trying to make friends or everyone here has family around. Harder to make friends because other people don’t care to make new friends???
    Regardless, now that my oldest is going to be in Kinder in a school that goes up to the 12th grade…and everyone is new…might just have found the “family” or network we are looking for.

  7. My childhood was similar to yours.
    You expressed interesting thoughts on how parents initiate interactions for their children nowadays, and that the parents aren’t included within the “play” group. I hope you are successful in initiating change.

  8. How do you find mommy groups? I tried to join one when my son was born and was not only made unwelcome, but they were downright cruel. I have tried getting together with other moms, but am always brushed off. Hes almost 3, and I would love to find a group with boys his age and (important for me!) friendly moms. Any sugestions?

    • I have no idea where you live. But I go to free library sessions, and also art classes, the activities have brought us Moms and tots together and has been a great social experience for me and my son.

  9. I too played with lots of cousins and neighborhood friends as a child. I wish there were opportunities for organic friendships to form these days.

  10. Our hospital had a weekly group for moms of newborns. There I met lots of moms and several of us formed a playgroup. Now, nine years later, we still get together for moms’ nights and we get our kids together for activities. I was lucky. It was a true blessing to have met women like me, and so many of them–our group was 18 and now seven of us still get together. Our kids have grown and made their own friends, but I’m not giving up that group of moms who helped me through those really challenging early years. I say, make friends now for yourself. When your kids are old enough to choose their own friends, they will.

    • It’s nice to hear from someone who has been able to maintain friendships born out of a mommy group a whole nine years later! Talk about through thick and thin.

      Of all my close girlfriends, I’m actually the first to have a kid (one of my friends is pregnant right now though at least), so unfortunately my little guy will be more of a “big cousin” than have play mates when my friends have kids themselves.

  11. I love reading your blog. It’s so reassuring to know other mothers are going through the same dilemmas too! My son is 20 months old and I am just starting to get on the toddler group wagon. I was feeling very guilty about not having taken him sooner, and like you said, want him to socialise with other kids. Thouh at the first one we went to the other week, he stole another child’s cracker right out of her hand; I guess that is socialising!

    • Kerry, weirdly that’s a perfect example of the socializing I want my toddler to get into! It isn’t always going to be peachy when you throw a bunch of toddlers together, but I think they start to learn how to deal with issues like possession, communicating with each other, turn-taking and such. And thanks for your kind words!

  12. It really is strange how there has to be just the right dynamic for this sort of thing to click. My kiddo somehow has no fear of strangers and will go right up to new people to play with them. Most of the time, if he goes up to other kids, they want to play right back. Yet it is the parents that get anxious and pull their kids away. I don’t think my son has problems finding friends, but I on the other hand haven’t found the magic password that connects me to other parents in our neighborhood. It really shows me that sometimes parents need to learn from their kids and show a bit more faith in meeting new people.

  13. I’ve actually been thinking of forming my own mommy group as well but worried about the time commitment of organizing. I have found the same issue you had with children in the other groups being either too young or too old.

  14. There is a website called Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/) that gets any type of group together. I found this site through my storytime mom friends from the library. It’s pretty global as you kind find groups to belong to mostly all over the world. And they are not just mommy/baby groups either. You can participate as often as you want and decide what playdates you are going to attend (park, zoo, house, playground, etc.).

    Since I’ve been a part of this group (mom’s meetup in my area) I have met about 9 mom/babies. I can say out of these 9, I am slowly developing relationships with three of them; mostly due to our similarities. Oster and I participate with the meetup group once a month. The other three moms I see without the group at each other’s homes or at the library. It’s not really fair to say the other 6 aren’t social. But it’s hard to have a conversation with some of them. We just don’t clique. But it’s for a short time once a month, so I suck it up so that my son can have some interaction and observe me in conversation.

    I also have a group that solely meets at the library once a week for story time. We don’t meet outside. We just see each other there. There are a lot of toddlers participating so it’s a great way to engage in structured social activities.

    My OBGYN office provides a free lactation group (two hours once a week) for all of its patients. I took advantage of this when my little guy was a month old. I went religiously for 8 months. It was nice to have a nurse available to answer questions, but I mostly went to talk with other moms and help Oster become acclimated with those of his own age. I still go once a month to see my nurse (she loves when we come in and grabs Oster immediately from me).

    Oster has been taking French classes (with me) for the past three months (once a week). I signed him up for the hour long class to get him accustomed to another language. I reinforce his lessons when we come home (I’ll be writing about our experiences soon). The oldest student in the class is almost 3. So it’s great for Oster to see and hear the teacher and then see and hear the older kids repeat the words. Of course, mine cannot even speak his native English yet, but I know he’s soaking in everything.

    I’ll be a stay-at-home-mom for another year and a half (and then back to work) so I’m really trying to take advantage of every day with him. We do take breaks some days, but I feel it’s important for him to see and interact with those his own age…even if it’s just observing a toddler in the park from afar.

    • Thanks so much for the info, especially since a few moms seemed interested in how exactly to go about finding a group.

      I actually used meetup.com and I assume it’s just luck of the draw because the first group I joined was from there, and I wasn’t too keen on it. That’s also what I used when I started my own group but I hate how it costs money to run the site, and it wasn’t cheap! The third group I’m currently part of is also from meetup and so far they are super nice. Hopefully I’ve found my group. I swear it’s like dating sometimes trying to find friends with other parents, complete with getting their digits and emails lol.

