By Victoria Smith
Today, we are gathered in one large room at the Athens Mothers' Center. There are about 35 of us moms, some with crawling infants. A few toddlers, who don't want to be separated from mom, are playing nearby. We're clustered in two groups: one to scrapbook and the other to learn new ways to declutter our homes. I'm hoping to come away with a few ideas to help me live more easily in the present.
"What are some ways you have found to organize recipes?" our group leader asks above the din. There are laughs and some side-talk as some consider the state of our kitchens. Others of us draw closer to hear as one mom begins to answer. I know that in the coming weeks we will take this topic deeper, to look at our lives as mothers and draw a common ground for problem-solving.
Some might find this type of setting chaotic. I find it intriguing. This is my chance to see how other moms are patient with their kids, how they handle constant interruptions and go with the flow. Motherhood continues to be a daily adventure to me, and it helps me to compare notes and get ideas from other moms. My own mom had difficulty with this role in the 60's, when mores for women went through so much change. Today moms can no longer depend on the neighborhood as our moms used to. My Mothers Center gets me outside of my own four walls to recreate that neighborhood in a new way.
Three years ago, I had just moved from a village in western New York to this mid-sized university town. I knew almost no one. In our previous life, my husband and I had shared care of our son while each of us took turns working. In leaving New York state, I left my profession as a soil scientist to become the full-time mom of a 9 month old.
Fortunately, even before I began to seriously unpack, I found my way to the Athens Mothers Center . I didn't even know that I'd already missed registration for that quarter. Certainly, no one held up any obstacles to prevent my feeling welcome. Joining up with a group for new moms felt right because I certainly saw myself as new to motherhood. Luckily I returned home with a copy of the current member list. I would need that list when I broke my right foot just days later.
Once I had accepted my new limitations, I thought it time to tell my new friends that I wouldn't be coming to AMC for awhile. Instead, I was taken under wing by the first person I called. I was quickly offered the chance to have meals delivered and was put in touch with another mom who lived not far from me with whom I could ride to meetings. Before I knew it, I was arriving early to meetings (unusual for me) and becoming fast a part of my new community!
How Our Mothers' Center Works
The work of organizing and coordinating our Center is voluntary, done by the mothers themselves. Some of us are new to parenting, some of us are already old pros. Nurturing one child or five--the same themes recur for mothers, old and young. Within our community that we call Athens Mothers Center (AMC) , there are some who are full-time at-home moms, others are part time (making income as crafters, writers, teachers, etc.). A few work full-time outside the home but crave the connection with other moms, and attend evening meetings.
Our gatherings enable us to connect with others in the same line of work and for a meeting of hearts. Or it may be that we are, like I was, new to the community. Athens is a town with a lot of turnover as it is the home of the University of Georgia . Newcomers often lack that family support, and AMC is a way for us to create that network that we need.
We meets two mornings a week. Over the years we have had groups that meet to learn songs and games with our toddlers, talk about specific parenting issues, like raising boys; learn to quilt; or claim our personal stories through writing memoir. Ours provides onsite child care so moms have respite to focus when learning a craft or getting input on parenting concerns. Members agree to safeguard anonymity, suspend their own personal prejudices and not censure each other even when disagreeing with another's views on mothering.
Our mother's center also has biweekly meetings for moms who work outside the home during the day or otherwise cannot make a daytime meeting. To create a larger support base for the groups, some daytime members use this as a chance to get out and do a craft, which gives good cross-fertilization between at-home moms and moms who work outside the home.
We also support actions for moms and support local service organizations. Several local members attend an annual convention each year to learn more about national issues relative to mothering and learn more about leadership. For more about our center, contact (706) 552-8554 or on the internet at www.geocities.com/athensmotherscenter .
Mothers benefit from support networks
This is especially true when women move to a new area or have recently given birth. Group support can help establish friendships for both moms and children.
Mothers' groups provide a place to constructively address issues related to parenting as the primary caregiver of young children. They bring new mothers out of isolation and into a larger community. They connect us to our new selves. They help us accomplish so many things that are larger than ourselves.
Finding a group in your community
Begin with your phone book to see if there is a community resources information line in your area. In larger cities, you might find that facilitators of groups for moms will organize groups and advertise in local papers or parenting magazines. In smaller towns, you may have to actively seek out a group. On a personal level, initiating conversations with other moms when running errands and at the park is an important way to learn about what is available to kids and families in your community. Your local hospital or doctor may have leads, or try local libraries, or religious organizations.
