Something every big city parent will be familiar with is the steady stream of baby activities to attend. From play groups and breakfast clubs to tot swims, story times, rhyme times, baby-cinema, baby sensory, soft play and bop baby singalongs. London is especially great for these things. Having a little one here quickly opens another city for you, as you say goodby to London’s great pubs and fine restaurants (remembering those from the distant past), you find a new layer of baby-activities for you and your little people to join in.
Little Bear in particular is a bit of a Soft Play addict. Soft play is where you deposited your tiny troll in a colourful spongy area surrounded by equally spongy climbing obstacles and watch them dart up padded stairs, chase other babies and start tripping out and shouting at flashing colours at the end of little tunnels. If you’re the parent of a small baby like Little Bear, you need to follow them around all the time. NOT because they can’t manage happily by themselves, but because the bigger toddlers will invariably try to steal your baby’s toys or run full speed into their heads if you’re not around. His soft play addiction has meant with been to almost every soft play in South East London. But he also loves a few singalongs, so long as he can clap his hands and wave his little arms, and he’s partial to a few ‘Parent and Baby’ breakfast clubs where he can poke other babies in the eye.
The not so surprising thing about these baby activities is that during the week, despite no longer being called ‘Mummy and Baby’ activities, there is almost never another dad. This is with one exception of Friday afternoons at soft play. Then a few dads start popping up. You take your kid swimming on the weekend however, and the number of dads suddenly overshoots the number of mums. [After an exhausting week looking after the little one, mum realises that she has no desire to join dad in the pool trying to contain a slippery eel and prevent it from drowning itself]
We’ve already looked into the lack of dads able to take parental leave at the moment, but I’ve also heard recently that these mums groups are a bit cliquey and that dads often feel excluded.
This is clearly the case in a lot of places, but luckily not where we live. The mums have always been willing to chat to the dad in the room (also known as an elephant in a room when trying to navigate the toys strewn across the floor). These groups of mums don’t tend to talk about make-up and shoes. As parents, the bulk of the conversation is around babies. And if there’s one thing an involved dad can talk about (brag) at length, it’s their babies.
I’ve heard some nasty stories of dads being cut out because the mums feel or act like they shouldn’t be there. These clearly aren’t acceptable. Thankfully in our neck of London, I’ve had the opposite reception. Even various comments like how amazing I must be for changing a nappy (these do irritate me a little but they're not trying to be rude).
Slightly awkwardly for me, the facilitators tend to overcompensate, and treat the only dad like an exhibition piece. Putting aside the annoying (seemingly obligatory) ‘it’s a special daddy day today!’, or ‘mummy gave you clear instructions I see’ etc, I have to date been:
It does make me feel marked out and a little awkward, but these people are often trying to get use to seeing a parenting dad, and trying their best to make me feel welcome. For those good intentions I can’t blame them.
This is not to say that I don’t come across weekly instances where I’m made to feel like I’m not the one who should be parenting. I’ve even been told at the end of play groups that it was nice to meet me and that they were look forward to seeing my wife at future play groups (… are you having them at her work?). But honestly, I think if more people had this attitude of trying to include the dads rather than make them feel unwelcome, we’d be making a big step forward.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots