Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Playgroup politics

This morning the lovely nanny (as opposed to evil ex-nanny) tripped off down the road, gaily pushing the buggy and clinging onto my four-year-old's hand. But despite making a beautiful tableau, there was no way I wanted to join them because they were off to a new playgroup.

Now I am a journalist by trade, which means I have to talk to people I don't know all the time, from interviewing the great, the good and the downright dull, to picking my through thronging press parties, schmoozing with PRs and making new friends on far flung junkets. In short I am not usually socially inadequate when it comes to meeting new people, that is unless they are other, unknown, mums. And where else is a more seething hotbed of this hostile species than the playgroup?

When I had son number one I thought that the playgroup would be the natural extension to the antenatal groups were we mums-to-be had bonded over our bumps and copious amounts of biscuits. I imagined that I would find myself amidst women cast adrift in the same boat of lonely new motherhood as me. That I would make new friends and that instead of wandering aimlessly around the park with nothing but a sleeping baby for company, suddenly I would be initiated into that garrulous society of happy looking mums who populated the local cafes and parks.

Little did I know that the last place you will make new friends is at playgroup. Instead the more savvy mums know that this is a vicious place with more exclusive cliques than any school playground, and woe betide the mum who doesn't turn up armoured to the hilt with her own friends. You should never travel alone to a playgroup, instead you must travel as a pack in order to fit in.

The first outing I made with baby number one I sat for the entire two hours of the group watching him sleep through the whole thing, while not one mother spoke to me. I tried to smile warmly at the women I had naively assumed would be my new best buddies, but all they did was give me a pitying glance before returning to the intimate conversation they had previously been conducting with their own cabal.

I swiftly learnt that playgroups aren't really worth the time of day until your child is old enough to whizz off and wreak havoc with the other pre-schoolers. At least that way you can bury yourself in a good book for a couple of hours, only rousing yourself from the plot when your little darlings' screams threaten to reach a pitch that could pique social services' attention.

So no, I really didn't envy my poor nanny having to walk into a room of women who would not give her the time of day even if their lives depended on it, and would probably only deign to speak to her to berate her should if one of my children dare to steal a toy from one of their precious poppets. A cardinal playgroup crime and one punishable by an extra layer of ice settling over the cold shoulder treatment.

Still she is fortunate to be an entirely separate entity to the mums, because as a nanny no one expects to become her friend, apart from the other nannies, who always seemed quite nice to me, and a whole lot more laid back than all those uptight, unfriendly mummies.

The only thing worse than a new playgroup is a music group, when the ostracising reaches ever higher levels as mums are happy to conduct entire conversations over you and your baby while you struggle to stop him eating the instruments. And there is the added humiliation of having to tunelessly sing along and inelegantly dance about while hefting your unwilling child along with you. Even worse, there aren't even tea and biscuits to make the outing even vaguely worthwhile.

Perhaps it's no surprise that I have yet to go to a single class or group with the twins, and have no intention of breaking my duck. I justify my antisocial parenting technique by comforting myself that in a family of four boys they have more than enough toys to fight over and rowdy children to jostle with in their own home, without the need to venture out and seek further child-induced chaos.


  1. I've found the other mums here at playgroups quite rude, ignoring me and such but assumed it was because I was that scary foreigner...makes me feel not so bad now, maybe it isn't personal after all :)

  2. No, it think it's the nature of the beast. Not sure if it would be the same elsewhere, but I suppose we English aren't know for our open, welcoming nature, even to each other it appears.

  3. I hate those kinds of groups/classes too. The other day I went to origami with the boys and two mothers talked over me so loudly that we couldn't even hear the teacher's instructions. They didn't address a single word to me, despite the fact that LB2 was in the same preschool class as one of their kids. Grr. It'll probably be all right though for your nanny, as she'll meet other nannies and they will all stick together.

  4. NVG - Now I know you are a real 'mommy', they'd don't do kids origami classes in North London. Nanny said the playgroup was fine, but they had 72 kids there, so I am even more glad it wasn't me who had to take them.

  5. Reluctant Blogger4 March 2010 at 10:46

    No, I hardly ever went to any of these things either. I generally avoid any grouping of women. Individually woman are nice and interesting (well generally) but when they flock together even nice ones become nasty. And groups of women (even on Twitter dare I say it) can be very very competitive and silly.

    The school playground is not so bad because there is no need to be there long, there are usually a few dads or oddbods to talk to. Unless there is someone there who I really like I prefer to stand alone. It's interesting actually that by doing that, when something has cropped up (a problem in the school relating to their child) parents often home in on me to discuss it with because I am not part of any of the cliques!

  6. Thank God I don't have to do the playgroup stuff any more. As for the school run, I just wear a Parka so old and revolting that no one apart from a few die-hards wants to come up and talk to me. Result!