Last week, I was supposed to go out for my monthly dinner with my mother’s group. But life happened, and dinner didn’t. And that meant that I hadn’t seen these ladies in over three months, which isn’t really a very long time. I can quite often go that long without seeing some of my other friends (I must go and call some of them actually).
So it got me thinking: what’s the benefit of a mother’s group? Why is it that nearly five years on, we still catch up regularly? That we still look to each other for advice and ideas? Five years ago, we were eight complete strangers who just happened to have babies within six weeks of each other, and lived in the same general area. Now? Well, now we have a standing monthly dinner date and try to catch up with our kids when we can. Now, we’re really good friends.
But how did that happen? What did my mother’s group really give me that led to that friendship?
1. Gives you a reason to leave the house
Before I had children, I didn’t realise just how scary taking a baby out was, or how much effort was required. So when I had my first baby, it was so incredibly tempting to just stay home with him. Because it was easier. I didn’t have to get out of my pyjamas, didn’t have to brush my hair, didn’t have to worry about carting a huge bag full of nappies, wipes, clothes, bottles and goodness knows what else around, just in case. And I’ll happily admit, there were days when the only people I saw were my husband and our baby. And it quickly became routine.
But it’s not a great idea to isolate yourself for long. Motherhood is tough enough to navigate, and feeling like you’ve got no-one to talk to makes it so much worse. I was lucky, we only lived 5 minutes from my parents, so my mum or my sister often popped over. But I can see just how easy it would be to have no external contact.
Mother’s group gives you a specific reason to get dressed and get out of the house, without the pressure of making sure you look your best or that your child behaves. Because, let’s face it, everyone who shows up will be in EXACTLY the same boat as you. Having the scheduled time, every week, where there were people expecting me to be somewhere, meant I was less likely to change my mind about going out, and just stay home instead.
2. Builds confidence
Mother’s groups are often run initially by nurses at local council maternal health centres. And they start when your baby is only a few months old. Part of the reason for these groups even existing is to help you learn about your baby and their care and development. As a first time mum, you realise very quickly that you know almost nothing about raising a child. Well, I certainly did. And that can destroy your confidence. As can advice and commentary from those around you, well-meant or not. Mother’s groups help you build back that confidence in a number of ways.
There’s the educational aspect, where your nurse will give you information on dos and don’ts, give you tips and share different techniques. This all helps to build your knowledge base, which lifts your confidence.
Then there the practical aspect. The first point I made was that mother’s groups give you a reason to leave the house. Well, that in itself helps build your confidence. As you repeat the process of packing your baby’s bag, putting your baby and pram in the car, driving your baby around, setting and folding up the pram, getting
your baby out of the car, putting your baby in the pram, you get more confident each time. So by the time you get invited to that friends’ kids’ birthday party or your cousins wedding, you KNOW that you have the confidence to take your child anywhere. And that it will be ok. Even if you forgot the spare pants.
Finally, you gain confidence through the reassurance you get from the other mothers in your group. I don’t think I would have got to the point where I never left the house, but going to mothers’ group certainly gave me the confidence to get out and about a lot sooner.
Pretty much every mother I’ve spoken to says that, at some point, they thought to themselves, is what my baby doing normal? Or is what I’m doing right for my baby? Every, single one. I’ve thought both of those thoughts so many times over the last 5 years.
And those thoughts are additional drains on your confidence. Until you show up at your mothers group, and somebody, maybe you, maybe someone else, asks the exact question you’ve been thinking all week. Is it normal for my baby to not smile? Am I giving my baby enough tummy time? Am I giving my baby too much tummy time? Should my baby be rolling/sitting up/crawling/walking/babbling by now? Should I read more books to my baby? Should I sing more to my baby? Is it normal for my baby to feed 9/8/7/6/5 times a day?
And you hear the question echo around the room, and the collective sigh of relief as every mother thinks to themselves ‘so it’s not just me then’. The power of this reassurance that what you are going through is the same as what all the other mothers are going through is phenomenal. Even 5 years on, the simple act of me asking my group if any of their children are doing XYZ, and having them respond “YES!” can make me feel so much better about what my child is going through.
4. Adult interaction
As you start to feel more confident in your parenting, mothers group becomes a little bit less about learning how to mother, and more about settling into your new role. And part of that is remembering that you are a person in your own right. I’m not a big fan of excess socialising, I’m definitely an introvert, so I quite often enjoyed staying at home with my baby, reading and playing with him, maybe going for a walk.
But even I, at some point, needed more interaction, more conversation, than you can get from a six month old. And as our mothers group moved out of the learning phase of the maternal health centre, and into the living phase of mothers just catching up, this is additional benefit that crept into our coffees and playdates. Adult interaction. We started to talk about ourselves as people, not just as mothers. We learned what each other’s careers were, where everyone was from, about our families and eventually, about some of our hopes and goals.
When you’ve got a new baby, most people want to talk about the baby. But as a mother, it is imperative that you don’t forget your own identity as a person. And my mothers’ group played a huge role in making sure I didn’t lose mine. I’m pretty sure most of them still don’t know what I do, but that’s never stopped them
from asking about my work, or my studies, or what’s going on in my life.
5. Think tank
There are so many challenging periods in a child’s early development. Teething, cutting down naps, cutting night feeds, ‘sleeping through’ the night, developmental leaps, clinginess, illness, weaning. Just to name a few. And there are lots of books on these topics. And blogs. Websites. Videos. There is so much information out there. It’s actually impossible for a single person to look through it all. But what I found was that, within our group, we would all have found different pieces of information, and had varying success with what we found. (Remember, you’ll all be going through pretty much the same stuff at roughly the same time).
So some of our catch ups became like mini think-tanks. Someone would have a problem, eg trying to encourage a longer period between nighttime feeds, and we’d all throw up ideas and tips based on what we had read or tried ourselves. There was no judgement, no criticism about different styles (and yes, I am extremely grateful that
there wasn’t any judgement or criticism in our group, we are incredibly lucky that way). It was about sharing as much information as we had amongst us, so that anyone still struggling with whatever issue it was could find useful, alternative approaches to try. And this still happens occasionally when we catch up. A number of us all ended up having our second babies at roughly the same time as well, which posed a different set of challenges. Which we continue to help each other navigate.
This is the biggest benefit for me. All the others, they are more limited time benefits, in that you need that support network for a limited period in your life, whilst your kids are growing, but it becomes less important as they get older. But friendship, that’s a benefit for me, for the rest of my life (hopefully!).
We all have other friends. Friends from our lives before motherhood. Friends from school, university, work, sports, whatever else we are involved with. New friends we’ve made since having children, other parents or new colleagues. But none of these people went through having a baby with us. None of them saw the challenges we faced, or helped us solve the problems, not the way our group has.
And as our friendship has deepened over the years, I know there are things I’ve shared with my mother’s group that I’ve shared with very few other people. For me, these are friendships made during one of the toughest periods of my life, and these are the ladies who helped me get through that. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. So in my opinion, this is the biggest benefit of joining a mothers group. The potential to make a lifelong friend (or two or seven).
I know there are mothers out there whose experience with their mother’s group was uninspiring, uncomfortable or even judgemental. I know many who haven’t seen or spoken to the ladies from their group since the ‘official’ catch-ups ended. But for me, my mother’s group was absolutely pivotal to me surviving my first few years of motherhood, and the ladies who make up my group are such a wonderful, supportive group who I will never take for granted.