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Park Life vs. Social Life

Rachel O'Reilly

By Courtney Ward

A funny book I read when I was pregnant was, “Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay," by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor. I am down with a little humor to ease into major life changes, and this book was on point. The book ends with a summary of the different "types" of moms you may encounter at the park, and how to handle them. I remember reading it and thinking, "there’s no way that this is going to happen" (a thought I had several times when I was reading parenting books, but that's another story). For example, "Your baby doesn't need to be making friends at three months old—you do! But not with people you'll meet at Mommy & Me”. It made it sound like I was about to enter junior high school all over again. Yikes!

One of the things I realized as a new mom is how much my multitasking abilities would come into play. A win for transferable skill sets! However, it was a challenge to multitask socializing and taking care of my child, especially while at the park.  

If you are like me, before having a baby you weren’t exactly sitting around on weekends sipping rosé while watching other people's kids fight over the teeter-totter (or let's hope you weren't). But once your baby starts to move around, there is no escaping the park, so you can plan to make it a regular go-to (rosé in the sippy cup optional but not recommended).  

Since going to the park is one of the easiest things to do with your child, why not make it a social event too? Inviting a girlfriend or fellow mom and child along sounds like a great idea - but only in theory. The idea is to "let the kids play while you have an adult conversation." The reality is that, from when your child is a baby up until three and a half years old, you still have to keep your eyes glued to her. From trying to eat the little bark bits to doing her best Peter Pan "I can fly" impression off the high point of the play structure, it is unexpectedly challenging to keep them safe and carry on a meaningful discussion. Too many times I have made the mistake of scheduling a play date at the park and left feeling a bit frazzled and disconnected. The park and play dates in general are more about letting your child explore with supervision. Consider it a bonus if you are able to sneak in a bit of girl time too. 

As far as socializing goes, it is better to meet friends that you do not see that often in the evenings, or times when your child is with another caretaker so you can really listen. It takes a bit more juggling, but it's worth it. For the park, I have found it's best to take my babe solo and embrace that time with her. After all, there are only going to be a few more years where she will need this level of attention from me.

Times when socializing at the park has worked well: Meeting up with friends who have kids that you already know well and see often. The kids are comfortable and there are zero expectations for real conversation between parents. I always leave these situations feeling good.

Times when socializing at the park has NOT worked: Seeing friends you have not caught up with in a while. Inevitably this will be the day your child will want to cry for over an hour because they are “scared of the wind.” True story. 

Lastly, enjoy the parenting perk of re-discovering your surroundings and finding new parks. I recommend choosing one or two parks that are close to your home in case you forget something crucial like a hat for your baby, snacks or an extra set of clothing.

Savor all of your park adventures with your child, because before long they'll be gone, and your true friends will be around for socializing for many years to come!