Ende 2018, my first mommy/me playgroup was held. I am a stay at home dad. Every day was the same at the time. My 5-month-old son slept for several hours, only to wake up twenty minutes later. If I picked him up too quickly, he’d cry as if the world was ending. The societal stereotypes I watched on television exacerbated my feeling of complete worthlessness. fathers being bumbling fools who couldn’t operate a diaper and heard in well-meaning comments from strangers on the street who called me “Mr. Mom.”
My house is in Albany, New York. The playgroup met at the temple one mile from our home. My son was placed on a blanket by me and I saw the moms forming a group, exchanging stories and giving each other advice, and even planning play dates. One dad was the only one who sat at the opposite end of the room and served his daughter snacks out of a diaper bag.
It has been proven that playgroups which include music, reading, and time for playing have a positive effect on children’s development. powerful resourceFor both caregivers as well as children. Playgroups Australia is recognized as a national organization, in contrast to American playgroups that are informal. government curriculumIt is important to start early interventions alongside preschool and kindergarten. The Australian Institute of Family StudiesThese can be used to help young children develop social skills, speech confidence, and communication. They also serve as gateways for early education, mental healthcare services, and other support resources.
I have witnessed these benefits firsthand as I watched my son push his imagination — raising fortresses of blocks and knocking them down — at playgroup. His motor skills were improved as we bond while jumping and clapping to familiar songs. He was able to learn to communicate with others and decide who could play with the plastic pots.
And yet, I constantly felt I didn’t belong. One mom continually tossed her son to me, telling us to have “man time.” Another saw me as an outsider, so she confided in me that she had difficulty connecting with the women but was looking to set play dates. After she made a few female friends she was able to stop talking with me.
Fathers often find themselves in this situation. Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider founded the company. City Dads Group 12 years ago, many at-home fathers were struggling through their days alone like I did, searching for a community that didn’t exist. Schneider said some City Dads members would make mom friends and then be told that their friends’ husbands weren’t comfortable with the friendship. He said that men are often ignored more frequently than women.
Others reported going to playgrounds with their kids and being made to feel like “predators” after other caregivers acted nervous and avoided them. Schneider said he attempted to join a Lower Manhattan mothers group, but was told they didn’t allow dads because the space had to be “comfortable for moms.” For Somerfeld, creating a specialized group was essential, not just to foster community but as a resource to learn how to be the best caregivers they could be.
Today more fathers are being recognized as active caregivers, Somerfeld told me, adding, “It’s an exciting time.” More caregiving spaces are centering titles on children and family, not the type of caretaker. However, there are still some gaps. There are many. parenting support groups remain mom-focused or mom-exclusive, there are plenty of venues promoting “mommy and me” meetups and art programs. Programs. the number of at-home dads rising every year, it’s high time, and simply good business, to market toward us, too.
However, not all fathers believe that dads groups are the best solution. Dr. Jordan Shapiro, the author of the book “Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad,” disagreed with the concept of gendered playgroups entirely. “Playgroups should be about what’s in the best interest of the kid,” he told me, and playgroups based around a gender binary can reinforce stereotypes and prejudices.
It’s OK for like-minded dads to get together for a beer, but gendered playgroups, Shapiro said, “only serve to reinforce problematic power structures.” Even though dads can feel like outsiders in playgroup culture, the “mommy and me” construct reinforces the myth that mothers have “magical bonds” with children, putting all the pressure on mothers for caretaking duties — something they take onAt a drastically disproportionate rate — and saddles them with guilt if they choose to focus on careers. He said that it also pushes fathers away.
After several months with the mommy/me temple playgroup I decided to branch out into non-gender-based activities such as story times at local libraries. However, the politics of work were the same. Moms planned play dates with each other, referencing events they’d found on mom-centered online sites. Some moms didn’t talk to me. One mom complimented everything I did, but called me “Daddy Day Care.”
I found that I avoided the men around me, preferring to sit across the room, avoid eye contact and avoid talking with them.
Thankfully, my isolation didn’t last forever. My son banged on a chair while Miss Melissa read him a story at the local Baby Bounce. One mom nearby gave my son a smile and laughed at his silly antics. Playtime came, and her daughter helped my son destroy train tracks, while the mom — my first playgroup friend — and I bonded over our experiences co-sleeping with our kids.
We communicated with each other to update on our children’s progress and find new story time ideas. She wasn’t Jewish, but her family joined mine for Shabbat dinner. I felt safer knowing I had someone to talk with. After playgroups were over, my son and I would meet up. My son made fake ice-cream for everyone and I was able to talk with other caregivers. When I saw another father sitting by himself, I tried to make it a point of asking him how he was doing.
My mommy and me playgroup, which I attended when I was a baby, went online. Now my son and I go every Friday to clap and sing Shabbat songs. The group was renamed Baby and Toddler Time six months ago. Amy Drucker was the leader of the group and I reached out to her as a friend. She explained the reasons behind the change. She told me another full-time father didn’t feel welcome and asked to change the name.
“It never would have occurred to me,” Drucker said. “Not because I’m closed-minded, just because what we were doing was working, and you get comfortable and you start to rest on your laurels.” And then she added, “That was always what those groups were called.”
My son and I went back to the playgrounds this summer as the world was opening up a little. My baby girl was our new companion. We all wanted to connect and we started to gravitate towards each other when I met moms at the playgroups. My encounters with new parents led me to other caregivers who were struggling to make their way as their little ones twirled around. It often wasn’t just the men who stood around awkwardly. Caregiving and parenting can seem monotonous. You can get lonely. Sometimes socialization is difficult. However, we can welcome other caregivers. Because we have to be together, it’s possible. Because our children have to learn socialization together, they need to sing and read together. It’s possible because children require us to show kindness.
Jay DeitcherPart-time writer and former social worker. He is also a full-time stay at home dad. His writings have appeared in The Washington Post. Esquire. Wired. Wired. His writing can be found here. jaydeitcher.com.