One of the most difficult things about being a new mum is the loneliness and isolation. For me, it was totally unanticipated. I had several friends with babies and lots of family nearby so I was one of the lucky ones in terms of visitors but despite this I still felt cut off a lot of the time. Although this feeling was exacerbated by postnatal depression and anxiety, I honestly believe almost all mums feel this way at one time or another.
We live in a very different culture than previous generations; statistically we are having children later in life and by that point we are often used to active social lives, financial independence and successful careers. It can be a huge shock to the system to go from spending all of your weekdays in a working environment, with lots of other adults, to spending large chunks of every day at home alone with our babies. I certainly struggled with this. I had been made redundant during the latter stages of my pregnancy so I didn’t know if or when I would work again. I’d also commuted to London for work for 13 years prior to having Caterpillar so I was very used to the busy city environment and didn’t have much connection to my local community.
After Caterpillar’s birth I was completely shocked by how desperately I missed work. I had no idea how much it had meant to me until it wasn’t a part of my life anymore. And it wasn’t only the social side of working that I missed, it was the routine & familiarity too. Life can feel very aimless when you’re at home with a new baby and this was really unsettling for me.
The nature of my anxiety made it difficult for me to be alone indoors so I quickly aimed to find local groups and classes I could attend – to get me out of the house, to meet other local mums and to give my week some structure again.
I’ve tried all sorts but personally I prefer classes to groups. Lots of mums are nervous of baby groups because they fear it will be cliquey and my experience of baby & toddler groups has often supported this theory – it can be really hard to break the ice in this less structured, open play situation. However, classes are really different. Having a focus or activity for the group can help you to feel a lot more comfortable and gives you more of an opportunity to interact with the other mums without awkwardness. I’ve listed below my top five baby & toddler classes:
Check your local children’s centre, they usually have an array of groups & classes, particularly for under 2s, and this class for really young babies helped me a great deal in terms of bonding, getting out of the house and meeting other mums. I utilised the baby massage skills I’d learnt at home too which really helped me connect with Caterpillar.
Baby Sensory & Toddler Sense (from birth to 5 years)
Caterpillar did Baby Sensory from three months to just under a year. It’s a really lovely class which involves singing and signing, as well as lots of interactive sensory play including sounds, colours, lights and textures.
Jo Jingles (from 3 months to 7 years)
This is a really popular franchise. We only attending this one for a few months due to other commitments but Caterpillar really enjoyed it. As the title suggests, this class is all about music. The children are shown how to use various instruments and learn about sounds, rhythm, pitch etc through play. This is a very noisy and sometimes wild class, I’ll warn you, but a lot of fun.
Hartbeeps (from birth to 4 years)
This class is creative, whimsical and somewhat magical for the children. Using puppets, songs, stories and sensory objects the class takes the children through a different theme each week and ends in a beautiful “quiet time” moment where the lights go low, the children are given special blankets to lie on and stars and patterns are projected onto the ceiling. Parents are encouraged to lie down with their little ones and I always found this to be a lovely bonding experience.
Talking Tots (from 4 months to school)
This is both mine and Caterpillar’s favourite. We’ve been attending for the last 18 months and plan to continue until he begins school. The focus is on encouraging speech and communication but this is all done through really imaginative play and storytelling activities. My particular group is very friendly and we’ve made some good buddies there.
How baby & toddler classes have helped me:
- Aided bonding, connection & communication with Caterpillar
- Gave me back a sense of purpose & routine
- Raised my spirits & gave me motivation during my depression
- Built my confidence as a parent
- Chance for adult interaction
- Great place to meet new people
- Helped build Caterpillar’s social skills
- Helped Caterpillar’s development, especially speech
Different groups suit different people and it’s definitely something you have to try for a good few weeks or even half a term before you know if your little one (and you!) are enjoying yourself, but I really recommend giving classes in your area a whirl, especially if you’re feeling particularly lonely or isolated as a parent.
Do you currently attend any baby & toddler groups or classes? What’s your favourite?