By: Julie Gamberg
I live in a hip neighborhood in a major metropolis. Like maybe 8 out of 10 on the with-it scale. If I didn’t live here, I’m not sure if I would have joined the local mom’s club as a way to find camaraderie, support, and connection with other new mamas. Open-minded, cool, alterna-mamas.
Why are open-minded, alterna-mamas important to me? Well, besides being one myself, I’m also a single mother by choice. Meaning I’m not single because of a separation, death, or abandonment. I was single when I figured out how to best make a baby, I was single when I conceived, single during pregnancy and — you got it — single now. I have an inquisitive, fearless, quirky, adorable little eight-month-old and she and I are a very happy, very functional family.
Which brings us back to the mom’s club. The mom’s club in the 8 out of 10 neighborhood brimming with open-minded, thoughtful mamas. Mamas who I hoped might say: “Wow, you’re doing it on your own, that’s so cool!” Or, “Hey, if you guys ever want to come over for dinner, we’d love to have you – we enjoy hanging out with other families.”
I had my first suspicion something might be off in alterna-ville when, the organizer of an upcoming event said, “All families are welcome. Oh, and Julie, you should come with your, baby too.” But by the time of PlaygroupGate 2010, I knew I was in trouble. While a few of us tried to organize a weekend playgroup which included working moms, amongst others, we received a cease and desist notice which included the chilly announcement, “Playgroups are not permitted on the weekends. According to international bylaws, weekends are reserved for family time.”
Hello June Cleaver wannabes! You’re sort of freaking me out. My family includes a baby who would like to meet other babies. Is neighborhood socializing something we want our children to see as part of the “work” week, and not an enjoyable “weekend” activity? Are your families really that insular? Should partners not attend playgroups?
I decided to ask the other single moms in the club, in the fairly hip, 8 out of 10 neighborhood, what they thought of all of this. And, there was only one. Out of nearly 100 members. Well, maybe the queer families would feel differently – alternative ways of building strong community are sometimes more common in queer culture. So what did they think? There were none.
Uhm, mom’s club? What’s up?
I don’t think you even mean to be such a throwback. It seems that something about the act of becoming a new mother produces some kind of enormous values upheaval. All of the values get thrown into the air to be re-ordered in such a way that will fit into this life-altering paradigm. Jaywalking and other forms of minor civil disobedience? Out. Talking to any and all strangers with babies, in. Sex, out. Weekend family time, in. Sleep, out. Sleep training, out; then in. People just like us, in. Different from us, out. And so on, in a constant flux of reevaluation, identity loss, questioning, and reinvention in the face of daily decisions (many of them about minutiae) which may have a profound and lasting impact on another human being, and for which most of us received no training whatsoever. And on top of all of that, there seems to be a lot of relationship mayhem. Particularly, gender disparity comes into relief and some women, especially those who may think of themselves as somewhat post-feminist, are challenged by aspects of parenthood in their relationship with their male partners. And in all of that, it seems that many, even in an 8 out of 10 neighborhood, perhaps cling to international bylaws to help get them through.
And I’m pretty sure no one means to say Fuck You Single Moms! Yet here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, with my awesome little one, prowling the streets of my very walkable, trendy little neighborhood, feeling like a gawky kid who just showed up to school on the weekend.
Yet this is not just a woe-is-me tale. I love being a mom! As much as I wanted to become a parent, as much as I thought I would love it, I love it exponentially more. And I’m proud of the fact that I’m modeling for my child warm, loving friendships, self-worth, joy and pleasure in one’s self, good values, a sense of fairness and social justice. And I’m also relieved that I’m not modeling an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship, and that I’m not trying to navigate both being a new parent, and being in a relationship that has problems so big, they will eventually prove irresolvable (as the very high divorce rate would seem to indicate is the case for many couples). Do I wish I had a partner with whom to model gender parity, strong communication, conflict resolution skills, and a loving, fun, harmonious vibe? Absolutely. Do I wish I had someone with whom to share this profound joy, and these daily moments of hilarity and pride and wonderings that my baby brings me? Yes! A partner would be great when that happens. And when it does, and in the meantime too, what I especially wish for is some other moms. Some open-minded, cool, alterna-moms who love talking about their little ones and who are part of families who want to know other families, and who, without bylaws to guide them, know a family when they see one.
CODA: By the way, mom’s club, we did organize that playgroup. We’re called the Rebel Playgroup and we meet two Saturdays a month. And I can’t believe I’m ending this blog post with the written equivalent of sticking out my tongue.