Play Dates Make Me Feel Stressed and Bad About Myself: What’s the Alternative?

Welcome to our new Q&A series with Dr. Claire Nicogossian. Find more about about this column and how you can submit a question to Dr. Claire at the bottom of this post. See last week’s question about sex drive after having kids here.

Dear Dr. Claire,

I used to work full time and stopped working after the birth of my son, he is nine months old. It’s been a bit of an adjustment staying at home. Overall, I like being at home but I do feel a bit isolated. I’ve joined a mom’s groups in my town where we get together for outings and play dates. It’s been stressful though. We take turns hosting play dates at our homes, and I always feel so anxious and stressed out when it’s my turn.

I feel like my house has to look perfect and most of the other moms seem to have houses that are perfectly organized and clean. Mine is not and I stress for days getting my house ready. I leave the play dates feeling upset because I don’t connect with the other moms. I can’t seem to relate to them. They talk about buying organic, exchange new recipes and compare and brag about their children’s developmental progress.

I leave the play groups feeling worse and feel like I’m not like other moms. What do you think I should do?

-Sara

Dear Sara,

The adjustment from the workforce to staying at home can be challenging for many moms. I also hear you are feeling isolated being at home, and recent social interactions have left you feeling upset and depleted.

Ask yourself this: What is the purpose of the play group in my life? Is it to meet other moms, have playdates for my child, get out of the house, reduce isolation, or get ideas on parenting? Once you decide on the purpose of the playgroup, you can figure out a plan to deal with your reactions and what changes you want to make.

I wonder if your stress and anxiety before and during the play group is impeding your ability to connect with the other moms. You may be so preoccupied with what others think about you or your home that it’s preventing you from getting to know them more. While you may worry about the other women judging you, I hear you’re judging them for their values and choice of conversation topics. Anytime we judge someone, we lose an opportunity to connect. Judging someone has a distancing effect and shuts down more meaningful interactions. So, if you are not comfortable in the playgroup, then it’s likely time to move on and find another group of women who share your values and interests. But before you do, consider making some personal changes to see if it improves your time at the play groups.

Here’s what I want to suggest to you: find ways to manage your stress when it’s your turn to host. Nothing is perfect, including homes, so let go of comparing yourself to others and imagining what they may think of you. It’s impossible to know what someone else is thinking unless you ask them directly. And you can’t make the assumption that the clean and perfect houses you visit lacked stressful moments preparing for the play dates. If hosting is too stressful for you, suggest other activities or alternative locations, perhaps a park, going for a walk, etc.

Women connect and build emotional intimacy through the sharing of details. While it can seem meaningless to share recipes or talk about child development, it serves a greater purpose that is connection. I hear what you’re saying on bragging, it can get old and annoying. But look a little deeper beneath the surface, what may seem boastful, could be a way for the moms to reassure themselves on their child’s development. Being a first-time mom is stressful, and it takes some time to become confident in mothering.

If you continue to feel low after leaving the play dates, consider creating a new play group on your own with women who have interests and values more similar to you. I would also strengthen the friendships you already have in your life and spend time with people who lift your spirits and energy.

Take care,
Dr. Claire

About Ask Dr. Claire

Dr. Claire has been writing articles here at Mothering since the winter of this year. She writes self-help articles on her website MomsWellBeing.com and recently launched a self-help column called Ask Dr. Claire found at DrClaireNicogossian.com. If you have a question for Dr. Claire on relationships, parenting, self-care or well-being, please go to Ask Dr. Claire.

Please note, submitting a question to Dr. Claire does not constitute a therapeutic client-therapist relationship. By submitting a question, you agree to not hold Dr. Claire liable for the advice she provides. Dr. Claire may edit questions as needed before they are published on her site or Mothering. Please submit your question at this link and be sure to note if you would like your first name used or prefer to remain anonymous


3 thoughts on “Play Dates Make Me Feel Stressed and Bad About Myself: What’s the Alternative?”

  1. If you are a socially anxious person, as I am, group activities in public places may be more your style. Public libraries often host great story time and activity hours, you might find music in the park or other things oriented towards young children that you can attend without the stress of play date round robins. Only those I am very close to come to my house, that doesn’t need to change because I have a child. By going out from time to time, your child will get beneficial stimulation, you get out of the house with less stress, and IF you meet someone who is on your wavelength you have a chance to strike up a more organic relationship that could thrive.

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