I just had dinner with a friend who recently moved to another city, and she mentioned that it's hard for her to meet other moms. We agreed that networking with other moms is important, giving us a sense of community and support system.
Her struggle is a common Catch 22: she works full-time and isn't available during the day to get to know stay-at-home moms, and the moms she knows from work want to spend time outside the office with their families. She also wonders if there really is a "mommy war" between stay-at-home and working moms, preventing them from getting close.
For working moms and dads, there are the competing demands and opposing forces of career and parenting, and for stay-at-home parents, the defensiveness behind their choices to leave the workforce and care for their kids full-time sometimes makes it hard to connect with working parents.
As peers, how can we close the gap between these two groups of parents and form lasting relationships without completely ignoring the issue?
Leslie Morgan Steiner, best-selling author of Mommy Wars and an advertising executive at The Washington Post, was recently interviewed by Meredith Vieira on The Today Show during the Republican National Convention. Meredith asked Leslie if the addition of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska and mom to five children, including an infant with Down syndrome, to the Republican party presidential ticket is setting a new standard for moms everywhere, further pushing the myth of "Super Mom."
Leslie's answer is very poignant, not only about the election, but about the root cause of the gap between working and stay at home parents:
"I think that women tend to over-personalize other women's choices…about how they juggle work and family," Leslie said on Today. "It's something I do a hundred times a day. And Sarah Palin is not saying to you or to me or to any other woman out there that we have to have five kids and run for vice president of the United States. She's saying that she's doing it and she has to be treated as an individual."
So, how can moms and dads, whether they work or stay at home full-time, build a cohesive community and network for the common good?
Here are my tips:
- Frequent Family Venues
I suggested to my recently relocated friend that she look into newcomers' clubs and other places where families can meet, like the YMCA or a kids' soccer game. Shared interests like community involvement, religion, or volunteering provide an even playing field for working and stay-at-home parents to bond.
- Create a Care Co-op
Offer to regularly swap babysitting, child care, or pet sitting, or create a child care co-op between all the families in the neighborhood. Bond over work and kids! See my previous blog posts on Affordable Child Care Options and Tips for Work at Home Moms and Dads for advice on setting one up.
- Have a Block Party
Weekends are one of the few free times not mutually exclusive to working or stay at home parents, and a great time to host a neighborhood meet-and-greet for all members of the family. Better yet, recruit a few fellow "committee" members and make block parties a regular thing!
- Organize a Social Network or Email List
Web sites like Facebook, Meetup.com or Ning are a great way to engage parents in your community, and in the virtual space, people can participate at a time of day or week that's most convenient for their schedule. Use a Facebook page, Meetup.com group, or a Ning community to find shared interests, activities, and experiences that you can use to further bond with parents in your area (or from your workplace).
In an interview with Care.com's editors, Leslie also added her perspective on the state of employment options and the need for more collaboration and joint activism from both camps of parents:
"Five or ten years ago, it was tougher for well-educated women to take time off without significant penalty," Leslie said. "Also, [as Americans, we have a] collective devaluation of stay-at-home [parents] who perform years of unpaid labor. We tend to applaud paid labor in this country.
"There are approximately 81 million moms in America today. Each of us juggles modern motherhood amidst social paradox and flux. Fifty years ago women struggled to force many law schools, business schools, and medical schools to admit women. The number of women with college degrees has doubled in 20 years, and women now make up 51% of the white-collar workforce. In the last 50 years, the percent of American women staying home dropped from 76% to 28%. None of us has the today's work/kids paradigm figured out.
"Beneath the surface of the "mommy war" between working and at-home mothers lies each woman's inner mommy war, an endless mental debate over whether we've made the right choices about how we juggle work and family. Now that women's advances at work and at home have increased our options, the challenge for each woman with a bona fide choice is to feel good about her decision—without condemning, or silencing, other women who make different ones...Not a fairytale ending—we won't have that until there's a cornucopia of flexible, well-paid, part-time work for men and women in all segments of the labor force—but far better news than moms have gotten in a long time."
For more advice from Leslie Morgan Steiner, check out: MSNBC.com (specifically for stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce); her column, Two Cents on Working Motherhood at MommyTrackd.com; or pick up a copy of her best-selling book Mommy Wars.
How do you network with other moms? If you're a stay-at-home or a working dad, how do you find your support system? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share them on my blog by posting a comment.