Today I took my son to a “mommy and me: play and learn” class at Gymboree. I felt a surge of sentimentality being there because it is the same class I took my daughter at least twice a week when she was a baby through toddler-hood. I felt tears well in my eyes looking at the very same slide she used to climb up and slide down. It was hard to believe that I had come full circle and was now there with my son.
I started bringing my daughter to classes when she was less than three months old because I was desperate to get out of the house and meet some mom friends. None of my friends had kids yet and I was very lonely. It didn’t take long to meet another new mom in the same boat and I became a fixture at this bouncy, colorful establishment. The mom I first met at our first class became a fast friend and we clung to each other for support.
This place once brought me reprieve from loneliness and my closed in little world at home. It gave me an escape to discuss issues I was having with my child and how much life had changed. Being a new mom, everything was new, scary, amazing and confusing. Over the months we attended classes, other new moms joined and we would discuss sleep issues, teething, solid foods, behavior, and our hopes and dreams for our children. We never spoke much about who we were before children because we were completely consumed with new motherhood.
We were all so grateful to have found each other that we held on tight regardless of inherent differences among us. Because one day per week of adult interaction was not enough, we decided to form what I like to refer to now as The Playgroup. We would rotate houses and meet weekly. Being a playgroup newbie, I remember wondering if I should bring a hostess gift to the first one and what I should wear. I was utterly confused about what would happen at a playgroup but was giddy with excitement to become a part of one.
At the first playgroup, I was ready to take my relationships with these fellow mothers to a new level. Over a tray of cheese, fruit and crackers, we all began to give inklings of who we were beyond mothers. It soon became noticeable that only a couple of women and I had anything in common at all. Only a couple of the moms and I were like-minded, which in hindsight, does not matter so much but it seemed to at the time. We were all discovering who we were as mothers and how we could hammer out differences. It was a tough but valuable learning experience.
The disintegration of friendships happened shortly after that first playgroup. One woman began to gossip about the others, making up false stories about the small tidbits she had learned in confidence from one mom, calling another mom “weird” because she teared up talking about the love she felt for her baby at birth; she made exaggerations about these women and vilified them. Another of the moms would gossip relentlessly yet act a best friend to the victim of the gossip the very next day. One mom was foreign, and had a slight language barrier and an extremely negative attitude in general, and would send hateful texts if she discovered she had not been included at a particular play date. The Playgroup unraveled quickly and I realized that I had grasped on to these women for the wrong reasons, I had accepted and loved them from the start only because I was so desperate not to be alone. Shortly after the breakup, I decided that I no longer wished to have “mom friends”, that they were too critical of each other, that it was not worth my energy thinking about or creating negative energy when I needed all of the positive energy I could muster to being a good new mom.
However, in the aftermath of this breakup, one of the quieter moms in the group resurfaced. I had not gotten to know her very well the first time around because she was not so dramatic and stood more on the sidelines. This woman, over time, gained my trust and became one of the most trustworthy friends I have had the luxury of knowing. We began to get together at parks to talk and discuss the toxic group of mothers we had befriended. We examined why we had joined that group, what happened and how we could prevent it from recurring. We became comrades in the search for good, trustworthy mom friends. And slowly, but surely, we found them.
Reluctantly, we went back to Gymboree and met some new moms. They seemed genuine at first glance and we soon discovered that we weren’t clouded by any need other than seeking honest women to share our experience of motherhood. Over the course of months, friendships grew nurtured by trust and respect. Differences among us did not seem to matter because we had more in common as mothers than anything else. But over time, we realized that though we may differ in music preference, clothing style, religious affiliations or political views, we respected and enjoyed sharing those differences as well as our similarities. That, to me, is a true friendship grown out of a desire to be supportive to a fellow mother only to find a beautiful bond on the other side. I am thankful to my first experience as a new mom seeking friends. As any person out of a bad relationship, I learned what I really need out of a friend as well as how to be one.
Mothers, especially new mothers, need all the support they can get, and while I did not receive everything I needed in the beginning, the experience led me to everything I have now. My first playgroup in the early new mother days showed me the ugly ways women and mothers can treat each other but because of them, I now have honest, supportive friendships. Without the women in my life now, I am not sure how I would have gotten through some of the harder moments of parenting. They have offered a listening ear, good advice, shared misery and many a good laugh. For this, I am forever grateful for The Playgroup.