Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

The Importance of New Mothers’ Groups

It’s not an exaggeration when I say that one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and certainly one of the best parent-related decisions, was to start a new moms’ group shortly before Jackson was born. A month or so before my due date, I put a message up on my neighborhood parenting listserv asking if any other women expecting fall babies would like to meet and perhaps continue meeting through the initial months of new motherhood. I expected a few responses, but, within days, my email box was flooded with replies. We set a date and a few of us met for dinner, a gaggle of 8- and 9-month pregnant women ordering pizza and eyeing the wine list longingly.

Two days later the first of us went into labor. Two days after that another one had her baby, and a few days later Jackson was born. Over the next two months, there was another baby born almost every week, and additional women joined our group as word spread. By December, there were over 20 of us (plus our babies) and many of us had begun meeting for weekly lunch potlucks, going for walks in the park on warmer days, getting coffee, going to baby-friendly bars for happy hour, and hanging out at each other’s homes as our tiny children grew from newborns into smiling, laughing, drooling little infants.

For the first time since I moved to New York over four years earlier, I felt like I was forming a true circle of friends. It had been difficult leaving such a tight circle behind in Chicago and moving to a place where I knew basically no one except Drew and his friends. Even harder, it took months and months before I found a job and, when I did, I chose to work from home for a variety of reasons, thus limiting my potential to meet people. Over the years, I did manage to make some solid friendships, but when I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 2010 and then got pregnant a few months later, the distance and lifestyle change made it difficult to keep those bonds as strong.

I worried, then, that having a baby would further isolate me. I’d always been comfortable being alone. I chose a career, after all, that allowed — nay, demanded — a lot of solitude. But having a baby would be different. I knew it would test me in ways I’d never been tested and require from me a level of commitment and investment I’d never been asked of before. I’d been prone to anxiety and depression in my past, and I worried about the toll these new demands would take on me, especially without a support system in place. So imagine my relief when this moms’ group I envisioned came to fruition and not only did I have an immediate support system full of women who knew exactly what I was going through, but I also had instant opportunities to socialize Jackson. Best of all, I had the chance to make real friends — and not just fellow moms to vent new parenting frustrations with — but genuine friends who I believe will be long-lasting.

We joked that this period in our lives has been a little like college, where overnight you have all these new people to meet and a new schedule and new experiences to bond over. Sharing the experience of new motherhood certainly lends itself to forming strong connections, but so does the amount of time maternity leave grants most women. And when you all live within blocks of each other and can meet every day of the week, whenever the mood strikes (and the babies cooperate), it doesn’t take long before it begins to feel like you’re living some sort of make-believe life (I hesitate to call it a “fantasy life,” on account of the poopy diapers, chapped nipples, hair loss — current pregnant women, don’t get too comfortable with that luscious head of hair you’re sporting now! — sleep deprivation, and crushing pressure to balance everything.). Over these last six months, my new friends and I have talked and talked about what it means to be modern women and wives and mothers and friends and daughters while balancing work that we love. We’ve made each other laugh, we’ve loved one another’s babies, we’ve supported each other through tears. We’ve talked nursing bras and baby weight, childcare fears, plans for a second kid, and favorite quinoa and kale salad recipes (this is Brooklyn, after all).

But just like in college when a semester ends or graduation looms, this period of newness had a shelf life and things are now transitioning into something different. My friends — the ones from the group I connected with the most — all impressive professional women, are returning to work as their maternity leave ends, and I’m trying to figure out what that means for me … and Jackson. As my friends go back to work, I, too, am turning more of my attention to this site again. And that feels good. It feels great, actually, and I’m constantly grateful that I have work that I love, that makes me feel productive and meaningful in a way that’s different from feeling meaningful as a good mom and wife and friend and family member. I love setting goals for myself and carving time to work towards them. I love seeing the community on this site blossom and feeling some sense of credit for that (in much the same way I’ll take a little credit for the community of new moms we created in my neighborhood).

But there is sadness in transition as much as there’s welcome relief for things returning to a “new normal.” I miss not seeing my new friends every day. I’m sad Jackson doesn’t get as much time with his baby friends. And I feel a little left out that I’m not of the working mom crowd who dress up in professional attire and commute to work and get to leave their childcare responsibilities to someone else for a few hours every day and immerse themselves in a completely different world (though I appreciate that that creates a whole other level of guilt and anxiety; and full disclosure: I do have a babysitter two mornings a week, though that never feels like enough time!). And as someone whose “office” is her home and who has a very blurred line between work time and non-work time, it’s becoming increasingly difficult defining what, exactly, it is that I am. Am I a stay-at-home-mom? A work-from-home mom? A mom with a time-consuming, money-making hobby? Does it even matter?

