Our neighborhood playgroup got an email this morning from one of the parents on it, breaking the news that they have been diagnosed with a medical condition that will require a grueling course of treatment that will likely last months, but also expressing gratitude for the way they knew they could count on us to show up for their family in the times ahead.

And they were right. The mobilization was immediate and impressive. Our phones lit up with WhatsApp notifications: plans to provide child care and meals, to take the older child along on the playgroup beach weekend that the affected family was going to have to back out of, and to designate point people to coordinate our efforts so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. “Playgroup Strong,” we tell each other.

Our playgroup started meeting over 5 years ago; someone had posted to the neighborhood parenting list about starting a weekend playgroup. Interest was so overwhelming that she was able to divide up the respondents by the age of the children.

So a group of parents of babies all around a year old got together one Saturday morning. They decided to do it again two weeks later. And at that playgroup, the hosting family served mimosas, and that’s where it clicked that, amidst the isolation of early parenthood, the playgroup was as much for us as it was for our children.

Since then, the playgroup has met every other Saturday. It morphed into “brunch for toddler parents.” There have been days when we’ve had morning playgroup, then convened at our local rec center so the kids could play while some parents played tennis, only to finish the day at a different family’s house for impromptu grilling and beers.

Our playgroup has fielded multiple complete tee-ball teams, gotten each other through the DC school lottery stress, provided emergency childcare on snow days, and next weekend we’re going to the beach together (15 families!) to try out vacationing together.

This is so much more than a playgroup.

When I tell other parent friends about how important this community is to us, there’s always this moment of jealousy. But I think this is replicable. Our group has been bolstered by the fact that we live in a neighborhood with lots of little kids, but a playgroup doesn’t have to be as large as ours to be successful.

Here’s what I think has been critical to us:

  1. All the kids are in the same 6 month age span. This means they’re going through the same developmental phases more or less together. The kids have more in common, and therefore the parents have more in common.
  2. The parents have similar values, and while we don’t all parent the same way, our approaches are compatible enough that we trust each other to supervise each others’ kids.
  3. We started treating playgroup as our own social time, instead of just seeing it as our kids’ social engagement that we had to chauffeur them to.
  4. Close proximity made it convenient for us to start running into each other in the neighborhood, and then to start planning to do so. The more time we spent together, the more our collective bond increased.