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No Dads (or No Moms) Allowed

I spent the weekend at the At-Home Dad Convention in Omaha, which always does a great job of recharging my parenting batteries.

One of the issues that came up along over the course of the meeting was the question of whether the various dad groups that have popped up all over the country should allow moms to join them. To me, this has long been an open-and-shut case: I'm gender-blind when it comes to parenting, and I don't see a whole lot of value in keeping moms and dads separate. But there was a vocal group of at-home dads that said they wanted to keep some dad-only traditions. For them, in a world that subtly discourages dads from being a primary parent (through "Mommy and Me" classes and parenting magazines addressed at only one sex), it's nice to have one outlet to call their own.

Playgroups are, for some people, almost confessional, making someone new -- especially someone of the opposite sex-- an interloper. There are apparently discussions that just don't happen in mixed company, and the two examples come up again and again: it is harder to whine about your spouse and it is difficult to talk about sex in co-ed groups.

I don't find this the most compelling argument, but I have to admit to softening my opposition after the weekend. The guys who attend the At-Home Dad Convention could have spent the weekend doing almost anything. Instead, they chose to travel to a small city in the middle of the heartland to connect with other fathers who made the exact same choice. For these men, connecting with other fathers is imperative, and it's hard not to fault them for wanting to carve out a space where they can connect with kindred spirits.

When this came up many moons ago on On Balance, there was quite a division of opinions, and I'd like to know where you all come down: Is there anything wrong with a dads-only or moms-only playgroup?

By Brian Reid |  October 12, 2009; 8:35 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
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Comments


I am curious whether any of these convention goers brought their children with them...

On topic - how about you hang out with whomever you want to hang out with? Or, you suck it up and hang out with the care giver of your kids friend? Creating these artificial "playgroups" around gender strikes me as pretty goofy.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 12, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I think these groups sound silly and a bit pathetic, like you are basing your identity on being a parent. I know a ton of parents and none of them belong to any special "at home" groups -they are just busy everyday living their lives and raising their kids. I would focus more on a hobby that I could someday share with my kids.

Posted by: sunflower571 | October 12, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

As a mother of multiples, I joined a multiples playgroup. Wow. It was SO enlightening. Finally, I found a group of parents who UNDERSTOOD me.

I think that's what the playgroups are all about. It's a nice idea to have your children with other kids their own ages, but, more importantly, it is critical to find someone you can talk to about problems that maybe only YOU face.

So for these fathers, I get that they want a group just for them. How would I understand what they're going through? I can't, just as a parent of a singleton doesn't get (some of) the challenges of multiples. Doesn't mean we can't all get along, it just means it's nice, for once, to have a group that meets once or twice a week that understands your issues without you having to explain.

Posted by: Stormy1 | October 12, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Both the wife and I find the playgroup culture (as we find it in urban DC Cleveland Park) to full of whiny parents complaining to strangers/acquaintances about the parenting/marital problems. ewwww.

Wife only occasionally goes with our neighbor to one of these groups, but she's always amazed how quickly it degrades to a contest between moms about who has the worst husband.

Sounds pretty similar to the men at Brian's group who want to keep the women out so they can continue to b*tch about their wives & sex life.

count me out.

improve your life or quit crying about it.


I gripe about the annoyances of life as much as the next guy, but never with a group of acquaintances.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | October 12, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I belong to a local mother's group, and it's a lot of fun. We have a message board on yahoo which is really useful for sharing information about local activities and passing on outgrown baby gear, arranging meet-ups, etc. We have a book club, a cooking club, and there are groups that get together for nights out, trips to museums, etc. For people who prefer to have company on outings, it's terrific, and I've met a lot of people with similair interests.

In our area, being at-home with kids past the infant stage is not the norm, so if you just show up at a park during the week it is likely to be deserted. No fun for the kids at all- it's much better to go when you know there will be 3 or 4 other kids their age there so they have someone to play with. Otherwise you're pretty much stuck with organized activities (like gymboree) which I personally dislike.

Posted by: floof | October 12, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

We roll with a number of different playgroups, homeschoolers and church families. Some are single-gender, some are Christian, some are very earthy crunchy. For us, I would be concerned if one group started to dominate our socializing and that group was only moms or only dads.

I know if I suggested going away for a couple days to a dads convention that my wife would declare it an excellent idea --- as long as I took the kids and she got to stay home.

Posted by: KS100H | October 12, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

for playgroups, it seems a little strange to have them mom or dad only. i mean, my DH and I would switch off from time to time. No big deal, and why punish the kid cause one parent can't take him/her?
But I do understand wanting to be with people who are like you - SAH Dads have many different issues than SAH moms. Certainly.
But, well, friends of mine are SAHD's and they meet at the coffee shop every week - and well, I crashed their parties. That's the way it goes, no one is upset that there are some moms that hang out with them now...we all can get along. And as someone said above...in my community sah's are not so normal. so it's nice ot have some to hang out with whatever gender.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 12, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I can understand the need for being part of a small, similarly situated group of parents to help navigate unfamiliar territory. I hope that someday it won't be necessary, however, and instead of dividing into SAHDs and SAHMs, we can just have SAHPs. Or better yet, just "parents."

