Our NCT (National Childbirth Trust) parents' group wasn't so useful in providing an immediate support circle, largely because Helen arrived early, before the classes had even finished, but it did provide the foundation for a longer-term social network. We have made friends with two additional parents with similar aged children, in the same demographic (they have NCT groups of their own): I met Parker's mother through a cycling advocacy mailing list and Frieda's through her blog. But I've also spent many afternoons or mornings with Helen in East Oxford playgrounds, meeting interesting parents who I never saw again. (Though perhaps if I'd had no existing parents' group I'd have got better at asking strangers for their phone numbers or email addresses.)
It's a great bunch of people — I like them all, anyway — but there aren't really any full group events now and the group has largely unwound into clusters and individual relationships. Some of the families we see only rarely, but we're in fairly regular contact with a majority and have day-long meetups with some. This has been driven by the vagaries of which days people work and other contingencies, but also by simple affinity. I see far more of the mothers in the group than the fathers: they're doing more of the childcare, and in some cases now have second rounds of maternity leave, and they are more likely to organise playdates or social events. (Despite my best efforts to use inclusive language, I catch myself occasionally saying things like "I was with one of the mothers in my mothers group".) I've made some good friends through the group, with whom I hope we will stay in touch.
There is more diversity in the group than I had initially thought. One of us went to Westminster School while another went to a country school from which they were the only sixth form student out of a hundred to go to university — and not all of us went to university. The mothers ranged in age from from 27 to 39 and the oldest father was 43. Four of the nine families have already moved: two of them within East Oxford, the others to Didcot and Northampton. There's one younger sibling so far and four more on the way.
People have opted for a variety of childcare arrangements. Our set-up, with four days of nursery and one parent full-time and the other part-time, is pretty typical, but there's a fair bit of variety, also featuring self-employment, child-minders, and family childcare. I think I'm the only father primary-carer, but the division of childcare is vastly more egalitarian than it was in any family I knew in my parents' generation. Parenting styles vary, but less than I had expected. Everyone seems quite pragmatic, and there's a pleasant lack of dogmatism or competition (though I may be missing some of this, as I suspect women are subject to stronger pressure to conform and/or compete). And the toddlers I see regularly seem to be developing if not in synchrony then in remarkably similar fashion, though they also have quite distinctive personalities already.