I was a playgroup mom. The group began as a weekly gathering of unconnected women who had serendipitously delivered babies around the same time. A few met through Lamaze and invited other new moms until we had formed a group. We convened at someone's house with all of our babies in their car seats and tenuously asked and answered questions in an attempt to ferret out mutual affinity.
Over time, we became each other's sanity, a break from the tedium of changing diapers, feeding, changing clothes, doing laundry, grocery shopping and then starting the same routine all over. We would meet at a house and talk and talk and talk. How many hours does your baby sleep at night? Which pacifier do you use? Does you spouse give the baby a bath?
We used these occasions to determine how we were performing in the new role of mom. Searching for validation, we all were desperate to feel at least adequate. We shared our successes and we asked for help with our failures. Quickly, playgroup morphed from being a weekly reprieve to becoming a lifesaver. And therapy.
Something about that period of shared vulnerability enabled the forming of a deep bond among new moms.
But as our kids got older, people moved away, our kids preferred some kids over others and our lives got busier with the birth of other children. Gradually, we lost that connection. And that support.
I missed the informal sharing of wisdom and the gift of having a non-judgmental sounding board. But I couldn't bring myself to share my fears and vulnerabilities with other mothers in the same way I had done when my kids were babies.
Seven years ago, when I founded Your Teen, I inadvertently started a different kind of playgroup. A group of moms met weekly (without our babies who had since grown into teenagers), and talked about all the different topics we could cover in a magazine for parents of teenagers. Through this process, we unintentionally started to create a safe place to reveal our personal struggles. As we talked about topics like teens and parties, one mom would say, "My son is going to a party and I am not comfortable with the hosts' parents. What would you do?" We talked about covering bullying and one mom would reveal a painful story about her daughter being the only girl who wasn't invited to the party. In return, we would share our own wounds as we witnessed our children's social pain.
What we learned through sharing was that many of our secrets were universal. In sharing those secrets, we began to shed the loneliness of parenting.
As I reflect on those years without a playgroup, I am keenly aware that I missed opportunities to learn to become a better parent. Why would I know how to parent through each stage of development? Parenting is an apprenticeship, a skill learned on the job. Parenting, at its most basic, is a game of trial and error. And when we share our vulnerability with other parents, some of the error can be softened.
Susan Borison is the Publisher and Editor In Chief of Your Teen Media. Your Teen Media: Helping parents understand, influence and guide their teenagers.