Create-your-own support group

By Julie A. Cajigas

A few weeks ago, my husband had a health scare. I had to take him to the hospital, and due to COVID-19 concerns, I couldn’t ask either his parents or my mom to watch our three children. It was nearly midnight, so we piled all three kids in jammies into the van and drove and dropped him off. I was scared and alone. ER visits can last hours and hours, but I didn’t want to leave my husband without a ride, and I just thought,  “Do I even have diapers in here?”

Struggling with what to do, I saw a friend from my mom’s group online. I wanted to tell someone what was happening and to at least hear some comforting words. She immediately offered to drop everything (she also has three children under 6) and drive 50 minutes to my house, even knowing our fear that it could be a COVID issue, and sit with my sleeping children.

I ran home, sanitized all the surfaces in the main area of our home and put the three kids down to bed before she arrived. Things turned out OK with my husband, but we did end up being at the hospital until 4:30 a.m. When I walked in, her first concern was how my husband was feeling. She texted me at nearly 5:30 a.m. when she got home to let me know she made it safely.

This same friend also offered to come help when we had the stomach flu last year. Of course, I didn’t accept because it was wildly contagious and completely awful. How did I meet such a generous person? Let’s face it, it’s hard to make mommy friends. If you aren’t part of a breastfeeding group, you can feel isolated until your child is school age.

I met this friend in a mom’s group in West Akron. Mom’s groups are like unofficial support groups created by like-minded moms who meet in their communities and connect. I found my group through a friend I met in a Music Together mommy and me music class. When she invited me to join, I told her that we were in the process of moving to Strongsville, and she invited me to join anyway.

I joined the group in 2016, about a year after my mom’s group had formed. Everyone in the group had one or two children under the age of 4. The day I joined their Facebook group, they were working on a playdate calendar for the upcoming year. 

Every month a mom in the group hosts a playdate, sometimes at their home or sometimes at a destination for all the families in the group. So many of those playdates ended up being memorable. My daughter Hazel’s first play experiences were with the kids in that group. At the Akron Zoo, at the Green splash pad, and in homes across the Akron area. 

I remember one playdate that was combined with a mom’s self-care retreat. One of the moms hired two babysitters to play with all of our kids in her playroom while we talked with a nursing student about self-care. After the program, we all put on paper facial masks and poured out our souls over snacks.

That was the first time I remember opening up about my recent miscarriage. We talked about our miscarriages, our secondary infertility, our struggles with our jobs, our spouses, our kids, and the transitions to kindergarten ahead. It was a safe space with no judgments and at least one other person who understood where each of us was coming from.

MOTS play date with a parachute (Photo: Julie Cajigas)

My mom’s group isn’t so much a club – it’s a village, my village.

I remember another playdate after I had my third child. I was feeling isolated at home because my husband was working, and I was afraid to take my older two out with the newborn. 

Sitting in my friend’s Highland Square home, I was able to nurse the baby across from my friend, who was nursing her baby. Every mom offered to take a turn holding him so I could eat, go to the bathroom and just relax. One of the other moms was a lactation consultant and had a nice conversation with me about my nursing struggles. I felt like myself and suddenly capable of being a mom of three.

If I thought I was isolated in the summer of 2019, I had another thing coming. Enter COVID-19, and suddenly we were all looking longingly out of our windows at the world. MOTS (Moms of Toddlers) to the rescue. One of the moms, a corporate communication expert and event goddess, sent out a note that she wanted to hold a virtual slumber party.

She eventually sent along an itinerary and asked if she could drop kits at our homes. I told her it was OK if she didn’t want to drive 50 minutes to my house, but she said no problem. On the morning of the Zoom slumber party, I opened my front door to find gift bags for each kid stuffed with goodies and a bottle of wine for me.

The bags had ingredients for Shirley Temples, brownies, popcorn, pillowcases to decorate, bingo cards and sparkly cups to make their mocktail. She ran that Zoom meeting efficiently with a toast, dance party, craft, games, and finally a bedtime story from the Calm app. It was so wonderful, that my family has taken turns hosting similar ones as a way to connect.

Standing in the kitchen, sipping that wine I found on my porch, I felt more than entertained. I felt loved and cared for by women outside my family circle. I can’t say I’ve had that much as an adult.

How many friends do you have that you could text at midnight and they would drive an hour to rescue you? We all need someone to drop wine on our porch when things get tough.

In addition to the play dates, the MOTS have done meal trains and raised funds for several causes important to one another. We’ve agonized together over remote learning decisions and mulled over whether it’s safe to go to [fill in the blank] with our kids. There have been birthday parties and backyard movie nights and so many memories.

When you meet extraordinary women, whether at a kid activity or in a waiting room or in line at the grocery store – consider keeping in touch.

Maybe my MOTS group is something one-of-a-kind special. It certainly has many, many diverse, capable, kind, generous, raw, vulnerable women, raising wonderful children. But, I’m willing to bet there are many circles out there like mine. If there isn’t a support group that is just right for you, create your own. 

Julie is a mother of three and Professor of Practice at The University of Akron. Her hobbies include singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Instagramming her kids and sleeping standing up.