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Mother's groups are toxic, competitive cesspools, swirling with bitches. Apparently.

Because of course, there’s no way that a group of women supporting each other could actually be a GOOD thing, right?

Mothers’ groups. Seriously, who’d join one? After all, they are vile cesspits of competition, populated by judgemental bitches who will rip your every parenting decision to shreds.

At least that’s what this News Ltd article was mostly telling us yesterday. And we’re not joking. The headline was:

Bullying, ridicule and competition: The playground hell of toxic mothers’ groups.

And that just about sums it up.

The piece went on to give a nappy-load of negative anecdotes about Mothers’ Groups, finished off with the grudging admission that one mother, in Canberra, found her’s kind of useful, once.

Fathers’ groups? Funny, edgy, ironic. Mothers’ groups? Bitchy, competitive, unhelpful. Apparently.

Mothers’ Groups have an image problem. And it’s not hard to see why. They don’t sound very cool, these women sitting around talking about babies. Surely they should have something better to do. And seriously, if you had real friends, why would you need to feign bonds with a group of strangers with whom you have nothing in common but a random due date?

And then, there’s the whole WOMEN thing. Generally speaking, and I apologise for the spoiler, Mothers’ Groups contain women. And we ALL know that women just don’t get along.

Look at those female-dominated industries, like those magazine BITCHES. Or those famous women starring on a TV show – they all must hate each other, WHAT A PACK OF BITCHES. Or those schoolgirls navigating hormones and adolesence – so much crueller than boys, they’re just SO BITCHY.

Yes, our culture is very comfortable with the idea that the most likely outcome of gathering of women is dysfunction and negativity .

The idea that women could come together over something as potentially divisive as parenting and not be scratching each other’s eyes out is downright subversive.

Well, I’m calling bullshit. And more than that, I’m calling DANGEROUS, caps-lock bullshit.

Because, this: There are very few times in an adult human’s life as challenging and unsettling, trying and tiring, stressful and emotional as the early days of parenthood.

Yes, it’s a glorious, magical  period, full of love. But it’s also a time when you are going through the most profound change of your life. And you have no idea what you are doing. Nobody does.

“Hey honey, how was your day at home with the baby?”

But apparently, because you are a woman, you are meant to know how to mother. Nurturing is in our DNA and stuff. So when you look at this tiny squalling thing in your arms and simultaneously feel love, fear and panic, you’re confused.

There are books, and websites, and forums. But your baby doesn’t seem to be behaving like that baby in the baby book. And yes, you have a lot of friends, but maybe they’ve already had their babies and have lost sight of that early fog. Or maybe they haven’t had babies. Or maybe they don’t live in your neighbourhood and getting the kid in the car for a 40-minute drive might just be the thing that destroys you.

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Read more: The day I left my baby in the car.

You need help. You need a mother’s group. They have babies. They’re the same age as yours. And they live near you. Believe me, in the early days of parenting, these three criteria provides more than enough fodder for friendship.

So let’s get to it. Here are the four reasons people will tell you to stay away from mothers’ groups, and the reasons those people are absolutely full of shit.

Mothers’ group. Just like this. Only not.

They’re competitive.

God forbid we should find ourselves associating with someone whose child is crawling before our own. God forbid that someone else’s child sleeps when yours does not. God forbid that someone else’s kid eats broccoli, and yours will only eat Kruskits.  If you don’t want to know what other kids are doing for fear it will make you feel bad about what your kid is doing, then feel free to never leave your home. Ever.

Here’s what you learn at mothers’ group: Kids are different. They do different things at different times. In all likelihood, that woman who just told you that her child ate kale did not tell you that to make you feel bad. She just wasn’t sure it was true until she said it out loud. One day, your kid will eat something green and you will want to tell someone. It is not an act of war.

They’re judgemental.

At most mothers’ groups, you will find parents with different parenting “Styles”. Although, let’s be serious, no first-time mother actually has a parenting “style”.They might have a knocked-together, op-shop look, something along the lines of ‘It’s just what seems to be working today, I saw it in a book-once, oh look, I’m doing it’ – but “Style” it is not.

But whatever, yes, there will be mothers who are big on self-settling, others who rock their babies to sleep every night, there will be “crunchy” mothers who are mushing everything, all of the time, and there will be the let’s pop-the-top-off-a-jar mothers. So sure, different styles. Most women in the world are perfectly capable of sitting and drinking coffee with people who do not necessarily see the world in exactly the way that they do. Again, someone else’s view on sleep schedules, is not a damning indictment of your own. Most grown-ups can handle this.

Everyone’s baby but yours.

They lie.

You have heard this one – at mothers’ group, everyone’s baby sleeps except yours. At my mother’s group, we used to talk about sleeplessness the way that most ‘normal’ people would talk about the weather – as an unavoidable fact of life. No-one, to my knowledge, was lying about it.

Someone’s baby was always sleeping fine, and someone’s was always not. One week it would be your turn to be the one to be crying with exhaustion. Someone would hold your baby and someone would pass the banana bread. Next week, you might have managed a couple of extra hours, and have a self-satisfied gleam in your eye, and it will be someone else’s else turn to crack. And so it went. Early parenthood is a changeable beast, nothing sticks, and everything comes around.

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They’re boring.

Yes, yes they are. Because new parenthood is overwhelming, and boring at times. And NO-ONE ELSE IN YOUR LIFE wants to talk about poo. Or witching hour. Or swaddles vs bags, so DON’T MAKE THEM. A mothers’ group is the place to talk about that stuff, get it out and for God’s sake, salvage your relationship, spare your friends. One day, you will have a conversation at Mothers’ Group that is not about babies and it’s right there that friendships will form. Until then, seriously, BORE THE BORING PEOPLE.

The thing is. all of this negativity about mothers’ groups would be funny, if it didn’t matter. But it does matter, and here’s why:

If we keep telling women that Mothers’ Groups are intimidating, negative places, women will not go. And this is a time in a woman’s life when support can make an enormous difference.

Early motherhood can be an extremely isolating experience. One in three new Australian mothers will suffer depressive feelings during the first four years of their child’s life.. Around 15 percent of those women will suffer from post-natal depression.

Early parenthood can be extremely isolating.

On Sunday, I will go to a 5th birthday party for our kids organised by my original mothers’ group.

There will be 20 families, somewhere around 50 kids under five.

Of course, five years on we don’t still meet en masse for coffee and sympathy. The original gang has splintered into many smaller friendship groups, but we are bonded by the day we all walked into a community centre with tiny little people in our arms, nervous and confused, in awe of the fact we’d made it out of the house to a deadline, and filled with a million questions we were too afraid to ask.

But then we started talking. And we never stopped.

And now  among that group of women are friends who have held each other up through some serious stuff – miscarriage and illness, marriage troubles, breakdowns, hospital stays. Women who continue to help each other in practical ways – with babysitting and school pick-ups – and in less tangible ways, through grief and illness and the thousands of little daily dramas of parenting.

It’s called support. And whatever the world would have us believe, women are fucking excellent at it.

Did you join a mothers’ group? Would you do it again? 

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