Maybe it's me. Maybe it's them. But sometimes I just feel like I really can't quite grasp this whole 'social' thing.
I guess I should start by saying that I take some of the responsibility.. I'm not shy, not in the slightest, but I often find social situations draining and groups overwhelming.
I find it a task to try and keep myself in the conversation sometimes when in a group situation. I wonder if I am sometimes 'like' other people. Many of them all seem so grown up, so organised and so much more serious in their manner than I am. And whilst I take my responsibilities seriously, I am in fact quite a jokey sort of person, who doesn't mind laughing at herself and enjoys finding the funny side of most things. It's in my blood - my Mum's a total nutter too, but I also feel like life's too short to be serious the majority of the time.
This morning I took my two little boys, aged four and one to playgroup. It's my closest playgroup and whilst I don't go every week, we've gone on and off ever since Ethan, my eldest, was crawling.
When I first started I found it overwhelming walking in those doors with my baby, but people were friendly enough and they all helped me get to grips with the place. I was soon especially welcomed by three friendly faces, one of the Dad's there and two Mum's - who instantly made me feel at ease, relaxed and totally comfortable in my surroundings. We'd talk each week and week after week we all really got to know each other.
In fact everyone there was quite friendly and despite being closest to those three, I'd often chat to lots of the other parents there - we all did, no-one was left out. And it was nice - as a Mum at home all day alone with her baby, it was good to get out of the house and speak to other adults. It was nice to watch my baby interact with other young children and also have the chance to speak to other people myself. It was good for us both and we always enjoyed it. I wasn't at work and so I loved getting out and hearing other people's stories again.
But time went on and our babies grew up and started nursery, pre school or school. A lot of them already had older children, but Ethan was my first and when I started going again after having my second little boy Logan they'd all moved on. And now when I'm there there are no faces I recognise anymore.
I don't get to always go, but I like to take my boys when I can. I figured, after returning back to the playgroup after having Logan that it'd be like before and I'd soon make friends. But it's been different this time. This time I don't feel welcome, I don't feel relaxed or at ease. I feel awkward and alone and a little bit invisible.
And I ignored it for a time, thinking it was me and that I needed to try harder, telling myself to reach out to people more. I invited my neighbour, who's recently had her first baby along and when we're there together it feels better, but mostly it just feels like a room full of adults who spend a hour or two keeping themselves to themselves and speaking only to the people they already know.
And for those that go alone most of the time, that sucks. Because whilst of course it's totally fine to have your own friends and to speak and catch up with those that you see each week, it can make those on the outside of that feel all together a bit awkward and a little bit invisible.
And I don't blame them really, it's a 'social' thing isn't it really? We tend to stick to who we know and chat to the same people time after time. I do however, think that these baby and toddler groups need to be run right.
Not one person spoke to me today, no one welcomed me as I entered the room, no one checked to see how much I was paying, or if I was taking out of the pot. No one asked if I had been before. In fact I don't even think any of the other children there spoke to my boys once.
I smiled at as many people as I could when I managed to get some eye contact, to which they smiled back but then looked straight away. I wondered if I had something on my face or if I had an unapproachable face? We left early, because sitting there alone was making me feel anxious and invisible and a bit sad and I knew I didn't have to feel like it.
I wasn't sure whether to write this post, part of me worries that it could put people off when really this doesn't happen at every group and really us parents needs to get out there and talk to people, because parenthood, can at times, be pretty lonely. But then another part of me wanted to reach out to the Mums and the Dad's who've been through the 'invisible feeling' too to say to them.. IT ISN'T YOU.
Find a group that makes you feel welcome and relaxed and at ease. They are out there, they do exist. Find a group that is run by the right people - people who don't let you walk through the door without giving you a friendly 'Hello!' and a big smile. Find a group that gets the kids involved in different activities, even if it's just a few songs. Find somewhere that really brings people together. Parenthood is at times, hard, so find people who tell you that we're all in this together without even moving their lips. They're out there.
Thanks for reading. Alex xo