When my son was an infant, I sought out a therapist.
“I need someone straightforward to talk to about new baby/marriage/work stress,” I explained when asking a counselor friend for a recommendation.
I told her my son was 4 months old and she responded with great empathy, “Oh, you’re right in the middle of it.”
“It,” as I was to learn, is that period when your child’s needs are all-encompassing but you’re no longer shrouded in the bubble of being at home all the time. At 4 months, when your baby is no longer a scrawny newborn, you’re equipped to re-enter society (and, in many cases, are already back at work), but your quality of life continues to be dictated by a tiny person’s sleep cycles and moods. Parenthood is an emotional landmine and, as your child gets older, you’re responsible for navigating it without exploding.
I saw a lovely therapist for a few weeks but felt like I was going in the wrong direction. I didn’t necessarily want to talk about the challenges of being a new parent. I wanted to solve them.
I sought advice from members of the Booby Brigade, a long-running Yahoo! listserv of L.A.-area moms. Ultimately, I swapped my therapy sessions for a mommy-and-me class at A Mother’s Haven.
At the little shop in Encino, new parents can purchase baby gear, rent breast pumps and attend a number of baby-centric classes, from prenatal to preschool. My group, led by Synthia Praglin, was geared toward working moms and met every other weekend. We sang songs, played baby games and got advice on topics such as pumping breast milk during the day and managing work guilt. But perhaps most importantly, we talked freely about ourselves and the issues we were facing at the moment.
“With so many more women returning to the work force, I find a strong desire to talk about the conflicts and finding balance,” explains Praglin, a certified parent educator with a master’s degree in child development, who has been leading groups for more than 14 years.
While the tips I learned in class helped me navigate those tricky weeks of sleep training and introducing solids, the real takeaway was less about education and more about support. At the moment in time I needed it the most, I had a tribe of women who knew exactly what I was going through.
For many people, these support groups are an introduction to socializing as parents, which is a different dynamic than pre-parenting friendships. At Rinaldi Mommy and Me in Granada Hills, sessions are an impressive two and a half hours long to accommodate both, with playtime for the kids while the adults can socialize casually, followed by 30 to 40 minutes dedicated to parenting discussions.
If nothing else, parenting offers incredible common ground that creates connections among people who might never have met otherwise. “Currently, I have a rocket scientist, a neurosurgeon, nurses and stay-at-home moms, and it doesn’t matter what anyone does. They’re all there for their kids and they all have the same questions,” says Rinaldi co-owner Valerie Beck.
At the Pump Station & Nurtury, which has locations in Hollywood and Santa Monica, you’ll find clusters of women hanging out with their babies in slings, chatting about everything from breastfeeding to elimination communication.
“The Pump Station was a complete lifesaver for me,” says Rebecca Ricci, who attended her first class when her daughter, now 3, was a few months old. “I felt isolated and the class was a place I could relate to other women. I could be more present in the journey of becoming a mom.”
Ricci, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has since become a Pump Station instructor, says she has remained close friends with women from her group. Though they no longer meet formally for support, they continue to bond over moms nights out and late-night texts to deal with the latest parenting angst. “It became more than that class for me. It became a community that blossomed to more than I could have hoped for,” Ricci says.
That sense of community is a huge missing link for many women these days. With the availability of trusted books, online communities and Google, information about basic child rearing is more accessible than ever. But real-life connections with experts and other parents offer benefits that you can’t get from reading – including experience and wisdom that’s shared organically.
“It takes a village to raise children,” says Alex Asal Yedidsion, founder of Momability (www.momability.net) which offers parenting classes throughout Los Angeles. “Historically, we used to live in close proximity to our mothers or sisters, and whatever questions we had or advice we needed, we always had someone to turn to.”
Yedidsion leads classes in schools and in private groups, pointing out that for many parents, even the act of getting out of the house to meet with other adults is an accomplishment. Private home sessions of six to eight weeks run the gamut from sleep training infants to managing toddler tantrums, with advice tailored toward women’s personal situations and home environments.