I guess the thing that does matter most right now is that I am a mom and that there are as many ways to mother a kid as there are mothers in this world. But here in my little corner of Brooklyn I found a group of women who is helping me figure out how to continue being me — regardless of how I define my different roles in life — during what has been an incredibly rich, wonderful, challenging, frustrating, and beautiful period of immense change and growth. For that — and for the kale salad recipes — I will always be grateful.

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If you’re a new mom or expecting a baby and are interested in starting a new moms’ group in your area, here are a few tips:

1. Do a little Google research and see if you have an existing neighborhood parenting listserve or Yahoo group. If you find one, post a message asking if there’s already a new moms’ group for women who are due around the time you are or who have babies around your child’s age. If there isn’t or if there’s no room for more people, post a message to form your own group.

2. Check Facebook and Meetup.com for parent or moms’ groups in your neighborhood.

3. Chat up women in your neighborhood with small babies or who look very pregnant (be careful with this one, though! You don’t want to make the wrong assumption that someone is pregnant who isn’t, so it’s best to stick with women who look like they’re about to give birth any second). You’d be amazed how responsive new moms or moms-to-be are when approached by other new moms. For the most part, these are women who are starved for adult interaction and want to connect with other women experiencing the same wild ride they are.

4. Connect with friends of friends of friends or ask for the email of that one woman you met at a party a few months back who mentioned being due around the same time as you. Get the word out that you’re looking for other new moms who live within a few blocks (or few miles, depending on where you live and how you commute) to meet up with during maternity leave, etc.

5. Take your baby to classes — music, yoga, pre-crawling, even a breastfeeding support group, etc. — and chat with other new moms there. On the way out of class, ask if anyone would like to go for a walk or grab a coffee.

6. When you have a core group, set up a Yahoo or Facebook group that you can all join, making it easier to connect. If you are the person starting the group, it’s up to you to get the ball rolling by setting the first “date.” If you’re all still pregnant, I suggest a post-work dinner or ice cream run to break the ice. If the babies have already arrived, I like walks or picnics in the park in warmer weather, or lunch potlucks during colder months. Check your neighborhood library for baby events, like storytelling. And be on the look-out for baby-friendly spots, like bars that open in the afternoon and are happy to have business before the post-work crowd comes in.

7. Get the dads involved, too, with occasional weekend get-togethers (either at someone’s home, if there’s enough space, or at parks, or at one of the aforementioned baby-friendly spots in your ‘hood).

8. Once some of the moms begin going back to work as their maternity leave ends, consider starting weekly or bi-weekly “girls nights” (if you’re not already doing them) after your babies go to sleep, so you can stay connected.

Are you in a moms’ group? How did you find the other moms and what kinds of activities do you do together?

33 comments… add one
  • avatar

    bethany April 18, 2012, 1:15 pm

    I want to kiss his little cheeks!!! Jackson is too stinkin’ cute!!!

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  • rainbow

    rainbow April 18, 2012, 1:22 pm

    Cant. Understand. Words. Baby. Too. Cute.

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray April 18, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Man, now I want a moms group! I gotta get a baby.

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    • avatar

      rachel April 18, 2012, 2:17 pm

      Haha, I don’t even want kids and I want a moms group now.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray April 18, 2012, 2:20 pm

        Maybe I can find a mom group in Chicago that’ll take me as is. I do love holding and kissing babies!!! And squeezing their little tushes!

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      • avatar

        honeybeenicki April 18, 2012, 3:04 pm

        You guys could start a “mom’s without babies” group.

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      • Lili

        Lili April 18, 2012, 3:07 pm

        I feel like that’s what I am, A ‘mother without a child.’ And it comes out more when I’m drunk. When I drink I want to share random things like recipes, makeup tips, color suggestions etc. Much like a mother would. Maybe t his explains why my best conversations home and with my mother happen when I have a glass of wine. I can then mother my mother.

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      • JK

        JK April 18, 2012, 6:05 pm

        You know if you´re ever in Buenos Aires I´ll lend you my 2 🙂 Except the 4 year old isn´t at a very squishable age.

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  • mandalee

    mandalee April 18, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Okay, he is just adorable Wendy. How do you get any work done with him around? I would be distracted 24/7.

