In Kids & Family

Couple plans play dates for parents

Is it a revolution or a revelation?

If you ask Beth Ridley and her husband, Abim Kolawole, they'll tell you their initiative called Parents Play Date is more of a change from the norm.

As new parents, they want to break the stereotypes that decree couples with young children should be confined to the home. Contrary to that mind-set, this progressive thinking pair believes young parents should have the same opportunities singles and empty nesters enjoy -- a night out on the town. One difference, though, they want to include their infant children.

Ridley's vigorous vision is to change that perception by starting a social movement enabling young families to get out of the house once a month.

"We have an infant, we're young and we still like to go out," Ridley says. "We found that there is nothing for us to do on the evenings apart from going out to dinner."

Young parents know what that's like. Dinner in a nice restaurant can be an awkward display if junior fusses for one reason or another. All the careful planning in the world can not soften the rude stares parents receive when little ones act up.

"We understand people's frustrations when they have to put up with someone else's child crying," she adds. "Heck, we're frustrated, too.

"We thought, 'wouldn't it be fun if we can go out to a club or lounge but also bring the baby?' Shouldn't we be able to go out and have fun as a family?"

Ridley's idea was to partner with an establishment to coordinate a time and place designated solely for young families. What better environment than with parenting peers? It'll give parents a chance to be with other parents. In most circles, it's called networking. Ridley says, why not among parents? Hence, the campaign to have a Parents Play Date is being seriously considered.

Ridley has pitched the idea to a number of East Side lounges. Now, it's just a matter of partnering with a local establishment, pinpointing a time and date, and ironing out some of the details. Ideally, she would like to launch the campaign in February or March.

"To me that's the goal," Ridley says. "Have a friendly environment where parents with infants can go and do things with other parents and infants. You know married couples, just because they have infant children, should be able to still enjoy themselves. Some, like me, would like to include their children.

"Hopefully this will be the first of many. Ideally, I'd like to see it move around town to different venues on, perhaps, a monthly basis."

The strategy and rules are set. Parents with youngsters 2 and under are welcome. It'll certainly be a smoke-free, child-safe atmosphere.

"We will have special things that only parents can appreciate," Ridley says. "For example, there will be an area where a stroller can be checked in. There will be changing stations. We're trying to get some children oriented places to provide coupons or free classes as door prizes."

The intention of Parents Play Date is not to shut down the lounge for an entire evening. Rather, to give parents and infants a designated time to get out.

"As for feeding, again, no problem, just feed your baby right there. Even parents who feel comfortable breast feeding a child in public are welcome. Remember this is meant for them, so the tolerance level will certainly be there."

Ridley stresses it'll be baby-friendly. But make no mistake about it, this will not be simply a baby-sitting service.

"We want parents to feel like it's an adult event, the only difference is that you'll be with your child," she adds. "It's limited to ages two and under. At that age, you, as a parent, can still hold and tend to the child. They're still not at an age where they want to run around. And they are not old enough to entertain themselves. So either the baby is in a carriage or in a carrying strap on."

A prototype was introduced at a movie theater in New York. It's not a day care service she stresses. Children are with a parent. The lights are not completely turned down. The idea is that adult parents can still go to the movies with a child. It seems to work.

Like anything else, Ridley has addressed the negative aspect. What happens when babies don't cooperate?

"Well the good thing is that this will be an environment of all parents," she says. "No one will look at you funny. That's an advantage. You don't have to be embarrassed if you child is crying.

"Unlike in a restaurant or a store, most people won't give you dirty looks if your child is crying. Parents can never feel complete comfortable in those situations.

"But here, it'll be all parents with babies in hand. Heck, maybe some one might give you a pointer or two. It's a welcoming environment. If your kid has a tantrum, we've all been there. No problem. You don't have to run and hide. You don't have to pack up and leave."

Ridley is open to any suggestions, and certainly help, with organizing the first Parents Play Date. It's a work in process.

"We just want to show parents that it's possible," she says. "I think there are enough parents out there that would like to get out for a few hours, even with an infant.

"We're hoping that other venues will be receptive to the idea. If it works, and I believe it will, then perhaps others will sponsor it on a monthly basis. That's were the revolution idea comes into play. Why should parents be relegated to the home or zoo?"

For additional information, call Beth Ridley at (414) 963-9386.

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