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The Dark Side of Mommy Groups

Photograph by Twenty20

When my first daughter was born, I joined a mommy group. They were supportive, kind and fun, and were a lifeline during those first few years of motherhood. We compared notes about our babies’ eating habits and growth spurts. We laughed about poop stories and cried about the state of our boobs. It was a comfortable, safe place to be a new mom and it was all about our babies, all the time.

When my daughters got a little older, I briefly joined another group. I say briefly because my time there was short and scandalous. I was lured in by another mom I met through work, whose kids were around the same age as mine. She and I had a lot in common, and I was longing to connect with others who were starting to make that transition from being moms 24/7 to gaining back some of our previous lives. In other words, I wanted to find other female friends who didn’t wear clothes that had nursing flaps.

My first couple of get-togethers with the new group went smoothly. They had all known each other for years, but welcomed me in warmly. Many had older kids and our meet-ups were less anxious—we weren’t lunging every five seconds to keep a toddler from the sharp edge of a coffee table or constantly prying small objects out of anyone’s mouth.

The one thing I did notice, though, was the absence of any conversation that didn’t center around our kids. Didn’t anyone want to discuss politics or any movie that wasn’t animated? Anyone read a book that wasn’t made out of wood? Was anyone sneaking off to a hotel with their husband over the weekend? I was panicked when I realized that the poop stories had just been replaced with potty training stories.

So, I decided to test the waters. One day, as we were all sitting around discussing the pros and cons of various playgrounds in the city, I blurted out, “Hey, how about one night we all leave the kids at home and meet up for tacos and margaritas?”

And with so many situations I’d found myself in as a parent, to focus on yourself was almost forbidden—a sign that you didn’t care enough, didn’t love enough, weren’t devoted enough.

You could have heard a pin drop. Where I was expecting a robust high-five, there was only silence except for the distinctive sound of 12 moms’ brains judging me. I had obviously breached some sort of protocol and the conversation quickly turned back to the fabulous jungle gym and superior wood chips over at the park east of the freeway. My memory is foggy but I think I even remember a toddler purposely hurling himself onto the edge of a coffee table in disgust.

It was then I realized there was no room here for the moms, only the kids. And, with so many situations I’d found myself in as a parent, to focus on yourself was almost forbidden—a sign that you didn’t care enough, didn’t love enough, weren’t devoted enough. It’s a contest to see who can deny their own needs the most, and I was obviously losing. But what were we gaining from making our kids the center of our world, and refusing to take time for ourselves?

“Compassion fatigue is real,” cautions Devra S. Gordon, MSW. “If you only put the needs of others ahead of your own, you will become exhausted and irritable. Denying yourself time away from your kids is not doing anyone any favors. It is not an act of martyrdom. It is putting yourself in danger of getting burned out and feeling guilty when you yell at your kids.”

I never went back to the group after that day and I shied away from mommy groups for a few years. I missed the camaraderie, but I didn’t miss the pressure to fit in and the slow loss of self that sometimes comes with being a part of any group. It took me a while to find another small band of moms who felt the same way I did, that it was OK not to want to spend every second with our kids, and healthy to focus on our own interests.

And, yes, every once in a while, we even went out for tacos and margaritas.

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