Being a new parent is hard, and can be isolating. So when my community nurse suggested that I join a local mother’s group for some extra support, I jumped at the chance.
I’d heard friends wax lyrical about how their mother’s groups saved them during a stressful period of parenting. And that many of their cohorts turned into lifelong friends. So I made a point to join one.
It was a large group with ten mums. They were lovely, and all our babies were the same age. I saw my future and imagined our babies would grow up and start school together.
The group started out wonderfully. We were group-texting every day, and we all lived close by, which came in handy for our playdates. We caught up once a week at least, shared baby advice and gave each other emotional support. However, eventually the mother’s group was causing more stress instead of alleviating it.
Our children had started to grow and develop at different rates. And that’s when the comparison game began. Some mums loved to brag about their excellence at parenthood, which unintentionally made the rest of the group feel bad. I was starting to feel pressure to make sure my child was developing at an appropriate pace. At that time, my baby didn’t sleep as much as others, so I was a bit concerned the sleeping would affect his further development.
Our children had started to grow and develop at different rates. And that’s when the comparison game began.
According to Canberra-based psychologist Leesa Morris, who specialises in working with mothers, “Some mother's groups can become toxic with comparisons in parenting skills, intuition and child development. If this happens, make a decision about whether you want to continue to spend time with the group as a whole. If you feel worse after a catch-up, then this group isn't for you.”
While I coped with the comparisons and competitive comments for a while, eventually the group devolved into gossip. When you’re dealing with each other’s children and families, you get to know each other fairly intimately. We learned about family issues, problems with partners, problems with in-laws and so on. When the rumour mill went into overdrive, some friendships were eventually ruined.
I was also part of another mother’s group and left after three meetings when I realised I didn’t share the same values as the other women in the group.
One mum from the group sent me a Facebook friend request and asked me if I'd like to meet up. When we caught up, she had invited some of her other friends, and when the topic turned to one of the members of our mother's group who was not there, it became nasty. I didn’t want to return.
A traditional mother’s group is not for everyone.
There were some positives to my mother’s group experience. An Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that 20 per cent of mothers of children aged two years old or less suffer from depression (2010). As a result of being part of my mother’s group, I realised that I was going through anxiety and depression by talking with them, and it was only then I could get the help I needed as we shared similar experiences.
When I realised that I wasn’t suited to in-person mother’s group, I started to look online, and that’s where I eventually found support and community. I joined various Facebook groups, and have received many helpful tips and advice from online mums’ communities.
I’ve also organised a few real-life catch-ups with mums via Facebook too. The online network does provide a great source of useful information for new parents, once again, by chatting with other mums online, it distracted me from anxiety and depression.
Morris suggests: “Some of the friends you and your child make in mother's groups can last lifetimes and this is great if that happens. I would say, always give a mother's group a chance, if it isn't for you at least you know.”
A traditional mother’s group is not for everyone. It didn’t work for me. But I realised that the mother’s group could come in many guises. I had to give it a few goes before I found my tribe. But I’m glad I didn’t give up.
Angie Cui is a freelance journalist and writer. You can follow Angie on Twitter @angiecuiwrites.
These videos were produced in partnership with SBS and the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, Social Policy Research Centre, and Charles Sturt University.