Posted by: EZReader | October 12, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I think it's fine and would provide useful support for stay-at-home-dads, but as other posters have suggested - it shouldn't be your only social-parent grouping.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 12, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm sort of ambivalent about the whole playdate/group idea. My 3-year-old daughter goes to daycare 2 days a week, has a ballet class once a week, and a couple times a month we'll get together with our friends who have young children, and she'll play with them. I think that's plenty of peer-socialization for her at this age. And if there aren't other kids at the playground when we go, then I climb and slide and swing with her. She loves to see me do it, and I count it as my daily exercise, which saves me a trip to the gym.

Yeah, it's nice to compare notes with other parents of either sex, but you don't need a playgroup to air your grievances about your life, so there's no point in excluding parents of the opposite sex. If you need a night out with the boys/girls, tell your spouse you need them to watch the kids on a specific night, go out and have fun, and come back refreshed. No real reason to involve the kids.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | October 12, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Not really sure what a playgroup is or does. If you're stressing over what adults to hang out with though, sounds pretty lame. Find some friends. Hang out with them when you can. What's the issue?

Posted by: 06902 | October 12, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

06902- I think the issue is that if you are a new at-home parent, you don't know how to make friends. Finding people who live reasonably nearby who have kids in similar in age to yours is not easy- it's not like the "old days" when the neighborhoods were full of kids all day. People join moms groups or playgroups as a way to meet people to hang out with during the day... it's a pretty lonely existence otherwise.

Everybody has to make friends someplace. Not sure why joining a social club to facilitate that is "lame."

Posted by: floof | October 12, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I think it's perfectly fine to hang out with people who have something in common with one. And it's also fine to seek out, or create a group, if the common-factor is somewhat unusual.

We've been friends with several families that we met through older son's Spec. Ed. program, and a social skills group that met at the Berkeley YMCA. It was such a relief, not having to explain older son's behaviors, because all the other parents *got* it. Their kids were on the autism/Asperger's spectrum too, and on any given day, *any* of the kids could be struggling or having a melt-down.

I also agree that it's probably better (in most cases) to have more than one social group or set of groups. I particularly appreciate the "normal", or neurotypical, groups that make an effort to include our whole family with our autistic member.

We've been very lucky in that respect. In 17 years, only a Spiral Scouts group couldn't figure out how to fit us in. When we realized that it just wasn't going to work out, we had our Spec. Ed. community who'd all been through something similar, and they were very comforting and supportive.

And DH might have really appriciated a fathers' group of some kind if any had existed back in the early 90's when he wasn't welcome among the mommies on the playground.

Posted by: SueMc | October 12, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

"Finding people who live reasonably nearby who have kids in similar in age to yours is not easy- it's not like the "old days" when the neighborhoods were full of kids all day."

Guess I live in the "old days" then.

And joining a club isn't lame. Stressing about who's in it is. After all, if they let you in, you should be grateful just for that.

Posted by: 06902 | October 12, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I'd kill to have a dads-only group around here (Lubbock, TX).

Posted by: kctipton | October 12, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I think people need to end the hypocrisy of what the playgroups are really for. For most people, it seems that they are primarily support groups for the parents and the kids playing together is incidental.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 12, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Those who wrote about groups for special needs parents/kids and multiples makes more sense to me than a group just for Dads...but to each his own.

Posted by: sunflower571 | October 12, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

dennis: it was a total and complete lifeline to find a playgroup! My son was about 7 or 8 months old, and it was wonderful.
I got to see other adults during the day and take a sort of a break while the kids were playing together, meet parents with similar concerns (they are in my neighborhood), etc etc etc.
Since playgroups kind of typically 'break up' when kids go to preschool (or soon thereafter) - the kids don't remember the kids they played with when they were toddlers, but I do - and those same parents are in our schools, etc. So I made a huge network of friends and when my son entered kindergarten, well, I already knew so many of the parents who were sending their kids there. What a great experience.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 12, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I think people need to end the hypocrisy of what the playgroups are really for. For most people, it seems that they are primarily support groups for the parents and the kids playing together is incidental.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 12, 2009 2:29 PM
--------------------------------
I totally agree dennis5. If it were about the kids, they they would just go to the park and play regardless of who the parents are. It seems to be mostly about who the parents want to be around...which is fine...just call it like it is.

Posted by: pipe1 | October 12, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

pipe1, that's it exactly.

There was a thread on the NY Times parenting blog a while back about a dad who took his baby to a "mommy and me" yoga class (the flier said "dads welcome too"). Someone (a women I'm pretty sure) posted about how awful it was that he went because the moms couldn't talk about cracked nipples and other mother/female issues.

