Do you remember growing up as a kid and being allowed to hang out in the neighbourhood and do what you wanted, where you wanted, and with whom, as long as you were home before sundown? You didn’t own a mobile phone, there was no social media, and plans were made in advance at school, or via the landline phone.

It was a time of freedom, of trust, of simplicity. Once kids were home, social contact with their mates was limited to text-based lines and emoticons on msn messenger. It feels like a faraway realm. And in some ways, I suppose it is, as there is no going back.

Now, as a mother, this is a topic I find myself frequently reflecting upon. As I struggle to absolve myself of social media addiction, my two year old can impressively navigate a smartphone device more effectively than her grandparents. Whilst it remains innocent enough, I already have to tell my daughter that she has spent enough time on the phone, and for her to go play with toys. And she’s only two!

For all the many ways we are now connected with each other via social media feeds, as a community, we are less connected than ever. When I do take the kids out into the community, I have expectations that are frequently let down. Take for example, the park playground. I specifically choose this location so that my children can interact with other children, and give me a bit of breathing space. More often than not, other parents standoffishly withdraw their children from playing with my own. Just this week, my daughter tried to approach a child of her own age, when the child’s mother redirected him to play somewhere else so “Gemma could have a turn”. It was a thinly veiled message that playing together wasn’t welcome.

How could you not let this face play with your child? She just wanted to play with others.

It breaks my heart every single time Gemma is rejected like that. A once off I could shrug off as a coincidence – yet this has been occurring since Gemma could crawl. At the local library, my daughter had crawled up to a young girl to interact when the mother abruptly pulled her away. The mother and her children for their entire visit to the library continued to blatantly ignore the presence of my daughter. It was discernable that these kids had already learnt anti-social behaviour at such a young age.

Time and time again – it needn’t matter where we are – if it’s in a public community space, the chances are my daughter will be overlooked, or avoided. When I do find a mother who embraces community play, I do a silent ‘hallelujah’. It is these mothers who give me hope that we aren’t all retreating into a microcosm style of parenting. These mothers have shared their children’s’ food with my own, as I’ve shared mine with theirs. These mothers are also clearly wise to the benefits of your child playing with others – umm, hello, they leave you alone whilst you sit back and relax!

Which leads me to the wider community, and not just parents. I for one absolutely LOVE when members of the community are interested in my children. When they’re being cranky little turds, and someone smiles or plays with them, it makes my day. I am so grateful that someone else took two minutes of their time to help my children and me, and spread a bit of joy. I feel humbled when I see Gemma interacting with others, as I can see the value she gains from it.

So, my question to those reading this:

  • If a stranger played with your child, would you be okay with it? &
  • Would you offer said stranger a hold of your child?

I for one, so desperately crave a world where the community helps each other raise our children, and we, as the parents, embrace it.

The world needs more love. The question is, are we brave enough to let it in?