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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mother's Group - My Experience

Before my first son was born, I always thought I was going to be a mother’s group kinda gal. 

I imagined my mother’s group and I would get together each week and talk about the progress of our babies, exchange useful information and watch our children grow together. Maybe we’d even have 'baking days'. We’d form lifelong friendships, and so would our children. Our relationship would be supportive, encouraging and filled with understanding and empathy.

Imagine my disappointment then, when only 3 weeks in to my mother’s group meetings at the local early childhood centre, I realised that perhaps, in fact, this whole mother’s group thing wasn’t actually for me after all?

I recall the moment I had this thought: I stood in a room at the clinic with my mother's group surrounding me. It was wet and miserable outside. I was so, so tired. Our babies were lying in our arms, or on our laps, and as I looked around, I suddenly wondered what on earth I was doing there? What did we actually have in common – apart from our children?

Not unlike many mothers do, I was struggling a little at the time. I had a baby who wasn’t the best sleeper, had close to no routine (not for want of one) and fed at the most awkward times, leaving me perpetually tired (as most new mothers are). As a result, I found myself unable to socialise or even get out of my pyjamas most days. I was run ragged – probably averaging 4 hours of broken sleep most nights – and not used to the lack of sleep at all. I started to ask myself why I was ‘wasting’ my time with all these women I didn’t know, when I could be catching up with friends I had barely seen since the birth of my baby 8 weeks prior?

I had expected to feel supported, encouraged and less of a failure when I was with my mother’s group, but I didn’t feel that at all. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. All because of witnessing what the other mothers were doing around me.

There was the mother who walked in confidently to each meeting and held her child as though she was born with her baby attached to her hip. Seeing her move about with him, with such ease, made my own movements with my child feel awkward.

Then there was the mother whose 6-week old baby was already sleeping from 8pm though to 6am. When she announced this, she did so not in a sort of “so there!” way, but rather matter-of-factly. The women in the group on hearing this though, immediately laughed and told her how “easy” she had it, and in the space of five minutes, probably managed to alienate her from the rest of the group (you could see it in her face – she was shattered by their response, and never uttered a word about feeling tired after that day). At the time, even though I didn’t join in on the ribbing from the other mums, I admit I did feel a sense of jealousy that my son was such a bad sleeper, and I silently wished that I was in her position. The mother went on to describe how her baby hardly slept a wink during the day, and how she was finding this difficult, which the mothers promptly dismissed, and assured her that her life was “much easier” than theirs was – still getting up once or twice through the night to feed. (However, as someone who had the bad sleeper at night, and then the good sleeper at night who took only micro sleeps during the day, I completely understand now where that mother was coming from, even if I didn't at the time. Babies are far more hands on than you realise, and not getting a break through the day can be very difficult.)

There was the mother whose child always attended our meetings in the most beautiful ‘day’ clothes. At one meeting, the mother arrived and looked at all of us apologetically. “I’ve had such a busy morning,” she announced as she fell in to her seat at the table, “I didn’t get to change Charlotte out of her pyjamas this morning. I’m so sorry!” I looked down at my son lying peacefully in my arms, still wearing his Bonds suit that he had slept in the night before. His drawer at home filled with many of the same, just in an assortment of colours. (I had no intention of changing him, because he constantly brought up his milk, and when I didn’t have to change his clothes every hour or so, it was something of a miracle relief.)

Then there was the time I was standing around with my mother’s group, all of us holding our babies. I had my son facing outwards, and to keep him amused, I was jigging him up and down. And then he threw up (as he did all the time often did) all over himself, all over my arms and legs, and all over the floor. His constant ‘possetting’ of milk (for want of a better word, because ‘possetting’ always sounds like a small amount to me – it was not) was proving increasingly frustrating to me, and I longed for him to be like the other babies in my mother’s group who just drank their milk, and maybe had a little spit out afterwards.

Standing there that day, I felt like even more of a failure. I didn’t feel like me anymore. I felt more and more that both my parenting, and even my baby (I can’t believe I felt that way), were not up to scratch.

Of course, I was overly sensitive at the time. Everything seems ten times worse when you’re dealing with lack of sleep. I wasn’t seeing things clearly, and to be honest, no one even blinked an eye when my baby threw up that day. I was allowing my own feelings of inadequacy to see things that weren’t there. I was doing what many women do in various situations: I was comparing myself to others.

My mother’s group was not the positive experience I expected it to be. Partly, that was my fault for allowing myself to worry about what everyone else  - and their babies - were doing. (I even went out and bought nice outfits for my son to wear to our mother’s group meetings, so that I didn’t show up in his usual Bonds suits each time.) But most certainly, I didn’t walk away from those mother’s groups feeling good about myself. Instead, I left them questioning what I was doing and how I was doing it. Made worse, in my mind at the time, by the fact that my son was the eldest in the group, and surely I was the one who should have known what I was doing and therefore be the most confident? (Our conversations were quite competitive at times. "Whose baby is sleeping through?" "Is  your baby talking yet?") Surely my son should have been sleeping through first, and should have been rolling over independently before the others? (Ha! Having three boys now, I can now see how silly – albeit normal – thinking that was. Every child is different, and goes at their own pace, and the benefit of hindsight is incredibly helpful!)

Having said that though, I know many, many women who have great mother’s groups, and go on to have the kind of relationships that I had imagined I would have before my son was born. I know mums who, with their eldest child now 8 or 9 years of age, still catch up with other mothers they met through those first mother’s group meetings - and regularly. In fact, those mothers count some of those relationships as some of their closest. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen for me.

Yes - there were times that my mother’s group was a positive experience. All first time mothers, we were all going through similar situations at the time, and it was helpful to ask what worked for some and what worked for others. And initially, I did make one good connection with one of the mums, and we would often catch up outside mother’s group. It was nice to have someone to sit down at a café with and talk about motherhood over a banana smoothie, whilst our children slept in their pram (mostly). However, she then moved out of the city and eventually, our friendship waned.

In the end, my mother’s group went from meeting every couple of weeks, to every couple of months to a couple of times a year (and usually those get-togethers were organised by the same few – including myself – each time) to – what it is now – a quick chat should we bump into one another when out and about. I don’t think it was just me. I just don’t think our group ‘connected’.

However, the point of this post is to say that not everyone will feel as though they fit in to a mother’s group, and sometimes, some mothers will be competitive, and that can make a group uncomfortable, and not the positive experience it should be. I may now not have a handful of mums as friends from those early days, but I have certainly made up for it through meeting some great mums through my sons’ school. Even though I used to feel robbed of the dream I had so long ago, I don't feel like I’m missing out anymore.

It didn’t work out for me, but it works out for many, and if I had my time again – even with what I know now – I’d still give it a go. (In fact, when pregnant with my second son, I called the clinic to see if they had mother's groups for 2nd time mums. They didn't, unfortunately. They should! I'd have given it another go.) For many, a mother’s group is a great connection to the ‘outside world’, and can be a comfort and help to many new mums out there.

How about you? If you’re a mum – did you join a mother's group, and did you enjoy it? Do you still keep in touch with the other mums/dads? And if you’re a mum-to-be (Ami and Tina!) – do you think you’ll join a mother’s group? What are your expectations?


1 comment:

Pinky said...

What a great well, written article. It really hit home for me! I hated my group too, just had a really competitive nature. It failed. Now I get jealous of people who are in successful and happy groups!! I joined a local gym with a creche and it's been really great to get me out of the house. I'd love to try another one second time around but, as you say, there aren't really groups out there for that!! *sigh* At least I have some good friends with bubs and a great family :) Could be worse! I guess the message is: they aren't for everyone.