How to build your mama village (without compromising your values)
Long had I watched mum groups in cafes and felt a pang of jealousy as I took my keep-cup back to my baby capsule-free car. Yes I was envious of the baby, but I was also envious of their almost tribal connectedness. I yearned for the deep knowing looks those mothers gave each other across conversation that hardly happened as they each nursed and wrangled their children in a public place.
My baby eventually arrived, but my mama wolf pack didn’t suddenly materialise. Where did I go wrong? Over a year later, I am surrounded by powerhouse mama friends, and have realised my expectations about the sudden connection of a mama bestie bunch put together by coincidentally having a baby in the same month, in the same geographical area, is yet another societal falsehood designed to make mothers feel like they are failing.
So how to find your villagers?
1. Choose 2 mama mentors. Choose two women you know whose mothering you admire. These mamas can have children of any age, but ideally they’ll have at least one child who is 2 to 4 years old by the time you have your baby. With this distance they are close enough to remember what each stage of new motherhood and baby development is like, but far enough removed from it that they can reassure you that you are, in fact, doing a good job and that this phase will pass. These women unknowingly give you "permission" to mother in whatever way works for you, merely by openly doing whatever works for them. They are the ones who will be able to recommend books or podcasts that are likely to suit your style, and give you actually useful recommendations, not unsolicited advice. Conversations with mama mentors go something along the lines of:
Me: “This is impossible, I can not give another ounce of my body fluid to this leech”.
Mama mentor: “Yeah, it’s really tough. You are doing such a good job responding to your baby’s needs. It does get easier”.
Mama mentor: “I wish I’d bought a learning tower when Liv was one, not two-and-a-half”.
Me: “Thanks for the tip. WTF is a learning tower?”.
2. Identify a message-any-hour mum friend. This is the friend who will be up in the middle of the night feeding or rocking or pacing the hallway at the same time you are. They will most likely be mum to a baby born around the same time as you, but you don’t necessarily need to know them well. The key criteria for the message-any-hour friend is that they share the same sense of humour as you. Conversations with these friends happen piecemeal throughout the night and wee hours of the morning while the rest of the world sleep, primarily through sharing memes about the useless nature of the male nipple.
3. Join groups that align with your values or interests, and bail out of the ones that don’t. You want to be part of groups that lift you up and empower you to mother as you want, like facilitated Mama Circles where women gather and feel nurtured by the facilitator and each other. Perhaps a few mums from your online prenatal classes could keep in touch - if you have paid for something like CalmBirth, Hypnobirth or Postpartum Planning session, it is likely you have shared belief in the value of investing in such services.
Larger Facebook groups can also be useful connectors. My friend described the feeling of joining The Beyond Sleep Training Project group, scrolling through posts and replies and feeling her inner voice shout “Yes! These are my people!”. (Just be aware to keep some perspective that many people post in these kinds of groups when they need help, not when things are rosy).
Conversely, I attended two health service-organised “mum and baby” group sessions in my area. As soon as the words “rod for your own back”, “drowsy but awake” and “feed, play, sleep” came out of the nurse’s mouth, I felt my fists clench and throat constrict. Needless to say, I did not return for the remainder of the course. There is no weakness in walking away from groups that do not feel right for you.
4. Follow up on leads, even if they seem obscure. In the trenches of our six-week-cluster feeding bonanza, a stranger came to pick up a few pre-loved things I was selling. She looked alert and fresh, despite having two kids aged four months and two years in tow. “How do you do it with two?” I asked in awe. “I wear the little one, a lot”. I quickly resolved to try baby-wearing again and didn’t think much more of our exchange until a few hours my phone beeped with a message: “Babywearing, and lots of coffee. And all the biscuits”. This olive branch was exactly the push I needed to follow up on this future friendship lead.
When we next crossed paths, my new Gumtree buddy gave me a few of those aforementioned boobie bikkies in a reusable container. Then I spotted a (now priceless) box of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper by her door. This was my time to have the realisation - “Yes! This is my people!”. She now encourages me through keeping-it-real, achievable-by-a-mum-working-from-home projects from afar, like attempting to shampoo-free by not washing my hair for at least six weeks. When you next meet a fellow mum in the childproofing section of Bunnings, or a kind stranger informs you that baby panadol is only available in chemists not supermarkets, hit them up for a chat. Turns out no chance meeting is too weird to add a mama to your team!
5. Take the leap into further study. I don’t mean you should start something stressful like a thesis while on maternity leave, however a great option for village-building is to join an online course in an interest area of yours. This is particularly fruitful if the study cohort will primarily be other mums, and the course encourages collaborative learning. Perhaps this is an interest area from your professional life, or something new, like motherhood itself. Dr Sophie Brock’s courses are examples of ones specifically for mums that will both empower and connect you with other women at a similar stage of life.
6. Don’t drop your (childless) best friends. This is especially important if you’re one of the first in your usual circle to become a mum. They know the old you better than you think, and can help you navigate the new one with clear, less fatigued eyes. Deep down, you know who the good ones are, so keep them around. They are also the friends who will be most available to run errands for you and help with childcare in a pinch. Don’t feel bad about asking for their help, one day you might be their mama mentor!
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