I understand how the dynamic is much different in a mixed-gender group (talking about the adults) than an all-female or all-male group. But if the primary purpose is to have a playgroup for your kids, then it doesn't matter. If it does matter, then the primary purpose is about the moms or dads having a social or support group. And that's fine, just be honest about it.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 12, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"I think people need to end the hypocrisy of what the playgroups are really for. For most people, it seems that they are primarily support groups for the parents and the kids playing together is incidental."

Well, yeah. It starts out that way. But eventually the kids get older and the other kids in playgroup really do become their friends. Seems like a good system to me.

Posted by: newsahm | October 12, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

We did playgroup and other kiddie activities for a few years because there were no kids for blocks around us and we don't have cousins or other relatives in town.

I did not enjoy the mommy socializing one bit but put up with it so the kids had someone to play with on a regular basis. There were days when I thought I'd scream if I heard one more conversation about baby poo or episiotomies. There's nothing wrong with discussing those things, but that was all that was discussed, ever. I would have loved it if a dad showed up and started talking about football, or politics, or just about anything. If I said something about current events they looked at me like I had two heads.

Posted by: di89 | October 12, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, yeah. It starts out that way. But eventually the kids get older and the other kids in playgroup really do become their friends. Seems like a good system to me.

Posted by: newsahm | October 12, 2009 3:59 PM
------------------
Yep, great system, you choose your kid's friends based on how well YOU like their parents. Creates a really diverse and accepting society. Good luck with that line of thinking.

Posted by: pipe1 | October 12, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Yep, great system, you choose your kid's friends based on how well YOU like their parents. Creates a really diverse and accepting society. Good luck with that line of thinking.

Posted by: pipe1 | October 12, 2009 4:09 PM

That sounds as if you believe those are going to be the only friends one's child will ever have.

Don't know about anyone else's experiences, but both my boys made friends at school, with kids from different backgrounds, and with kids whose parents didn't know us, and we didn't know them. So, we got to know some new families just about every year. Sometimes the adults have become long-term friends, and sometimes we were friendly until the end of the school year, and then lost touch.

But hey, maybe my kids aren't following the norms (wouldn't be the first time!). Is it unusual for kids to make new friends on their own after they are out of the infant and toddler stage?

Posted by: SueMc | October 12, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"Yep, great system, you choose your kid's friends based on how well YOU like their parents. Creates a really diverse and accepting society. Good luck with that line of thinking."

I'm trying to envision a system where infants/toddlers pick their own friends. How would that work, exactly?

Posted by: newsahm | October 12, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

good one, newsahm

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 12, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm trying to envision a system where infants/toddlers pick their own friends. How would that work, exactly?

Posted by: newsahm | October 12, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

It's called daycare. Obviously not as much for infants but definitely for toddlers. Even in the 1 year old room, the kids made friends on their own.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 12, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Is it unusual for kids to make new friends on their own after they are out of the infant and toddler stage?

Posted by: SueMc | October 12, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If they have the opportunity, it's perfectly normal. If the kids are going to daycare or preschool, absolutely they make their own friends.

On the other hand, if the only other kids they are around are the ones in playgroup, then they are going to have a hard time making their own friends.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 12, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

They have to start somewhere. Better to play with a few handpicked associates from Mom's support group than nobody at all. Once they hit three or so they ought to be in some kind of activity that's not Mommy/Daddy and Me, just kids with another adult. Daycare, preschool, sport, music, whatever. They'll gravitate toward one or two kids they get along with best. So long as that kid is clean and nonviolent, let them.

There is nothing about children that people can't make way more complicated than it needs to be.

Posted by: di89 | October 12, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

While my kid is young enough that I have to stay at the playdate, you can be sure I'm going to encourage playdates with children of adults I find simpatico. Playdates with her friends at preschool whose parents I can't stand, well, she can play with them at preschool. Occasionally, over the summer (no preschool), I'll suck it up to hang with them for a few hours.

Once the kids are old enough to be dropped off alone, then it doesn't matter if I enjoy the parent. I'll still encourage playdates with children of parents whose parenting is closer to mine. I don't appreciate getting into hot water for making brownies with the kids, or whatever.
There's not much running around outside unsupervised here, so the kids are under one parent's (minimal) supervision.

Posted by: inBoston | October 13, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I guess if SAHDs want to exclude SAHMs, then the can't complain about the opposite situation. I would have loved to have a SAHD in our playgroup when the kids were little just so we could stop the conversations about the husbands, the nipples etc.... boring! There is such a shortage of interesting people out there, that I'm all for expanding the pool!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 13, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Hoodwinked...
Then there was that email some of us at the AtHomeDad Convention got at 8 PM Friday night from Brian.
Saying, "Sorry to be such an elusive presence ... having the family and in-laws and obligations takes a lot of the "guys-weekend" vibe away, and I feel bad that I can't be more participatory. Apologies in advance for showing late (probably) and ducking out a little early (unfortunately)...."
I was never a fan of the person and a lot less now after his deceptive post in the Washington Post. Not to mention how he has to blame his family obligations, he knew well in advance of the convention, this is weak when he has to blame his family and then saying this to family oriented guys via email.

Posted by: MileHighDad | October 13, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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