    It’s so, so great that you were able to find a group of new moms to connect with. While I think it’s important to have a close knit group of friends at any stage of your life, I can imagine only imagine the sense of belonging when you find a group of people that are going exactly what you are going through in the moment. I’m a full-time nannying and I see moms bonding and becoming BFFs over soccer practice and swim lessons and I get kind of jealous at that instant connection. Not enough to go popping out babies yet, but I definitely see the revival of friendship making that comes with parenthood.

    I’m sure some of your close friendships will continue well after the transitions! You’re pretty great at fostering community here on the site, so I imagine you’re as equally good about doing it with friendships.

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones April 18, 2012, 3:19 pm

    Yep. Interestingly a lot of moms from my homebirth group who I hung with when the babies were little all ended up with their kids at the same school. I see them at drop off and pick up with our now 8-9 year olds. I unfortunately do not see them otherwise enough…

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  • Jess

    Jess of CGW April 18, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Jackson is like one of those optical illusion prints. Look at him one way…. Wendy! Look at him the other way…. Drew!

    Except he’s way cuter than the prints 🙂

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    • Leroy

      Leroy April 18, 2012, 5:12 pm

      That must be some special power that women have, because I can never tell.

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      • avatar

        rachel April 18, 2012, 5:36 pm

        Haha, it might be. I showed my boyfriend a picture of my friend and her 4 year old son who seriously looks like exactly like her. His response “Well, I mean, he looks like he’s her kid”.

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      • JK

        JK April 18, 2012, 6:04 pm

        I can never tell either. Except for my youngest daughter, who is EXACTLY like me at that age. Even my eldest I don´t see that much resemblance to my husband or me.

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      • Leroy

        Leroy April 18, 2012, 6:41 pm

        That makes me feel better. They all look like Winston Churchill’s kids to me.

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      • JK

        JK April 18, 2012, 6:46 pm

        Because you haven´t seen mine. Who are of course the most beautiful, intelligent little girls ever. I would add well behaved, but even I can´t kid myself on that!!!

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      • avatar

        rachel April 18, 2012, 6:54 pm

        Oh, definitely, for the first couple of months they all just look kind of wrinkly and puffy.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest April 19, 2012, 11:32 am

      I really see Wendy in this photo. He’s so cute in that little shirt!

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  • avatar

    Auntie Allie April 18, 2012, 5:31 pm

    My nephew is the cutest baby in the world! And kudos to my sister for being such a great mom and for starting a mom’s group! And Drew’s a great dad too!

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark April 18, 2012, 6:54 pm

    My sister just had to bail on hers as all the young Texas moms suddenly decided in mass to go out and get handguns which they all plan to carry around in their purses 24/7. (For safety of course!) Now my sister, has been frustrated by her group for a while as everybody is like 23 and more than a wee bit vapid. (I’ve actually tagged along to two different mommy and me events while I visited, so I can attest that, yeah, they weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs.)

    More importantly, the idea of these young women, who left open purses lying about everywhere… (not once, but twice! everybody was all smiles when somebody’s little precious got into somebody else’s lipstick!)…seems like a very bad statistic just waiting to happen.

    Hopefully, she’ll find another group.

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    • avatar

      iseeshiny April 18, 2012, 7:07 pm

      Dear lord. Quick, somebody say something about Darwin.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark April 18, 2012, 7:24 pm

        It’s just so staggeringly stupid… You can’t even really LOCK a purse.

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      • JK

        JK April 18, 2012, 7:53 pm

        I had a patient, the son of a police officer who “accidentally” left his gun on the nightstand, under a pillow. When the boy was around 3, he supposedly pulled the pillow, and that dropped the gun,causing it to go off. The bullet went through his brain, and out the top of his skull. He got off lightly, considering he was only left with a mild mental disability, and hemiplegic.
        I could kill people that are so bloody careless.

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      • Leroy

        Leroy April 18, 2012, 9:31 pm

        That’s suspicious because modern pistols are specifically designed to prevent them from firing from the impact of a fall. They have internal safeties that require that the trigger is pulled. There’s actually a standardized series of tests, known as ‘drop tests’, that are performed on firearms to ensure that they won’t go off in such cases. It may be that the boy somehow pulled the trigger, or that someone else was handling the pistol and accidentally shot him. Claiming that a gun fired when dropped is a common cover-up for negligence.

