Today we all know about networking and how important it is. In the early 1990s, when I was a new mom, the whole networking concept was relatively new. “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” was a phrase that was tossed about, but there wasn’t really a commonly used term to define how to get to know the right people. This changed quickly, largely in concert with the rapid expansion of technology and its encroachment into our everyday lives. Networking became a buzz word for new grads and job seekers in all disciplines. However, for me and other women who instead chose to be stay-at-home moms, it was something added to the “do someday” list, the mental file folder of things to do if and when toddlerhood ever ended.
Although I cherished (most of) the moments with my little cherubs, staying home was sometimes lonely. Having a reduced income also reduced the options to get out and meet people. Being a rather shy person to begin with, I was somewhat isolated and chattered away to my husband most evenings, desperate to have an adult to talk to. I read most of the popular parenting magazines, most of which addressed in some way how to help your children be social creatures and make friends, but there was nothing about making sure Mom was social. It was the time of the Mommy Wars, when working moms and stay-at-homes were pitted against one another, as if one option were inherently better than the other. There was really no talk of working together.
As my children reached school age, my social pool opened up and I started to make friends (with the parents of their friends). Contrary to my nature, I began talking to every other mom I encountered, on the playground, the T-ball field, walking down the street. In the bizarre world we lived in as parents of young children, we would swap sick kid stories, kitchen disaster stories, even birth stories.
Without my realizing it, I had formed my own Mommy Network. Even though I had shared some intimate parts of my life with perfect strangers, there were a select few who I let in to see the real me: the one who sometimes got overwhelmed or scared, said really stupid things and had “bad mommy” moments. These were the women I knew I could count on when I felt like running away, when I couldn’t bear to hear the word, “mommy” one more time, when I was the one who needed a time out. They put things into perspective (letting the kids watch one more episode of Barney to buy me time to make dinner was not going to kill their IQ) and shared their own shortcomings. They made me realize that perfection was not a necessary component of success. We may not have agreed on everything, but we shared basic parenting philosophies and a desire to connect.
Since I continued to have children, and members of my earliest Mommy Network did not, my circle grew. I still had the original members to lean on (after all, we still were all encountering new developmental levels as our children grew into teens and beyond), but I added new ones. Although my children were older, and I was looked to as the “expert” in some areas, I also learned new things about parenting and myself from these wonderful women. As crazy as things sometimes got, we knew that the others were there to help with practical things as well as dealing with the complicated emotions that go along with parenting. We saw each other at our best and our worst. We took care of each other, and tried to make sure we all got a little “me time” by trading off kids for an afternoon. We divided the labor by planning group outings and took turns hosting neighborhood get-togethers.
The Mommy Network saved me, more than once. Having others who are sharing time “in the trenches,” who truly “get” what your day-to-day is like, help keep things in perspective and remind you that no one is perfect; we all need support. Having those who are willing to jump in and do what needs to be done (without asking what needs to be done) are invaluable. When you find them, let them in (no matter how messy your house may be) and let them be there for you. It is likely that, no matter how put together they seem on the outside, they could use some help too.