Her number-one piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re inundated with images of supermoms, and that doesn’t exist. Any supermom has a good set of resources behind her, whether it’s a supportive husband, siblings, caretakers or friends.”
Of course, finding lifelong friends through these groups isn’t a guarantee. My group at A Mother’s Haven led to a few play dates and several Facebook friends but only one solid friendship that has lasted over the years.
Cathryn Krantz Benner, a West L.A. photographer and mom of two, tried several programs before finding her tribe. After taking classes with Jill Spivak at Sleepy Planet (www.sleepyplanet.com), she joined a group that has now been running strong for nearly six years. Spivak created this particular group after fielding requests from clients looking for a group that lasted beyond the baby stage.
“It’s a mom group led by a licensed therapist, and it’s literally life changing. It has made me the best parent I can be,” says Benner. She points out that having a scheduled session each week lends accountability that has encouraged her group to be so committed and dedicated for all these years.
Then there are those who crave community but don’t necessarily want to talk about parenting each week. When I turned to the LA Mommies Facebook group for recommendations, a resounding number of women raved about their local Fit4Moms programs.
“A game changer for moms!” “I don’t know what I would have done without these ladies!” “It is the single greatest group I have joined,” were among the many comments.
A franchise comprised of Stroller Strides and Stroller Barre, which involve the kids, as well as the child-free Body Back program and prenatal workouts, Fit4Moms can be found all over Los Angeles. Many women report attending the exercise-meets-support groups for years, not just weeks or months.
Roxy Jimenez, who owns Fit4Moms Los Angeles in the Miracle Mile area, recalls how she first heard about the program. “I bought a Living Social deal when I was six months pregnant, and the deal was about to expire when my daughter was 10 weeks old,” she says. “The classes were amazing, the people were amazing. I wasn’t alone in this journey of motherhood and I fell in love with that.”
When Jimenez had the opportunity to purchase the franchise, she jumped at it, and now works out regularly with mothers of children who are usually about 2 months old to preschool age. Participants benefit from endorphin-boosting workouts and also participate in playgroups and moms’ nights out to foster deeper, long-term friendships.
Wherever you find them, and however long you stay, connecting with a group of like-minded parents can make all the difference in helping you navigate the parenting road ahead.
Finding Your Tribe
In Southern California, we have the luxury of selecting from a variety of classes that suit different parenting styles, budgets and schedules. But information about these groups is usually shared through word of mouth, which can be difficult when your parenting network is still limited. Here are some tips to get you started:
Look for your local chapter of the international MOMS Club. These location-based groups tend to be geared toward at-home moms, but they are low-cost and a good place to start building your community.
Join local Facebook groups and Meetup groups. They’re free and you can instantly reach a community of like-minded women who can offer personally vetted recommendations.
Look for support groups offered in hospitals, departments of parks and recreation, and the YMCA.
Preschools often offer infant and toddler programs. You’ll get a feel for the school and, in some cases, get preference on admission.
Doulas, therapists and prenatal yoga instructors may also have recommendations or private classes available.
A Few Local Resources
These programs have been recommended personally by mothers from all around Los Angeles.
Babies First Class, Sherman Oaks, www.babiesfirstclass.com
Baby Boot Camp, several locations, www.babybootcamp.com
Babygroup, Santa Monica, www.babygroup.me
Bini Birth, Sherman Oaks, www.binibirth.com
Burbank Parent Education Program, Burbank, burbankparented.org
Fit4Moms, several locations, fit4mom.com
MomAbility, several locations and in-home, www.momability.net
A Mother’s Haven, Encino, shopthehaven.com
New Beginnings at the Nest, Hermosa Beach, www.newbeginningsatthenest.com
PlayCreations Kids, Westwood and in-home, www.playcreationskids.com
The Pump Station & Nurtury, Hollywood and Santa Monica, www.pumpstation.com
Rinaldi Mommy and Me, Granada Hills, www.rinaldimommyandme.com
Sleepy Planet Parenting, several locations, www.sleepyplanet.com
The Wright Mommy and Me, Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, wrightmommy.com
Sarika Chawla is an L.A.-based writer, editor and mom of two.