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"Twenty minutes in playgroup, I felt ashamed for being a judgmental snob."

Until last week I hadn’t set foot in a playgroup for years. My eldest son, now six is in year one at school and my youngest, just five weeks old, has a few months to go before he’s ready for blocks and biscuits. Yet I was meeting a new friend with a newborn who also has an active toddler so she suggested we meet at her local playgroup.

Walking into that church hall on a rather soggy Thursday morning was confronting and to be honest, not all that appealing. I had just left the calm confines of a local hipster cafe and was cursing myself for agreeing to this as a squealing two-year-old hurled a pull-along-dog into my ankle.

For the princely sum of two dollars I decided that I had nothing to lose, so I signed up and joined the club. I was given the grand tour of the two large adjoining rooms filled with toys, kids (lots of kids) mums, grandmas and one or two grandads.

On doing the introductory rounds I was repeatedly apologised to about it ‘not usually being this noisy’, due to the rain and out-of-bounds garden area. But 20 minutes in, and after chatting to the friendly woman and her in-laws who ran the group, I felt ashamed for being a judgmental snob and I made myself at home on an old comfy sofa.

I spoke to a number of mums, some from overseas with no family nearby, who all seemed to know each other well. One of the ladies had bought in a delicious homemade morning tea to go with the provided tea and coffee, another got busy distributing party food and balloons as it was one of kid’s birthdays.

"Parenting young kids at home can be lonely and isolating." (Image: Supplied)

I watched as women held each other's babies while they ate or went to the loo and the whole relaxed setting reminded me of being at a big, loud family gathering, which for many of them, is exactly what the playgroup represents.

All of the women I spoke to emphasised what a fantastic resource the playgroup was and how very welcome and safe they always felt.

While a bit shabby round the edges and ostensibly 'just a playgroup', it did make me realise how important these supportive communities are for parents of young children. All over Australia weekly playgroups run by volunteers at churches, charities and community centres on tiny amounts of cash, are lifelines for many mums, dads and grandparents.

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Parenting young kids at home can be lonely and isolating. Unlike parks or cafes, playgroups provide large, secure spaces for kids to run wild and socialise, while adults eat cake, drink coffee and chat with each other about stuff unrelated to Ninja Turtles or Shopkins.

After spending a couple of hours nursing and cuddling my newborn in the warm company of other mums, I left feeling rejuvenated. But the more I thought about the big-hearted volunteers and the mums helping each other out, I felt sad that we don't have more options.

The hard work of parenting young kids is the most important job in the world and yet as it is still mostly 'women's work', it is massively undervalued and unappreciated. I would like to see the government spend less on billion dollar fighter jets and funnel more cash into supporting mums, dads and grandparents raise the next generation of teachers, doctors, lawyers and taxpayers.

"I watched as women held each other's babies while they ate or went to the loo and the whole relaxed setting reminded me of being at a big, loud family gathering." (Image: iStock)

Imagine how fantastic it would be to have sanity-saving, all-weather playgroups open all day every day, with fantastic play and educational facilities for kids as well as services for adults (barista coffee anyone?) all run by well paid staff.

Clearly with the state of current global affairs, I'm in la-la land but it frustrates me that so little value is placed on helping parents (mostly women) raise their young children. Think also of the average rates of pay for childcare workers as opposed to say city bankers or professional footballers? No wonder playgroups are barely given a passing thought.

They might be noisy, frantic and not everyone's idea of a good morning out, but for the parent of a two-year-old who craves adult company yet needs to get out of the house and keep the little monster entertained, playgroups are invaluable. It's high time we realised their importance and at the very least, recognised and appreciated the amazing job the legends do that that run them.

Do you lean on the support of a local playgroup? How important is it in providing support for parents?

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