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Sunday, February 25, 2018

In defense of joining

Ariah Reeves, Stacey Reeves, Bryton Reeves (standing), Allegra Powers (seated in back), Sadie Smith (kneeling in front), Stella Smith, Sarah Powers, Reid Powers and Kari Smith. Photo: Daniel Friedman.

I am not a joiner. I don’t do clubs or associations. I opt out and unsubscribe. I’m a natural skeptic who prefers a thoroughly vetted and frequently weeded social circle.

My college roommate—my perfect counterpart in many ways—used to sign up for every listserv on campus and then wonder why people knocked on our door constantly, inviting her to meetings, rallies and events. She had sorority sisters, sat on committees and got a lot of free T-shirts; I screened my calls and figured that if a group was worth joining, I’d stumble into it eventually.

I started parenthood with the same attitude. While I tore hungrily through books and blogs about pregnancy and motherhood, I didn’t sign up for online birth club forums or share belly pictures or otherwise engage my fellow first-timers. I watched and listened, but I didn’t join. It’s not that I was anti-community. I wanted my community to develop organically and not from the assumption that pregnancy was commonality enough to set two people on a path to lifelong friendship. I resisted the phony nature of, “No WAY! You’re due in April too? We’ll have to have a million play dates!”

And so, with a newborn at home and a fierce Arizona summer quarantining us indoors, I didn’t join anything. No mommy-and-me classes, no moms groups, no online forums. Doing so would have felt like admitting defeat. (By what enemy? Isolation?) I didn’t want to concede that it might be just a teensy bit nice to sit in a room with strangers and talk about sore nipples.

But I cracked eventually, as all prisoners do, when my daughter was about 2 months old. At a visit to the lactation support center, during which I may have wept in front of the lactation consultant, she asked carefully, “Have you been to our new moms support group?”

The next morning, I became a joiner. In that group of women—with our uncertain post-partum wardrobes, heads poking in and out of nursing covers like anxious turtles, through a collective fog of sleep deprivation—I found my people. I discovered a fellow Californian with just my same amount of crunchy West Coast parenting philosophy. I found a kindred Type-A perfectionist who could match me in over-analysis of nap schedules or baby babbling sounds. Many became colorful acquaintances that make a big city feel smaller—people you run into at the grocery store and wave to at the playground. Several have become my closest friends—my village, my community.

Just because our most transformative relationships often begin serendipitously doesn’t mean they can’t be born of a conscious effort to meet people who share our station in life. Having new motherhood in common doesn’t mean two people have to be friends for life, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be either.

From its rather contrived beginnings as part of a weekly support group, my circle of “mom friends” has evolved in exactly the chance and accidental ways I had originally hoped it would. Bonds have grown stronger, second babies have come along, new friendships have developed and traditions have been born as we make our way through what is now our fourth year as parents. These are the friends I knew were out there; it just took me awhile to come around to the idea that I actually had to go find them.

When I talk to new moms now, I always recommend joining a moms group. It sometimes feels a little like trying to convince the anti-establishment girl to rush a sorority. I get it because I was that girl. I didn’t need a whole new social circle just because I had given birth, and I definitely didn’t want to admit the need for support. But I got to a place where I was just vulnerable enough to opt in, to take a chance, to put some intention behind my desire for connection, community and, yes, sorority in the truest sense of the word.

I joined, and I’m a better parent and happier person because I did.

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Sarah Powers

Sarah Powers, of Scottsdale, is the mother Allegra (who turns 4 next month) and Reid (21 months).

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