Group mentality

I went out for dinner with my Mother’s* group last night. We have known each other for as long as Master L is old, ie just over two and a half years. It was part farewell (to me) dinner, part baby shower for the last of the 5 remaining members to have baby number two (due exactly one year after Miss L was due; so we’ve all managed round two within 12 months of each other).

I had such a lovely evening and it obviously lent itself to reflecting on “Mother’s group” as a concept and, in fact, groups in general as a concept. Of course, being a farewell dinner, there was an air of sentiment, which motivated a blog post, but hopefully not too much of a rose-tinted one.

I approached Mother’s group two plus years ago with an open mind. Most of my friends seemed to enjoy the companionship it brought, for some it was a temporary convenience which dissolved when real life kicked back in, a few didn’t bother with one at all, and of course all of my child-free friends rolled their eyes and snickered “Mother’s group… you aren’t are you??”

My friends with children mostly live a fair distance away (although, to them, it’s me who lives a “long way away”, they each live in the centre of their own individual universe and seem to have trouble comprehending  how anyone who lives north of the bridge manages to make the “huge” trip any time they want to go anywhere… completely oblivious to the fact that we have all the same things [and more in many ways] north of the bridge that they have south). Anyway, the benefits of having a group of mums locally who I could meet for coffee, playdates and whatever other mysterious activities having children seemed to foster, required no further consideration.

Also, the next closest-in-age first-born among my friends is 11 months older than Master L. That is practically grown-up to someone who has a new baby. The changes that occur (to Mum and baby) in the first 11 months are so massive that having someone with an 11 month old child give you advice is almost as useless as having your mother give you advice. Correction, having my mother give you advice.

And besides, what did I have to lose?

In the first session the (very normal-looking, late 40s) child health nurse told us how she hoped our Mother’s group would be a valuable experience and how she had just been on a weekend away with her Mother’s group- and their babies were now 27 years old… Hmmm, I thought, sorry but I just don’t see that happening.

After 4 facilitated sessions it was time to strike out on our own. The same child health nurse recommended we meet at a local hotel, “great” for Mother’s groups by virtue of its soulless cafeteria-style bistro, “play area” for the hoards of screaming toddlers and preschoolers who get dragged there (completely useless to us with newborns), easy pram access and bad but cheap (well, voluminous anyway) coffee. Shudder…. There was no way I wanted to meet there. We trialled a series of meetings which went from the sublime (Bather’s Pavillion in Balmoral- unsurprisingly, NOT a great Mother’s group hang-out) to Gloria Jeans (speaking of bad coffee) and after a couple of weeks I was a bit jack of the whole thing… I resolved to go if I had nothing else on but not to specifically keep my Thursday mornings free just for Mother’s group.

The whole thing just seemed so contrived, I remember thinking, I mean what did I have in common with these women apart from geographical location and the experience of being first-time mothers? They were all (well mostly) very nice people but not people I thought I’d ever call friends.

But now that I think about it, what have I had in common with any of the “groups” I’ve been part of… I think my school group (both year group and group of friends) was probably the most contrived group I’ve ever been part of, but then I suppose that’s the nature of school friendships, you make them at an age when you don’t even know what to base them on). At uni I felt I’d found my niche and formed close friendships with people I perhaps had more in common with than I’d had at school (ex high-school geeks now trying to get a life and conveniently finding themselves at the cooler end of the geek spectrum at uni). But really, that was also pretty arbitrary. And since then, one of the things that has struck me about the friendships I’ve maintained is that none of my friends are really friends with each other, there is no “group”, my friends are disparate and have little in common. Not terribly conducive to organising “group” functions, including birthdays, weddings and baby showers, but in a way quite handy for me, who is definitely more of a one-on-one than a group socialiser. Still, I’ve often wondered if I’m missing out on something by not being part of a group. Mr L’s friends fall into several groups- there are the ex-housemate boys, the rugby boys and several other groups and they seem very strongly bonded to each other… but mine are really just a series of individuals.

But back to Mother’s group. Just when I’d decided I was jack of this, we (thank god) broke free from Gloria Jeans and started meeting at various parks around the place. We also started “hosting” and taking turns to have our get-togethers at each other’s houses. We abandoned the (ridiculous) suggestion by one Mum that we bring songs and books and things to “do” with our babies each week…. I mean seriously, was I the only one who just wanted a coffee and a chat?? Fortunately, apparently not. And so slowly, week-by-week, I got to know the other girls in the group. It was nice to have “mummy friends” now that motherhood was a big new part of my life and we’d moved even deeper into the green leafy depths of suburbia. It was even nicer once I went back to work and (happy though I was to see my work-mates again) found myself among a group of largely childless professionals. The girls I warmed to the least dropped off and there remained a core group of five mums with varying ages & backgrounds and very different personalities, but all really very supportive of each other whilst maintaining their own lives and identities.

I’m going to miss them when we move. My reflections on this whole “group” process (and, therefore, much of the “friendship” process) have surmised that groups are generally gatherings of people with an arbitrary link to each other. At times, if you’re lucky, friendships arise from those groups. But if nothing else, they provide some kind of structure and support network at uncertain times in your life. Which makes me wonder what my next “group” experience will turn out to be…

Can I see us going away for the weekend in 25 years time? Well no, but there’s not much I can imagine about what might take place in 2039. Would I be happy to go away for the weekend with them now in 2014? Yes, I most definitely would.

*I pondered moderately intensely the apostrophe placement for this blog post. You could make an argument for Mothers’ group rather than Mother’s group, but I went with the same logic that spells Mother’s Day like so- the day exists for each individual mother… except that I suppose a Mother’s group doesn’t so much…. anyway. There was no rationale or logic behind the use of a capital letter, but it’s late and I can’t be bothered to go back and change it.

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