We have a playgroup that we've been going to since my 3 yr old was 6 months old. I have the same feeling in that if we didn't happen to have ended up in the same childbirth prep class and started a playgroup from there, I would never interact w/most of these moms. Other than on a lot of mommying issues, I don't really relate to them at all and one of them I can't stand really.
That said, I have to say as a SAHM, and my 3 yr old being my first, I have really enjoyed and needed the interaction w/other moms and seeing where kids w/in a month of mine are developmentally, etc. I also have a close friend whose oldest is w/in 4 months of DD1 and have met w/her every week until we had our second kids, and then every 2 weeks. We disagree on a lot too, but we are friends from grad school and it is always interesting to see parenting from another perspective and it helps w/my own parenting.
This playgroup (every 2-3 weeks) and playdate w/my friend (every 1-2 weeks) has been the only "socialization" my 3-yr-old has had short of relatives, her 18-mo-old sister and of course, dealing w/kids at the mall play area or playgrounds/parks. She is a naturally shy little girl (or was, she's seemed to completely turn around since turning 3) and so I actually enrolled her in preschool (starting in 2 weeks) to try and get her used to socializing w/out me around.
I am hoping to meet parents/kids/families more along my style through preschool and I'm also trying to make an effort w/a new neighbor. I agree that a lot of times playdates/groups are just NOT fun. In fact, I pushed for our playgroup to start meeting out and about rather than trading houses b/c it just got too stressful dealing w/all those kids in a confined space (especially when I had to pick up my house after the onslaught of 4 moms and 9 kids under the age of 4
There is one child in our playgroup and my friend's DS who both act out and make the time stressful and my DD1 definitely acts out after time w/both of them (and DD2 is starting too
). I don't know about you, but I have kept going to playdates and playgroups b/c *I* need it as much as I feel my DDs might.
If I were you - actually I am in your boat somewhat - and my plan is preschool (which she's excited about, so I don't feel like I'm forcing), swim "class" which she loves (but is more of a one-on-one thing for her and I), continuing my playdates and playgroups as long as they're not too painful and actively trying to seek out that perfect other mother(s) who will be on the same page w/me and our kids will love each other! (pipe dream?)
Again, I don't know if they *need* it, but I have to say most weeks, I do, even if at this point, it isn't w/the perfect other mother or toddler.