Up Close and Personal
The importance of the bonds formed in parents' groups can't be underestimated, especially with the majority of parents working outside the home and having little or no time to comb the neighborhood for company. Such groups also lend support to the many people who live far away from the usual parenthood "experts": sisters, grandmothers, and mothers.
My local mothers' group, with whom I've been involved since my son, now 2, was 6 months old, knew before my husband did that I was considering quitting my job to be a work-at-home mom. I've debated the virtues of public, private, and home schooling with these friends, cried on their shoulders about a miscarriage, and groaned about stretch marks. We've also gotten involved in a variety of community outreach programs, from raising funds to renovate a playground to helping a family whose home was destroyed in a fire.
From these groups, parents derive what they can't get anywhere else -- not from their partners, families, friends, or doctors. "You receive practical experience and objective advice from people who have gone through it," says Richard L. Saphir, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "You also learn a number of options for dealing with a problem, which can help you realize that there's more than one correct way to do things."
Furthermore, you're likely to find the kind of information that's going to work for you, says Barbara J. Howard, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "And you may get it less judgmentally from your peers than you do from your relatives. Your mother-in-law might add a little jab at the end of her advice that you may not want to deal with. Or she may very well be out of step with reality."