        FWIW there are a lot experienced gun owners who are wary of the recent popularization of gun ownership. This is largely due to the sort of behavior that Mark’s pointed out. I’d grown up w/ firearms, and shoot competitively. But it’s not something that I promote unless someone is willing to get the proper training and is going to take the responsibility seriously. You certainly shouldn’t leave a gun anywhere that I child can get to it.

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      • Kate B.

        Kate B April 18, 2012, 9:56 pm

        I am a gun owner as well. It took me a whole year to decide if I wanted to own one, as it is a huge responsibility. These stories are very sad, but who is to blame? The owner.

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    • avatar

      Sue Jones April 18, 2012, 11:49 pm

      Holy shit! I just don’t get these people!

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom April 19, 2012, 7:09 am

      How sad. I’d have bailed on that group too. Toddlers and guns don’t mix and there are toddlers that would keep messing around with the gun until it went off. They are so inquisitive.

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  • avatar

    MonMon April 18, 2012, 7:21 pm

    Wendy, thank you so much for sharing this. I am still pretty far from being a mom (as far as planning goes..), and in the engaged stage of my relationship, but I think that reading these mommy tidbits that you share with us are helpful even to those of us whose mommy stage is still in the distant future. Reading this gives me comfort, inspiration and a little bit of longing for the time in my life when I do become a mother, and I am really happy to hear that there is so much to look forward to even beyond the miracle of motherhood. I’ve always valued my friendships and social life, so it’s really great to hear your personal solutions to creating and/or maintaining them.

    To answer your question about what it is you do: considering that you seem to love your job, I’d call it a money-making hobby. Having a money-making hobby is my own goal for the future too, and I’m currently working on making that dream come true with my little freelance photography business 🙂

    Keep up the awesome work!

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  • avatar

    summerkitten26 April 18, 2012, 7:43 pm

    you really have to post pictures after your essays. he is distractingly cute! thank you for posting this; I have many a friend who could use this information and advice. thank you, Wendy!

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones April 18, 2012, 11:48 pm

    What a coincidence! I had kale and quinoa salad for lunch today! 😉

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom April 19, 2012, 7:19 am

    You can keep getting together, just in a different way and time. You can meet in a park, on a weekend, for a morning chat with babies on blankets or late afternoon picnic after naps are done and bring the husbands because they need friends and social time too. When the babies are big enough, maybe now or in a few months, they can sit in infant/toddler swings and the adults stand and talk and push the babies in the swings. Babies can do that for at least twenty minutes! So you get to socialize without running all over the place. You can also invite some couples over for the morning or evening (skipping afternoon nap time) on a Saturday or Sunday and again the babies lay on blankets while the parents talk. You can have a shared brunch or dinner where everyone brings something and you all relax together and get some adult social time. Unless you move, these are friends for the long haul. If you live in the same neighborhood your kids will end up in the same school and you will see each other all the time for school activities and if your kids are friends they will also often want to sign up for the same after school activities and so you see you favorite adult friends all the time. My daughter and her friends are taking a dance class that starts this Saturday and meets for six weeks. Just around the corner from the studio is a coffee shop so all of us parents will drop off our kids and go to the coffee shop together. We have a guaranteed schedule for six weeks and by the end of that time we’ll probably have something else scheduled. It’s a win/win situation for us and for our kids.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy April 19, 2012, 7:29 am

      Love it!

      An improved social life was definitely not one of the benefits I attached with parenthood before I had Jack, but it’s wonderful to see how he continues to open my world (even as some other aspects are shut a bit for now).

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  • avatar

    Bionic May 24, 2012, 11:48 am

    Nice post. I must say, though, dropping out of the first mom’s group I joined was one of the best decisions I made in early motherhood. I just didn’t click with them, and sitting around talking about diapers — we didn’t have much else in common — made me miserable. My core group of moms of older kids (online) urged me to stick with them, but after I found myself crying all day over at advice, I left anyway. I immediately got so much happier.

    I made a point to get out of the house, but I went instead to places I actually liked — my community garden, a bakery — and got plenty of social contact that way. Eventually, I was introduced to a group of parents with a bigger range of age among their kids, which has been great. They are just a better fit for me, but also, having parents of older kids to talk to means I can get advice form someone who has more than two day’s more experience than I do. Plus, the age differences do away with the edge of competition that I found in the first group.

    I guess my point is that I agree with you, but I hope anyone reading this who feels about their mom’s group the way I felt about my first one will feel she has permission to just leave. No dire consequences have befallen us.

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