The internet may help you find the right niche in a larger municipality. An example is UC Berkeley's network of information on parenting resources for the Berkeley area, available on the internet, at http://parents.berkeley.edu . You may find mothers groups listed on websites you find by using the word "parent" on your internet search engine. I located Neighborhood Parents Network in this fashion. Their website, www.parentsnet.org/npn_parentorg.html gives a wealth of parenting organizations throughout the Bay Area of California.
Some larger municipalities have early parenting resources that are known to be helpful to mothers. An example is Natural Resources-- a mother-based and community-based center that meets the needs of mothers and the San Francisco community. The center was created by mothers almost 14 years ago. According to director Lisa Moresco, these women came together in an effort "to provide resources for themselves and the women around them." Natural Resources is different from other centers of its type in that it is a for-profit center, while retaining the informality of a not-for-profit service agency. A newsletter and list of current classes can be seen online at www.naturalresourcesonline.com .
No group in your community?
Start your own. Pregnancy can be an ideal time to establish nurturing relationships that extend well beyond the first year of your child's life. Tammy Kokot, of Wellsville , New York found that members of the birthing group she was attending at her village hospital wanted to continue supporting one another after their children were born. With the help of a friend, she established a phone list and arranged a monthly meeting at a local church where moms could listen to a speaker, talk and do crafts with their older kids present.
There are more at-home moms these days looking for venues to interact with other moms, according to Amy Baase, membership chair of Southtown's Parents and Preschoolers. The group came into being over 20 years ago, when a few stay-at-home moms in greater Buffalo , New York decided to create a community for themselves and their young children. The group now serves 140 families. Word-of-mouth was quite effective at starting their group. Amy Baase, membership chair, recommends, "Just start talking to moms that you know that are like-minded, and everyone will want to do it." Some advertising can help - flyers sent out a the local libraries and doctors' offices or a small advertisement in the local Pennysaver.
When Baase gets a call and hears, "I am newly at home with a child and have no idea what to do with myself, " she'll have a menu of events for that month for them to choose from: museum trips, sports and gymnastic activities, play groups, field trips, and a variety of mom's activities and couple's nights out. Information is also posted at their website: www.Parentsandpreschoolers.com . Members help out in any way they can, whether it be by suggesting a place to go, hosting a coffee, taking RSVP's for a holiday party, or submitting a fun family recipe for the monthly newsletter. For those wanting to do community service, an activity is planned each month. Events are usually attended by 6 to 10 people, keeping the groups small and interactive.
Lielle Arad, of Sante Fe , New Mexico , had a strong idea of what she wanted to create for mothers in her community. To get the word out about a coaching group for mothers that she planned to host at her home, she simply shared her plans with other moms as she got acquainted in her new community. She also generated interest by demonstrating her coaching techniques at a La Leche League meeting and at a "Doula Tea" in her town. Visit the website of her Evolving Mother group at www.evolvingmother.com .
National and International Resources to Help Start Your Own Group
National Association of Mothers' Centers
Mothers Centers are located in towns and cities throughout many states, and groups tailor themselves to the needs of their communities. Some Centers meet specifically to support active play groups. Our Athens group was started in 1981, as a chapter of the National Association of Mothers Centers, in Levittown , New York . The first Mothers' Center was formed out of a research project and opened in Hicksville , New York in 1975 (for more info about a group in your area or how to start one: www.motherscenter.org .
International Moms Clubs
Moms Clubs are not-for-profit support groups for stay-at-home mothers and moms who work part time, who have children ranging from infants to five years. Originally started in 1983 by Mary James of Simi Valley , California , the Clubs are one of the most wide-spread support groups for moms, with chapters all over the country, and even in Europe and Africa .
Here's a typical selection of activities from the Club of San Francisco West: playgroups, lunches, monthly business meetings with speakers, book club, a baby-sitting coop, mom's night out and park days. For more information on starting a Moms Club in your area visit their website at www.momsclub.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)
For two hours each week, moms take time to talk, laugh, eat, and share information, perhaps learn a craft. At the meeting's close they pass a basket to cover childcare costs and end with a short devotional. Eight women started the first MOPS meeting in Wheat Ridge , Colorado . As women moved to other locations in the United States , they brought the concept of their moms' group with them. Word spread though many means, among them churches and magazine articles. MOPs groups have spread beyond the United States . MOPS International also reaches out to interested moms through its newsletter and books published by Zondervan Publishing House. It also has a radio program, MOMSense. For information visit www.gospelcom.net .
Victoria Smith is a freelance writer living in Athens , Georgia who has published in regional parenting magazines such as Athens Magazine and Western New York Family. Her essays have been aired on local public radio, WUGA.