I’m not, as a rule, someone who’s into group activities.
The thought of joining a Book Club or team sport is right up there with being forced to listen to Celine Dion’s back catalogue on repeat.
Don’t get me wrong: I like doing stuff. I like people. I even like doing stuff with people. But being told where to be and what to do at any given time?
So there was zero question in my mind when, early in my pregnancy, I declared, ‘I’m just not a mothers’ group sort of a person’ to some well-meaning colleague trying to make polite conversation.
Hanging out with a group of hormonal, sleep-deprived women, where the only thing you have in common is that you happened to have sex at approximately the same time?
But after being asked whether I planned to join one approximately 75,000 subsequent times, I twigged that it was actually a rhetorical question... right up there with ‘Are you planning on giving birth to a human baby or an alien being?’
With dismay I realised that not joining a mothers' group was, if not exactly illegal, just sort of weird and not done.
Like opting to give birth in a pool full of jelly.
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Now, this isn’t a soppy telemovie, where your plucky heroine goes to mothers' group and it changes her life (while she solves a crime and realises her dream of becoming a professional ballerina).
However, I can say that after two kids – and two mothers' groups – I’ve met some incredible friends, and I’ve had many hilarious and informative conversations. Then again, I’ve also encountered some people I don’t necessarily need to see again, and had chats so boring I’ve fallen into a micro-sleep.
So whether you’re adverse to all forms of forced group frivolity (like me), are naturally introverted or simply cringe at the thought of all that estrogen-fuelled oversharing, here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
‘I’ve already got friends.’
Sure, but do you have friends who are: a) are around on weekdays, b) want regular catch-ups, and c) willing to listen to you talk in excrutiating detail about the contents of your baby’s nappy?
Sometimes, just having someone who’s there and gets it is exactly what you need after a bad day (or week) with a newborn.
Grievances aired, then you can use time with your other friends to oh, I don’t know, actually relax and enjoy yourself.
Being faced with a whole bunch of people you don’t know can be overwhelming, so approach it like Mummy Speed Dating (less alcohol, more crying).
Move around the group and chat to people individually, especially during the early weeks. You may have to tell the same stories 20 times over, but it’s a lot easier than trying to have awkward group conversations when no one really knows each other.
Give it time.
Like with any big group function, you can get stuck with people you don’t see eye-to-eye with, whether you fundamentally disagree on something or just that you find them, well, dull.
But don’t let one dud interaction turn you off: it takes time to forge connections with people. I’ve found that a simple, ‘Gotta go change that nappy!’ is the perfect exit strategy for most situations. Then next time, just politely park your pram as far away from them as humanly possible.
Some people enjoy sitting in the same park, drinking the same coffee, every week. Others find that mind-numbingly boring. If you’re in the latter category, then take the reins.
Suggest a new activity or even just a change of venue. Often in group situations no one wants to make a decision, so they’re happy – if not grateful – for someone else to take the lead.
Take it offline.
Breaking news: not everything has to be done en masse. If you’re really not keen on the group vibe, then arrange one-on-ones instead.
Even with the constant feeds and nappy changes, there’s a hell lot of time to kill between Monday and Friday, so most new mums will jump at the chance to get out of the house.
Hedge your bets.
It may sound counterintuitive to say join more than one group, but becoming a mothers' group moonlighter is perfect for the commitment-phobes out there. And more mums = more chance of meeting people you like.
It doesn’t have to be the highlight of your life, and you don’t have to make new besties.
Mothers' group may be nothing more than an excuse to brush your hair, put on a bra and pass a few hours during what can be a lonely, isolating period of your life. Still beats listening to Celine.
Chloe Flynn is a Sydney-based TV producer, writer and mother of two. Her first novel Group is out now, and available to purchase.
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