I probably don’t need to remind you that we have two very important celebrations coming up in the next two months. Yes, that’s right—Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are right around the corner! You’re probably already wracking your brain trying to think of the perfect gift for your partner, and even for your own parents. But, I’d like to suggest each of you take a moment to think about yourself too. I know, you’re busy and you have too much to do…you’re tired, the dishes need washing, the kids need to be fed and the dog has needed a bath for longer than you’d like to admit. But, really, just humor me.
As parents, it’s so easy to get wrapped in the everyday nuances of life that we forget who we really are outside our role as mom or dad. That’s not to say that being a parent isn’t the absolute best thing in the world. I’m just saying that every now and again, it’s nice to just be me.
I find that I’m able to do that on a regular basis through my local parenting group. In fact, my moms’ group has been a Godsend for me…and for hubby. You see, when my son was born we had just moved to a new area of town. The closest friend or family member I had was a few hundred miles away, and hubby’s family was more than an hour away. So, you could say we were pretty isolated. We had a few great neighbors who checked in on us, but overall, I found myself with very few people to fall back on. At the time, I was also staying home full time with a baby who refused to sleep for more than 2 hours at a time. I was hormonal, none of us was getting any sleep and I was desperate to hand the baby over the moment hubby returned from work. I was frazzled and knew I needed friends if only for my own emotional state, but also for the physical well being of my husband—you know, so I didn’t rip off his head!
I’m naturally a social person, so I didn’t dawdle. I searched for local parent groups and quickly joined my local Mothers & More chapter because it seemed like the best fit for me. I was drawn to the dedication the Mothers & More organization shows toward improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy. But, for me it was much more than that. I’ve found that it’s increasingly difficult to make new friends outside the comforts of a school setting. It just didn’t seem right to walk up to a gal in the grocery store and ask her to be my friend. Parent groups allow people like me to overcome that initial obstacle of meeting like-minded people. My Mothers & More chapter gave me an opportunity to meet new people and form relationships that are vital to my emotional well being. We share information on the best places to shop, the best doctors, remedies for diaper rash, finding the right school and everything in between. We vent about our husbands, jobs, and kids—and we celebrate the important events and achievements in each of our lives. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other and get much needed support. Our group has members who are working and stay-at-home moms in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with kids ranging in age from birth all the way through college. So, there’s always someone around who’s been through whatever parenting stage you can imagine. The biggest benefit is knowing that I’m not alone…the other moms know exactly what I’m going through. These friendships have been a stabilizing factor in the whirlwind life a new mother leads.
Dads Can Join a Group Too
Believe it or not, dads can also benefit from joining a parenting group. I’ll admit that most groups are geared toward women, but society is changing and dads are playing an increasingly larger part in their children’s lives. And, dads need an outlet too! Many local churches offer mentoring programs for dads and a simple Google search for your city can point you in the right direction.
Brian McDermott, Chief Storyteller for GrowthWorks Inc., is a strong advocate for parenting groups for both men and women. At the urging of his wife, Sue Schwartz, the couple joined a parenting program in Minneapolis called MELD just before their daughter was born. At the time, he says he couldn’t imagine adding one more thing to their busy lives, but he was willing to give it a try. (MELD is a community-based parent education program that brings parents with common needs together into groups that meet over the course of two years.) McDermott says his wife was right when she insisted they would benefit from the group. “We had each other to turn to for support,” he says. “It just helped to know we weren’t the only ones who were exhausted by the work of being good parents.”
Although the program was designed for just two years, McDermott says his group still remains close 23 years later. “The biggest benefit is that we became friends with so many of these people,” he says. “And, no matter when we get together—no matter the stated reason—we always end up having some conversation related to being parents and maintaining strong families.”
It also seems that the experts are on board with the idea of parent groups as well. In fact, I think Dave Turo-Shilds sums it up best when reflecting on the super-hero status parents maintain. As a former stay-at-home dad, licensed therapist and owner of the Kenosis Counseling Center in Greenwood, Ind., Turo-Sheilds provides counseling services to families and married couples on a regular basis. He says that over the last 20-30 years parents have taken on more responsibilities and donned more hats than ever before…all without complaining. It is through the support of friends, family and parenting groups that this is possible. “Connecting, sharing life’s challenges and hearing your story through another parent’s voice can make all the difference,” he says. “Parent groups allow superhero parents a chance to hang up their capes for a few moments and feel the warm welcome of other parents on the same path.”
Finding the Right Group
While I find that Mothers and More is the perfect fit for my needs, you might have something else in mind. Here is a basic list of general parenting groups with a national status. However, you might find that your community offers several other options through health networks, religious affiliations, and school organizations. The internet is also a great source for finding groups that have a more specialized focus, such raising children with special needs.
Mothers and More
Mothers & More is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy. Chapters offer opportunities for mothers to connect with one another in ways that assist them in developing their unique identities as women and help them move more confidently through the transitions that affect their family, work and life. Activities include mom’s night out, monthly meetings with topical speakers, play dates and family activities.
MOMS Club members come together to provide support for mothers who choose to stay at home to raise their children. Chapters are encouraged to provide a forum for topics of interest to mothers, help community children, and perform at least one service project yearly to help needy children. Local chapters set their dues, which average around $25.
MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers)
MOPS is a Christian non-profit organization that exists to meet the needs of moms by providing a caring atmosphere for today’s mother of young children. The diversity of MOPS includes urban, suburban and rural moms, stay-at-home and working moms, and teen, single and married moms who all share a similar desire to be the very best moms they can be. MOPS also encourages and supports moms through resources such as a website, books, newsletters and educational opportunities.
Mocha Moms (Mothers of Color At Home)
Mocha Moms is a support group for mothers of color who have chosen not to work full-time outside of the home. Members have eliminated employment altogether, work part-time or night shifts, have home-based businesses, consult or freelance from home, or have chosen alternative, less demanding career paths so that they are more available to their families. Mocha Moms serves as an advocate for those mothers and encourages the spirit of community activism within its membership. The group is open to people (men and women) of all religions, races, educational backgrounds and income levels.
La Leche League
La Leche League is an international, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization that provides education, information, support and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed. Chapters cover tangent issues to breastfeeding such as nighttime parenting, discipline, fertility, organizing the home with small children around, frugal shopping and meal planning. Annual membership fees of $40 help to support your local group and the international organization.
MELD/Parents as Teachers
MELD is a community-based parent education program that recently merged with The Parents as Teachers National Center. The program uses group-based service to deliver quality parent education. MELD programs bring parents with common needs together into groups that meet over two years. They learn, grow, and become friends while solving problems and creating healthy families.
The Holistic Moms Network
The Holistic Moms Network is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization connecting parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. We encourage moms to trust their instincts, to parent from the heart, use their innate sense of what is best for their children, live in balance with the Earth, and learn about the pros and cons of all healthcare and parenting options.
Online Parent Groups
Strapped for time, or not really interested in joining an in-person group? The internet is loaded with online parenting groups. Sites like Moms like Me, Café Mom, Moms Meetup and many others offer parents email and discussion groups, parenting forums, recipe exchanges, expert forums, chat rooms, topical articles and much more.
I am an average mom living a busy life in the Midwest. My family includes a lovable but hyperactive toddler, an obsessive compulsive husband and two spirited beagles who all keep me on my toes. In additional to taking care of my family full time, I work in public relations for Designed Write Public Relations, serve as the co-leader for my local Mothers & More chapter, and manage the facebook page, The Average Parent.
I enjoy working with non-profit organizations, learning and trying new things, and spreading the word about my experiences. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.