A dear friend of mine, pregnant with her first baby, asked recently: “Do I really need a mothers group?”
She clarified: “I have you guys (in my friendship circle we have produced 11 kids under 4), and my sister. If I have any questions, couldn’t I just ask you?”
My short answer was “Yes that’s true… but you need a mothers group” and I tried to muddle my way through explaining why it’s important. I garbled something about needing support and I tried to explain the sanity of knowing others are awake when you are at 3am.
But my friend seemed unconvinced. Maybe she won’t understand until she is a few weeks into her precious newborn’s life. It’s the moment when your husband goes back to work and you are left alone with this tiny newborn. You suddenly experience the surprising loneliness of being a new mum.
So I thought I’d clarify why every new mother should have some sort of mothers group. Of course by mothers group, I mean any friendships you have with women who have babies the same age as yours. You can find it online, you can find it through activities like mums and bubs yoga or gymboree. Or the traditional mothers group you’ll be assigned by your early childhood centre.
In the beginning, it’s about having somewhere to go. After a lifetime of career with meetings and structure and all those very important jobs to do, early motherhood can look like a never ending pattern of eat play sleep, eat play sleep.
Despite wanting to have a baby, many mothers are surprised that they are frustrated, bored and maybe a little bit ashamed that they feel that way.
However with mothers group, I knew that once a week I would have a standing date where I could drink a coffee, munch some toast and talk to someone else other than a six-week-old baby.
I also found it helpful for learning how to socialise again post birth. Holding a conversation while breast feeding, settling and remembering what you were talking about with your sleep deprived baby brain is challenging! There were many times when I got home and realised I’d had five half-conversations. But with mother’s group, everyone is also only working on half a brain, so it doesn’t really matter.
At the time, I thought everyone was holding it together better than I was. Their babies seemed to sleep in the pram while I was bouncing around the room, trying desperately to get her to stop crying.
However in time, I realised everyone was struggling in various ways. One had a catnapper, another baby slept for four hour naps but was up every hour and a half at night. Many struggled with breast feeding or mastitis and another made so much milk she wondered if she was drowning her baby. Is that the cause of all that gas?
Each week we discussed the issues we were having and were relieved when others had similar problems. “I used to be able to just leave him on the mat while I went into the kitchen, now he screams every time I leave the room,” one of us might say.
“Oh my god that is happening to me too, I can’t get anything done. I can’t even go the toilet alone,” another mum says.
Sure, you can discuss these with friends with older children but I’ve found once you’ve gone through each parenting phase, you completely forget about it and move on to the next one.
Only people who are the same phase as you will be able to truly empathise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a friend to text during the middle of the night feeds, so sitting alone in the inky blackness with a baby in your arms won’t feel quite so lonely.
We moved into the solids phase, swapped recipes and advice on meal times. Soon they were moving around and we’d spend our catch ups chasing adventurous crawlers and scooping them up before they licked the garbage bin or tucked into a fistful of dirt.
What has surprised me about mothers group is the community aspect. I love wandering up to the shops and bumping into people I know. As your children grow, you’ll invariably be sending your kids to the same daycare, preschool and school, further building your ties to the community and to each other.
I’ve heard of mothers groups who are full of judgmental women, and if you find yourself with one of them then look around for some other friends. There should no place for judgment when it comes to parenting. Bottle, breast, baby wearing, pram using, tiger mum, free-range mum, routine, baby led…. we are all trying to do our best for our children and what suits our family. The best mum friends will respect your choices as you will respect theirs.
It’s been about a year since my mothers group stopped meeting regularly and I really miss it. We still catch up – the occasional night out here, a play date there. Some of our kids attend daycare together and others go to playgroup together. As time goes on and more siblings are born, it’s harder and harder to meet up but we still try to maintain our ties.
So my friend, I urge you to give mothers group a shot. Joining a mothers group was one of the highlights of my maternity leave and I think you’d enjoy it too. It’s the missing link of love and support that you don’t even realise you need until you’re a mum.
This article was first published at The Motherish
Photo: Flickr Mirymah