From the foggy and sleep-deprived newborn days to the depths of toddler tantrums, motherhood and parenthood can be one tumultuous transition after another. It can also be isolating, which is why having a community of other parents who resonate with your personal experiences is so powerful.
But if your existing friend group is on a different timeline to parenthood than you, it isn't always so easy to find mom or dad friends — and that's why experts recommend searching for new-parent and mom groups instead. "We live in different times than our parents or our parents' parents, who often had relatives down the street," Keisha Reaves, LPC, PMH-C, maternal mental health expert and founder of Push Thru Therapy, says. Your family and closest friends might live far away, but having nearby support is invaluable when you have kids.
Mom groups and, in general, parent friends are essential for more than helping to share the burden of child care, though. The socialisation aspect of parent friends also allows you to reestablish your own sense of self. "Before you became a parent, you could freely socialise and go wherever you wanted. But [after having kids], you can feel kind of landlocked or held captive in your home if you don't meet other people. So being able to have that connection to others can help you have a sliver of what life was like before you became a parent," says Reaves, who runs her own mom group called The Push for Black mothers in Atlanta.
Here's what to know about these parent and mom groups — including how to find the right fit and how joining one (or more) can help you find your new inner circle.
Where to Find Parenting and Mom Groups
Start with apps and websites, such as Facebook, Meetup, and Peanut. These let you to filter based on your location and interests, Reaves says. For example, the Peanut app connects you with people who are at the same stage of pregnancy or parenthood as you.
Additionally, Postpartum Support International offers peer-led online support groups for parents who are dealing with a perinatal mood disorder, like postpartum depression. Psychology Today also has a database of mom and parenting groups, which you can search by location, age, and type of therapy.
If you've struck out online, local hospitals, birthing centres, schools, community centres, and places of worship, such as churches and synagogues, often host meetups for parents. Some Christian churches, for instance, run parent support groups through Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs), an international organisation that provides support and resources for parents of young children.
Many states also have government-supported programs for parents. "The Department of Public Health [in Georgia] has an organisation called Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, and they have a Pickles & Ice Cream website, where they offer tons of free mom groups," Reaves says. Other states may have similar programs.
The Different Types of Parenting Groups
When you're looking for a parenting group, knowing what types there are can help you find the best fit.
Small or large: Both small and more intimate group settings and a large group of parents with children of all different ages have benefits. In large, mixed groups, you get to hear experience from parents a few steps further along in the parenting process than you. If you have a newborn, for example, it could be comforting to hear from a mom of a 6-month-old that sleep gets better and you'll eventually get into a more comfortable routine.
On the other hand, a small group setting can give you the space to be more open with your feelings. "There are great benefits in having a more intimate group because, in that intimacy, I could probably talk about some of the hard stuff that I'm dealing with that I don't feel safe enough to share with a larger group," says Tiffany Conyers, LCSW, PMH-C, a perinatal mental health professional and certification trainer for Postpartum Support International, who leads a church-based parenting group. "I can also talk about maybe some of the challenges I could be having with my partner or as I'm approaching going back to work."
Structured or open: Most peer-led groups will have structured discussions, where you will hone in on a particular topic, such as potty training and manageing toddler tantrums. Structured discussions with specific prompts give people the opportunity to address certain issues and prevent one person from dominating the conversation. "Sometimes people don't have much to share or don't feel comfortable talking. If it's structured, you have prompt questions or even activities or ways to get people engaged with one another," Reaves says.
But open-forum groups give parents the flexibility to say whatever's on their mind, Conyers says. "A lot of the time, there are silent struggles we deal with and don't really just want to share. But as soon as we hear somebody else say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm really struggling to like my kid right now. I love them, but I don't like them,' it forms that connection and makes things feel very common."
Virtual or in person: In this case, it may make sense to look for at least one of each because both types of parenting groups can be useful. Virtual groups enable you to connect with parents from anywhere in the world and make it more convenient to get real-time support, since you don't have to arrange child care and, on really tough days, can even keep your camera off.
That said, meeting with other parents in person is uniquely beneficial as well and may inspire you to be more candid about what's going on in your life. "The main benefit [of in-person groups] is socialisation. Meeting other parents and hearing their stories can make you feel less alone. You're also able to exchange resources and tips more easily," Reaves says. "Sometimes it's just super encourageing when someone may say that they're feeling disconnected with their partner, that they're having a hard time being a stay-at-home mom and feeling purposeful or having value. For someone else in the group to see them and hear them can do a lot."
How to Make Parent Friends
Parenting groups are one thing, but you want to connect with the individuals you meet, too — to find a crew who you'd want to be friends with anyway, even if you don't all have kids.
Of course, parenting groups can introduce you to a ton of new people, and there's a good chance friendships will naturally form from there. To maximise your chances of finding your inner circle amongst your groups, you can look for certain key qualities in the other members. You may be more likely to connect with parents who are a similar age as you or parents who have kids a similar age as yours, for instance.
You can also keep an eye out for parents with similar careers or interests. For example, if you're a therapist, you can look for other therapists who are also mothers. There's a practical benefit there as well as a personal one. "It can help you figure things out, like, 'How did you take time off? How do you balance seeing your clients and your kids being at home for the summer?' and feeling really empowered and supported by those who are in the field," Reaves says.
If you've striking out with the parenting-group entry point, try building new friendships with the parents of your child's playmates. Attend toddler story times at your local library or a music class at a nearby playground or park, and strike up a conversation with other parents, suggests Cindy Love, MSN, CPNP-PC, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Riley Children's Health at Indiana University Health.
"I always steer moms to meet at the library and just hang out in the children's area," she says. "There are usually other moms there. You can also hang out at the park or playground," Love, who hosts virtual support groups Mother Connection and Toddler Time at Indiana University Health, says.
Ultimately, being part of parenting groups and building a network of parent friends can provide tremendous mental health benefits. For many, it means forming strong, lasting friendships for years to come. It takes a village to help raise a child, and it takes a village to be a parent, too.
"There's strength in community. And I think at times parenthood can seem very isolating because of the tasks and the demands," Conyers says. But in reality, parents make up one of the biggest groups of people in the world. And yes, we're made up of different cultures, backgrounds, and age groups. "But we all have this in common: we're growing our families," she says.