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The Important Practice of Making Playground Pals

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Latest Stories

The village isn’t as obvious in modern society, so we have to look a little harder to find it.

Images courtesy of Bobby Clark

The village isn’t as obvious in modern society, but that just means we have to look a little harder to find it. Sometimes this means digging out your primary school skills of making friends in the playground, once again, in the playground. Or the coffee shop, or playgroup.

Melbourne-based photographer Bobby Clark and her friend, and business partner, Annika Hein fell pregnant two months apart. “We dreamt of going on big walks and adventures together and watching our babies grow,” she says. “Then COVID-19 hit and we were outside each other’s 5km limit so we missed the sweet newborn months together. Both being new mums, isolated without our families (mine in Scotland, Annika's in NSW) our conversations started to center around the importance of 'the village' when raising babies and the loneliness that comes with being a new mother.” Once restrictions were lifted, the two decided to start their own playgroup for like-minded parents, Beïge Bebe, focused around art, culture, creativity, community and good coffee.

For new parents, especially those without their family closeby, having other new parent friends gives so much more than companionship. “Having friends who are also new parents has really been my saving grace,” says Bobby. “I prefer to work things out as I go, through trial and error and listening to other people’s experiences instead of reading books or endless articles, so for me, having a community is the best way for me to learn.”

For lots of new families, it’s all hands on deck for the first few weeks. Usually both parents are home learning the whims of their new baby, meals are dropped off, midwives check in and friends come by to meet your new addition. After that time, when it’s just one parent at home, and the help lessens, as do the visits, the primary carer, often mum, can start to feel pretty lonely. We live very separately these days. In different cities or even countries than where we grew up. Rarely are we in the same suburbs as our friends and when you’re navigating nap schedules, distances can grow tremendously. This was never the way we were meant to raise children. We’re meant to have the village - numerous hands to help out, loved ones to hold the baby and care for you too.

One of the biggest obstacles for new parents wanting to socialise is trying to align and keep plans when you are exhausted both mentally and physically. “It’s really tough,” says Bobby. “I find it easy to make friends. I love people and will talk to anyone, but finding those deeper connections with shared values is quite hard. Maintaining connection and contact is difficult, especially for me as I run my own business...well now two and don't have any help with my son James.” But great, good things can come from small beginnings. “I have made some really good friends just by chatting to them outside my local coffee shop. You see the same parents most mornings on the coffee run so even if you're more reserved, even just building up to say hi every day can build a connection. If I'm seeing the same mum out and about daily then I believe the universe is trying to put it together so I will always go up and say hi, ask the baby’s name and usually they are in the same boat so it becomes really easy to become friends. I feel like parents have a secret code. That nod on the street when you smile, that knowing smile at one another. We all have that connection.”

Setting a recurring date, or joining a playgroup, or activity like swimming, music or gym play is a great way to fill your socialising cup without the headache of planning. If you can make it, you make it, but everyone knows you won’t be able to make it every time. Look for an activity that you’ll enjoy doing as well as your baby. Annika and Bobby joined a local bush playgroup but found their values weren't aligned on a few things, “we joked that we could start our own, then both looked at each other and said 'well why don't we',” Bobby says. Now, their small playgroups of 10, meet every two weeks at a pre-scheduled location from 9:30-12:30. “We let the babies play and run free while we have a chance to chat and catch up, then we all have a picnic or lunch together before nap time.” So far some of the best locations have been art galleries. “Our favourite places for playgroup hangs have a good mix of indoor and outdoor. The Heide Museum of Modern Art has to be a fave. The sculpture gardens are great for exploring and letting the babies run wild and explore. It has a perfect balance of art and nature with a great cafe for coffee or lunch pre or post exploring. The exhibitions are obviously gorgeous, but sometimes not for tiny hands. Annika and I visited the NGV a lot during the Triennial, we spent four hours there on the first day. The best part is the Recycled Woolen Island by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola and Spanish furniture company Gan in the Great Hall. A tactile installation of huge recycled wool socks dropped around the room providing the best climb/play area for kids while we can peacefully set up with a coffee and work on Beïge Bebe while they play. I really want to buy a pair of those huge socks. We ended up working from there three weeks in a row!”

Bobby and Annika plan to expand, but for those outside of Melbourne, playgroups and other weekly activities are available in all areas, and if you want something more 2022, the app Peanut connects like minded mums, and is really taking off with the Australian audience.