Building a Mommy Support System
You gotta have friends
It's no surprise that having a group of supportive friends is crucial to a woman's happiness and health--especially when you're a new mom. Up to 80 percent of women experience some form of the baby blues, and research shows that forging friendships with other new moms can make the transition into parenthood easier to handle. "It is very important for women to join with other new moms to get a sense that they are not alone in their questions, insecurities and uncertainties," says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a child and family psychologist and author of
Lyss Stern, CEO and founder of Divalysscious Moms (DivaMoms.com), a social networking group for moms in New York, agrees: "The most comforting thing when you're a new mom is having other moms to talk to who 'get it.' Your non-mom friends will always try to help, but they haven't been up at 3 a.m. with a baby who won't stop crying and you can't figure out why. Mom networks help you know you're not the only one going through this, which is invaluable."
Hit the park
It makes sense that to meet moms you need to go to places that are popular with children. The local park, especially if it has a playground area, is ideal. "It's intimidating to try to strike up a relationship with someone you just met at the park," says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix. "But a simple 'I'm often here on Friday afternoons if you ever want to meet up!' as you say your goodbyes is specific, but open-ended enough to not be weird."
Play areas at local malls are also filled with moms and their little ones, so you're bound to hear about a group or two in the area. You'll be surprised by how many other women are searching for the same camaraderie you are.
Need to work off that baby weight? Exercise is good for that, of course, but it can also help you meet other moms. "A lot of people do not like approaching people they don't know, but if you're at the gym, you already know you have something in common," says Angela Ardolino, founder of Parenting with Angela (parentingwithangela.com) and the Miami Children's Museum. "And you're bonding over something that is separate from the babies. Moms love their kids, but at the same time they love their 'me time.'"
When Felice Devine of Albany, NY, moved to a new city when her son was five months old, she wanted to connect with other moms. She announced on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter that she was creating a moms' running club where she could train other moms who had never run before. "Over 12 weeks I trained them to run their first 5K." she says. "Through that process, we became very close. We learned a lot about each other and bonded through running. After the initial training, I started a Facebook group called 'Strong Running Mamas' and we talk about all kinds of stuff on there, we train together sometimes, we race together, we give each other much-needed support--all from the perspective of moms with this love of running in common. Some of us have been running for years and some only started last spring."
Not a runner? No problem. The simple act of taking your baby out for a walk can open up a whole new world for you, says Stephanie Wellington, M.D. "Moms often get into a daily routine of getting out of the house with their kids for fresh air and some exercise, so you're sure to pass a few women pushing strollers, too."
Take a class
Julie Zeff, a mom of three from Los Angeles, CA, and a life coach to busy moms (vividliving.net), has lived in three different cities with her kids over the years. "Each time I moved to a new city, the first thing I did was check out the local class schedule," she says. "The moms there were often up for playdates or lunch after class. Over time we planned regular playdates and even monthly moms' nights out. I've made some great friends and created some strong support systems this way over the years."
Check out local classes through the park district, the local community center, and the community college. And a perk, Zeff notes, is that these classes are usually super affordable.
Trick or Treat
Take full advantage of Halloween, says Kate Raidt, a mom of two from Austin, TX, and author of The Million Dollar Parent. "Go knocking on doors with your kids and introduce yourself to each person or family who answers the door." She suggests printing up some mommy "business" cards with your contact info. When you meet moms you hit it off with, give them a card and keep in touch. "I moved into our house on October 1 and I met my first batch of very cool moms through trick-or-treating!" Raidt says.
If Halloween is too far off, the simple act of reaching out to your neighbors can do the trick. Whether you live in a high-rise or a cul-de-sac, you're part of a community, Dr. Bonior says. "And research shows we have a much easier time befriending those with repeated proximity to us. If your neighborhood or condo building doesn't have a listserv, start one. From there, why not initiate a book club, or a 4th of July block party, or a pet-sitting swap? The opportunities are endless once you have the initial connection."
Ask your doctor
For the first year of life, babies have routine appointments every two months, and pediatricians and their staff often hear about moms' groups starting up, says Dr. Wellington. Your ob-gyn might also be a particularly good resource for connecting with other moms because she can easily put you in touch with women who have children the same age as yours.
And don't forget the hospital where you delivered your bundle of joy. Besides offering birthing classes, many hospitals have new-mom groups where women get together to share advice, vent, and offer support to one another.
Sure, there's not a lot of free time when you're a new mom. But even a three-hour shift can bring a multitude of benefits, from the mood boost of helping your community to the interaction with other energetic people, Dr. Bonior says. "Don't be afraid to think outside the box: from animal shelters to stream cleanings to nursing home theater troupes, there's a volunteer opportunity for everyone."
You can find volunteer opportunities at sites like GetInvolved.gov, Volunteer.gov, and VolunteerMatch.org. You can also call places in your neighborhood--a hospital or pet shelter, for example--to see who needs your assistance. The holidays are an ideal time to help out: You can "adopt" a local family and ask other moms to join you in buying clothes and toys for the kids. Then have a gathering where you can wrap the gifts together.
Sites like Meetup.com, TrueBlueMatch.com, MommyandMe.com and Yahoo Groups are all excellent resources for finding local groups. You can also use Google to search for groups that match your particular interests or needs, such as Holistic Moms Network, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and so forth. Online groups are a good introduction for those of us on the shy side--it's much easier to start up a conversation or ask a parenting question on a message board than it is in person. Message boards can also be a lifesaver during those first few months when you can't take your newborn to public places or during the winter months when the weather is bad. Once you make a connection online you can always decide whether you'd like to meet in person.
Don't forget to check out the sites of your local churches, libraries, community centers, and chambers of commerce. These places often have classes available (many library classes are free or super cheap) and even provide free space for outside playgroups to meet.
You don't have to be a writer to start blogging. A blog is a creative way for you to share the joys and trials of being a new mom--and it can also introduce you to a network of like-minded women. "It is such a close-knit community," says Carly Kerby, a mom of three and blogger (livingthescream.com). "I've actually met moms on Twitter and through blogging and later realized they live really close to me. I've met them for lunch and playdates and started really wonderful friendships. It's so comforting to find other moms who are struggling with the same things, to get support, and to know you are not alone!"
You can start your own blog for free (and the setup is a snap) at sites like Blogger.com and BlogSpot.com. There are also a slew of blogging conferences and seminars in cities all around the country where you can network and meet fellow mom bloggers.
Start your own group!
Don't throw in the towel if there isn't a mommy group in your area, or if you simply don't connect with the moms you have met. Instead, take the initiative to start your own group. "I have an almost 11-year age gap between my two kids. All of my friends had tweens and teens--and I was home with a brand-new baby," recalls Jodi Truscott of Roseville, CA. "After 'trying out' a few of the local groups and not feeling a connection with the 25-year-old mommies, I started my own. The group saved my sanity! We grew to over 100 members and did things like playdates and Moms' Night Out."
Not sure where to start? You can create a group on Meetup.com or through Yahoo Groups. Or if you happen to live near some new moms, simply drop an invite in their mailboxes. If you live in an apartment building, post a flyer in the elevator. "Whether it's for a Mom "Wine-ing Wednesday," or a day the park with the kids, it is easier to get it started right off the bat with an activity," Ardolino says.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.