I recently asked a group of friends, "Everyone is a young child for part of their life. Why are so few places in our world well-suited to the needs of young children?" One friend replied, "because early childhood is such a short period of our lives."
This is true, statistically--for most of us, our early childhood is only 5-7 years out of (hopefully) 70-90 years in our own lifetimes. That's 10% or less.
However, we know that for parents, the early childhood years can feel like some of the longest years of our lives. There's sleep deprivation and trying to meet all the physical and emotional needs of a new human being, at times when we're still trying to learn how to communicate with that new human being and understand what their needs are.
For parents with traditional two-year spacing between their children, that 'Parent of Young Children' status might take up seven years (two kids) to eleven years (three kids) of their lives, if not more--a substantial chunk of our adult lives.
During this time, many parents go through multiple levels of social isolation, that adds to the stress of parenting young children. These levels of isolation might include:
+ A reduction of hours, duties, or travel, or a complete separation from one's professional career, and the adult relationships, socializing, and autonomy that are a part of that work;
+ Separation from one's group of friends, particularly if the parents are the first ones in their group of friends to become parents;
+ Separation from one's faith community, if that faith community is not well-prepared to welcome young children into their midst;
+ Separation from one's extended family, as travel with young children can take longer, require more planning and stops, and become more difficult;
+ Separation from cultural life and recreational opportunities--a person who was previously active in volunteering, participating in sports, outdoor activities, and/or attending concerts, movies, theater performances, art events, and dining out, may find they no longer have the time, money, energy, or adequate child care in order to continue these activities.
+ Separation from one's partner--which may occur under the stress and exhaustion of parenting young children, but may also occur before the child is born.
These layers of social isolation can be overcome with enough money, extended family and social network support, and other personal resources to provide for adequate child care and times of respite. However, not all families have these resources readily available. Additional pressures can also be created by poverty, physical or mental illness, lack of supportive family or other relationships nearby, living in a new community, or in a community where one is a religious, ethnic, racial, or other minority, or parenting a child with behavioral health or other health needs.
Likely every parent, no matter what their background, has known the frustration of needing to get out of the house with their young children--and due to the weather, there's seemingly nowhere to go. Parents may also know the feeling of wanting to go to activities and places designed for children, but realizing that their children, or perhaps one sibling within a group of children, will not be able to participate successfully in that environment. This is the feeling often expressed in the phrase, "I just can't take them anywhere."
A community supportive play space can help in situations like these. These are indoor, year-round, safe places designed for young children to play and for parents to meet other parents. There is nothing that can be broken or that presents a danger to young children. A toddler can't run out the door. The kids can show up in pajamas. A parent can play with their children, or sit down with a baby and keep an eye on the others while getting a bit of breathing space.