It’s day one of mothers’ group and frankly, I’m excited. We will talk. We will commiserate over our lack of sleep. We will support, not judge.
As we sit on the floor facing our fresh-faced infants, the facilitator asks each of us to share something we did for ourselves the previous week. One mother says ‘the dentist’. Another says ‘the groceries’. One poor woman has nothing, even when pressed. It’s been a good week for me, so I share my ‘mums and bubs’ movies experience ("oooh") and extend an invite to all.
Next week, one woman does turn up. She returns my friendly ‘hi’ before sitting in the row behind me rather than the empty seat next to me. Not great for our budding relationship, but not insurmountable. As the credits roll, I turn around to chat. She’s halfway out the door. So, no second date then?
Shortly after, pushing the pram by a lake, I bump into another group member. We stop and discuss how much we love walking. It’s my moment: "if you ever feel like a walk with the babies, I’m keen". She blanks me. Embarrassed, I shuffle off.
"She’s halfway out the door. So, no second date then?"
Is my friendship dating strategy wrong? Am I showing my hand too early? Maybe not. "About 50 per cent of mothers’ groups gel and the other half don’t," says Professor of Women’s Health and director of Jean Hailes Research Unit at Monash University, Jane Fisher.
While Prof Fisher says researchers don’t know much about why that second 50 per cent doesn’t work, she says good facilitation and a closer age bracket definitely do help. She thinks finding a mothers’ group is something worth preserving with, particularly in cultural groups without a tradition of new mothers being supported by senior women in their extended family.
"You should always acknowledge it’s a need. Set up your own and meet regularly. The hallmark is to try really hard to ensure it’s not competitive," she says.
It’s a positive approach, but when nobody in my group bit I did two other things first: I sulked and complained. But then, I changed strategy and ditched them.
According to Jen Dugard, whose program Body Beyond Baby features group exercise for mums while nannies do the childcare, it’s not unusual.
"At least half of [our participants] are doing it because they say their mothers’ group isn’t working out," she says.
While most point to a desire to do something more active than sit inside eating cake, the competitive (aka: inauthentic) experiences Prof Fisher warns against has also led some mothers to Dugard.
"We talk about pelvic floor and not sleeping…and do team events and exercise," she says.
Friendships abound, including for Dugard, whose own best friend was a client five years ago.
In my own case, quitting frees me up to start investing time in those who are ‘into me’. I launch into a spurt of speed dating new friends by following up offers from old family friends, relatives and anyone who offers to connect me with like-minded mums.
Activities prove good too (music classes, free events at libraries, but especially events with a morning tea built in – so there is scope to chat). Eventually, I start building solid friendships, including with those whose kids aren’t even close to my son’s age; together we make figure out how to make play dates with a 10 month old and a 2.5 year old work. My son enjoys the older kids, and I thrive on hanging out with adults I have more in common with than our children’s birthdates.
Nonetheless, I still feel a pang of envy when friends in other cities talk about going out with their mothers’ group of friends, or jointly celebrating the kids’ birthdays each year. For them, Cupid’s arrow did indeed strike and we all know how rare that is.
Support networks and resources for new parents
More than 230 local groups across Australia: groups offer a place to chat about many aspects of being a new parent. It’s an excellent group for new breastfeeding mothers.
There are playgroups associations in every state and territory across Australia. Each usually has a number of playgroups run in languages other than English. Many playgroups are for children typically aged one and over but there will usually be at least a few open groups welcoming younger kids. Additionally, successful mothers’ groups also often convert into a playgroup and some open up to new members.
This site is an excellent, comprehensive resource providing advice for new parents on everything from pregnancy to parenting school-age children.