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Toddler Groups and Keeping It Real

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Tired mums will be hauling their lively offspring back to parent and toddler groups around the country this week after the long summer break.

Most gatherings provide an ideal chance for adults and children to socialise and let off steam. But some are probably best avoided - and I'm not talking about the ones that serve up rubbish coffee.

I'm referring to groups where everyone's upbeat, the children nicely turned out and the grown-ups well-groomed. All appears calm; the mums are always 'fine, yes great, thanks' when asked. But there's a slight problem. It's not always 'real' - and it can damage your health.

Of course there's nothing wrong with dressing children in lovely clothes and attempting to look your best in difficult circumstances. Even so I prefer mums' meetings where not everyone appears to have stepped straight from the pages of one of my favourite magazines.

When you're feeling tired, stressed, anxious or lonely, a room full of beautiful people who seem to have it all together may not be the safest place to be. It's not easy to admit to being any of those things in the first place, and it's even harder when we're struggling and wondering why no one else is.

Mental health experts agree that being bombarded with unrealistic images - wherever they come from - can have a negative effect on our general well-being

And it seems we could all benefit from being a little more honest about what's really happening in our lives.

The campaign group Time to Change has recently launched a new hashtag #TimetoTalk on Twitter urging people to ...'pledge to talk openly about having a tough day, feeling down, encouraging others to do so. It's ok to struggle and NOT be ok.'

Isn't it natural, though, to want to present a good, edited image of ourselves? And don't we all strive for 'golden days', as seen in adverts or in Facebook holiday shots that show glossy, happy children and relaxed adults. That's got to be a positive thing.

Perhaps not. A study published by the Public Library of Science last month found that that not only does Facebook seem to make people more miserable, the main emotion associated with regular use is, in fact, envy.

Rev. Will Van Der Hart, a founding director of MindandSoul.info, explains : "The human psyche has a tendency to compare upwards. Satisfaction is rarely our natural disposition, instead we tend toward perceiving the deficiency in ourselves or our setting.

"The media paints either aspirational pictures of life or reports on settings of such utter deprivation as to be completely outside our sphere of reference.

"As a result our tendency towards upscaling is constantly being fed and the sense of disappointment about our own circumstances is reinforced by the comparison."

A healthy dose of reality can go a long way to avoiding a sense of 'why is everyone coping apart from me?' and subsequent low-self esteem which, says Rev. Will can have serious consequences including an increased likelihood of depression.

So I'm happy to have found a weekly gathering of mums who are mere mortals. Some of us may well be on the scruffy side, but we can talk honestly, and sometimes cry while feeling safe, 'at home', and forming real friendships. And the biscuits aren't bad either.