What’s that Smell?
I smell Chanel Chance Eau de Toilette. I see every shade of brown leather boots varying in length from mid ankle to knee height. I hear the words “paleo, alkaline, and whole30”. I am in a basement with few windows, grey carpet, miniature tables, and brightly colored toys. There are eight children, seven moms, and me. It’s Wednesday morning playgroup and this is how I survive as a dad.
Socialization is Good, Right?
As a stay at home parent, one of the things that worries me is whether or not my child (Benjamin) is getting enough socialization. If he were in daycare, he would be surrounded by other children and other adults every day, 5 days a week. Heck, if we lived in a jungle tribe, there would be numerous mothers and children running around all day. Of course, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be caring for him, I would be off hunting wildebeests.
Anyway, I try my best to bring Benjamin to parks, playgrounds, kid’s museums, and playgroups so he has a chance to be around other children. Out of all of these opportunities to socialize, the most difficult for me to navigate is The Playgroup.
I Just Walked in the Door
The first thing I notice when I walk in the door is that everyone seems much more dressed up than I am. All the moms are wearing makeup, their hair is styled and their jeans look like they have never been washed.
I usually wear chino pants (washed several times), sweater or t-shirt, runners and a toque (Canadian for “winter hat”). Now, don’t get me wrong, there are moms there wearing toques. The hair underneath the toque, however, always seems to be styled into either beachy waves or perfect curls.
I do have some hair that falls below my toque, but this is only because I am too lazy to get a haircut. Also, when would I even find the time to get a haircut??
I always wonder if these moms enjoy getting this dressed up or if they somehow feel pressure from the other moms? Is it like the corporate world where everyone is expected to dress a certain way?
I know that even I have started to put more thought into what I should wear to playgroup. I have purposely picked nicer shoes to wear on several occasions.
Breaking the ice
When it comes to talking to moms at playgroup, the children do most of the work. I mostly stand around and wait for the children to interact with one another, which inevitably results in a small tussle over a toy or a chewed up piece of food on the floor.
This is a perfect opportunity to ask the standard parent icebreaker, “How old is your little one?” It’s best to never assume the child is a boy or a girl. Even if the child is wearing all pink and a tiara that says, “Little Miss Attitude”, I always wait for the parent to allude to the child’s gender. It’s just safer that way.
Are you a Stay at Home Dad?
After the icebreaker, most moms will ask me right away if I am a stay at home dad. When I reply that I AM a stay at home dad, more often than not I get a, “right on”. I’m never sure how I’m supposed to take that. Does this impress the moms? Why is being a stay at home dad met with an enthusiastic “right-on”? Does it have something to do with stereotypical gender roles? I never ask the follow up question because I feel like doing so could cross a boundary.
The conversation quickly turns to talking about our children, their milestones and their struggles.
I don’t know what moms talk to one another about but, when I talk to a mom at playgroup, the conversation is pretty light.
Participating in Activities
When it comes to helping out at playgroup, I feel the need to go above and beyond. As the only dad in the group, I feel like I should be doing more than my share of the work to combat the classic media headlines, “Moms do more chores than dads” or “Moms do more baby care than dads”. No one asked me to take on this task but I somehow feel I need to prove a point.
I always think that most dads would like to help out more at home but that, over the years, perhaps they lose the skills and then the desire to participate. I’m sure there are many instances where this isn’t the case, however, it seems to me that, when one parent is around a child more than the other, that parent understands the rhythms and routines better. Then, when the outside parent tries to replicate the game or routine, they inevitably do it wrong and lose confidence to try again.
So, is it Awkward Being a Dad at Playgroup?
I would never say anyone has made me feel awkward at playgroup. There are, however, limitations to being a dad at an all mom playgroup.
I have heard on a few occasions’ moms exchanging phone numbers and arranging separate play dates with their children. The reality is that, for me to attempt to arrange a one on one play date with another mom ultimately feels wrong. As harmless as it is, the questions that could arise from such a thing aren’t worth it.
So when I leave the playgroup, I go home with Benjamin knowing that I won’t see any of those moms or children until the next Wednesday when I’ll show up to the All Mom Playgroup in my runners and torque, do more than my share of the crumb sweeping, be impressed with the beachy waves all around me and try to avoid alluding to any child’s gender.
And, maybe, by next week, I’ll have gotten that haircut or a started my Whole 30 regimen… probably not, though.
Yes, I am a stay at home dad and this is how I survive playgroup.