      It looks like you found your group of three genuine friends, similar to muddledmom’s comment above (she’s been friends with her group for 9 years). That’s so awesome! And I think my library has a story time that you can sign up for and it’s the same people that go; of course I’m working so I can’t take advantage of it 😦 The weekend story time isn’t a sign-up so there are no regular kids (and I don’t like the storytellers lol).

  15. When I was home with my daughter (first three months) I considered joinging a parent group but ultimately decided against it. As she got older, I also looked into age-specific groups for her but I found the coordination tiring – the locations and times never worked for my working parent schedule and when it came to weekends, we just wanted to be together as a family.

    If my child wasn’t in school now, I think would be pushing harder to socialize, but I think I would choose to do it through classes and story times rather than “mommy” groups. I’ve met a few parents who have become friends that way, in addition to some of her school friends’ parents, and the tie to an activity helped give us something to talk about besides diapers 🙂 We have opted to sign our daughter up for a class a season (things like swimming, ballet, soccer, etc) but they are all activities that allow for parental interaction while the kids are pretty much one their own with their teacher and one another.

  16. I have also had no luck with mommy groups. I had a few bad experiences where the other moms were very judgmental and the atmosphere reminded me of high school where some people were popular and others were not.
    Since my little girl is a high need baby, we were pretty much doomed from the beginning as no one could relate to us or tried to understand. Some moms were outright rude and hurtful and I felt very uncomfortable. On top of that, my daughter did not benefit from it either.
    I would consider joining a group with other high need parents, mostly for the support, but I haven’t been able to find any locally. I also think, since my girl is so sensitive that it is better for her to wait a little while longer before we try again.

  17. Great post! Not only are mommy groups and play dates a good idea, if you are a stay-at-home-dad, they are ESSENTIAL! Seriously, I didn’t know anyone who was in my situation before I joined a Meetup group for SAHD’s. And though my first group didn’t work out — none of the kids were my daughter’s age and the dude who ran the group was a tyrant who actually “dumped” me from the group via email! — and the second group I joined was filled with mean, judgmental stay-at-home-moms (one lady ditched us in favor of another friend at our play date!) the third group I joined has been awesome. We meet once a month, there are at least four regular Dads and kids there (sometimes more) who all get along great and one of the Dads and I have become really good friends, meeting up with our girls (who are a month apart!) at a local park almost every other week.

    I can’t tell you how important this friendship has been not just for my daughter, but also for me. Life as a SAHD can be really isolating and lonely sometimes and having another dude to share the war stories (good and bad!) with has been invaluable. So, if anyone out there is still wondering about the worth of a play group, I say, they are well worth checking out, especially if you don’t know anyone else who has kids!

  18. I joined a play group but have been a bit underwhelmed. I felt a large age gap. Most of the other moms were trendy, young, 20 somethings. So I haven’t it difficult to really bonded with them.

    Also, my daughter’s situation is unique in that she’s had a liver transplant and is immunosuppressed. I have to be careful of exposing her to other kids that may be sick. And I’m amazed at how many parents decide their kids are simply ‘teething’ and that’s why they are coughing, having runny noses, & fevers. Although in many cases this might be true, I can NOT take my chances. My daughter has been through enough in 2yrs. Sadly, I’ve found myself not trusting parents judgement which ends up separating us from group activities.

    It’s sad because I know my daughter LOVES it. And I want to encourage her to learn things from the play groups – activities, sharing, etc. And I’m desperate for adult relationships too. But I continually walk a balance of medical safety with her that ends up isolating us both.

  19. I came over here from Simple Mom, because your post title intrigued me. =) I’ve tried a variety of different groups – library story time, community play group and then just getting together with some of my friends who have kids or not. The former was really fun before my baby was born, it provided a great activity for my toddler and I to do together. And she could interact with other littles. I didn’t connect with the moms other then on a very surface level but I had no expectation to do so.
    The community playgroup was great during the winter, I could walk to it, my toddler could run around and it was very low maintenance for me. I was one of a very few moms there, mostly nannys and grandmas watching the other toddlers. I felt rather out of it.
    Now I mostly get together with friends of mine who have children or not. We sip our tea while watching our little girls play together or at least play in the same room. I have fellowship and am encouraged in my journey as mom.

    I think it’s important to have the interaction but I keep it minimal so that it stays special and that our routine at home isn’t always disrupted. I love meeting up with my sister in law and we do our Costco shopping together, she doesn’t have any children yet so she takes one of my girls in her cart and we shop and then get lunch. It’s special for my girls, I get some grown up conversation and we get our shopping down.

    I’ve learned to keep my expectations low. Rather, I’m learning…=) There are seasons to everything. When it was just my toddler, I did a lot more stuff outside the house – library, swimming etc but now that I have two I find its’ more of challenge to do some stuff and so I create our own fun at home. I also utilize the playground a lot. =)

    Sorry to get so rambly…I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. =)

    • Yeah, I think it’s key to make sure that the extra-curriculars don’t overwhelm the kid that these play dates are supposed to be helping. That was my mistake in the beginning with the first group—I kept trying to meet these meetups that may not have been conducive to my baby’s schedule or mood, but still felt compelled to drag him along because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Now I have no qualms about backing out of plans or changing them up should my toddler not be up for it!

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