When I arrived home with my newborn, I was totally lost. I was a new mother in a new neighborhood. My mother and sister came to stay with me for a while, and when they left, I cried and cried. I didn’t know how to spend time, or who I was in relation to who I’d been just several days before.
With my second child, I was determined to organize a playgroup when I got home from the hospital. Every week, we’d get together to nurse and talk, talk and nurse. Two or three hours would easily fly by with banter. We might not have chosen each other as friends, but the babies brought us together.
Why you need playdates:
Playdates for very young babies are soul satisfying for everyone. Whether you work or stay home, hire a nanny, grandma or select a care center, you and the baby both need to play with others. New parents can be fearful about taking an infant out of the house—there’s dirt, there’s germs, and there’s always the need to nurse in public places. You’ve got to overcome anxiety and force yourself to connect with others in the same boat.
Every playdate location has its own special ambiance, things you take for granted as an adult. There are new textures, light, sounds and stuff to experience—and your baby picks up on all of it. Your neighbor’s carpet, the bread baking in the oven, music playing in the background, their dog, the voices of people. New experiences are magical. So long as you are nearby, the infant is alert and all of their care needs are met, she will take it all in. And then have a great nap, as all the stimulation will likely tire him out.
How to do a playdate:
Start making play dates as soon as you feel confident navigating the outside world and the pediatrician says all is well. Your baby is born ready to make friends, and like a sponge will take in all the sights, sounds and smells of new people and places.
The concept of a playdate might seem foreign to you. To make it easier, time the playdate so baby will be alert, fed and newly diapered. Bring your own blanket or other small material covering from home to spread on the floor, or carpet, and bring some toys your baby likes. Place your baby on the floor next to a baby friend. Depending on their level of mobility they will likely explore each other’s faces and crawl on each other. Make sure to read baby’s signs and remove him for eating, diapering and sleeping when necessary; while your baby is sleeping you can have some wonderful adult conversation time.
As the babies get older, more curious and more mobile, you should adjust the materials you present. You can have a reading time, a singing time, a snack, and go outside together. You’ll see the babies increasingly interested in each other and the world around them. They’ll start to name things, and need more physical activity. Organically, you’ll notice the playdates are changing because the babies are growing.
The lasting impact a playdate can make:
Playdates help set a good example for your growing child. When children see moms supporting moms, dads supporting dads, caregivers supporting each other, and everyone enjoying each other’s company as a community, we set the stage for loving, attached relationships that encourage children to explore independently in larger concentric circles across the first two year of life.
Playdates create a context for lifelong journeys of friendship for families and children and if you are lucky enough to find a playgroup when you come home from the hospital, cherish it as a great opportunity for companionship and learning.
How to find a playdate:
If you live in NYC, there’s some great groups out there helping parents connect and create playdates. Here’s 8 of them.
- The Moms Groups. Renee Sullivan runs some of the most supportive Moms groups I’ve seen. Find her here.
- Six Degrees of Mom. This neighborhood-centric group helps match like-minded moms. Find out more here (yes, that’s the founders in the image above!).
- Hospital Support Groups. Your hospital may offer a support group. For example, Gladys Vallespir Ellet leads a group at NYU. You can find them here.
- Dad Groups. Dads can do playdates too! Connect to other local dads here.
- Single parent groups. To meet other single parents, try this Meetup. meetup.com/singleparent
- LGBT groups. Lesbian, bi, gay, transgender, queer and questioning parents can get involved here.
- Neighborhood Groups. Most neighborhoods also have their own informal — or formal! — network of social and support groups for parents.
- You! If you can’t find what you’re looking for, course, launch your own group by advertising locally through popular local institutions and on the internet.
Good luck, and I hope you find you and your baby’s first family friends on this special journey together.