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Posted on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

Standing on the outer banks of the Mommy Sisterhood, by choice

By Jenn McKee

I was working remotely in a restaurant/cafe on a recent morning when I experienced what is now a semi-regular occurrence.

Near my table, there was a gathering of about eight 30- and 40-something women, sipping hot drinks and chatting about the start of school, their kids’ recent adventures, etc.

In this moment, I felt both an intense desire to walk up, introduce myself, and gently weave my way into this cozy community of mothers; and a profound sense of relief that I was not a part of this gathering, for fear that I’d inevitably obsess over my own approach to motherhood while listening to others’ accounts.

I’ve been afflicted with this push-pull duality since our daughter Lily arrived two years ago. When I read an acquaintance’s memoir about her first months as a mother - Vicki Glembocki‘s “The Second Nine Months” - I was struck by a detail she included about practically mowing down other new or soon-to-be mothers who were out and about in public places, so anxious was she to find “mommy friends.” But I had done the opposite, nearly sprinting from a place when I saw a line-up of strollers.

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Why? This is partly due, I’m sure, to the decades I spent fearing, and thus not at all wanting, pregnancy and motherhood in my life. From childhood, I’d wanted to get lots of education, find a job that I loved, travel, and take advantage of every opportunity that came my way - and I knew that having a family would hamper my ability to do, at the very least, the last two things.

So I told myself, along with everyone else who was in my life for longer than five minutes, that having a child wasn’t for me. And this was true for many years. But a funny thing happened when everyone stopped trying to talk me and my husband Joe into having a child: it got quiet enough for us to have a protracted, thoughtful discussion about what a child would mean for us, and how we'd strive to ensure that our individual identities remain relatively intact.

Which means that, with some adjustments, Joe and I have continued to pursue our favorite extracurricular activities. Though we used to run together, we now take turns; Joe switched from playing in a highly time-consuming brass band to a fun, less-rigorous klezmer band, while I returned to playing in a low-key community band; I still squeeze in a yoga class before work once a week, and recently joined a writing group at work that occasionally meets for lunch, while Joe slips out to a once-a-month beer tasting with friends at a nearby bar.

Things will inevitably get trickier as Lily gets older, but right now, she’s happy as could be, and we feel good about the balance we’ve managed to strike. No, we’re not enrolling Lily in swimming classes, or music classes, or dance classes just yet, because we know that overwhelming time will arrive soon enough. And I think we both like just spending down time with Lily around our home, without having to strap her into the car and rush somewhere for a class.

But this is precisely the kind of choice I might second-guess while hearing from other mothers/parents about what they’re doing with their kids. As it is, when a little girl in Lily’s room at daycare recently demonstrated that she recognized what each letter of the alphabet looks like, I had a small freak-out. “Should Lily know that, too? Why doesn’t she know that?”

Fortunately, I took a step back, dialed down the crazy, and took a breath. They’re two year olds, for God’s sake, and I am not going to drill my kid. My mother didn’t do that to me and my sisters, and we turned out just fine. Plus, I want Lily to just be a kid and play and imagine. So I re-gained my composure and told myself yet again that I need to keep my perspective - easy as it is to get caught up in parental neuroses - and keep finding my own way through motherhood.

This despite the fact that I desperately miss several of my far-flung girlfriends, and would love nothing more than to have friendships like that in my day-to-day life again. Fortunately, though, I have a wonderful sister-in-law in the area who had her daughter 13 days after Lily was born; and an old college friend with three kids lives nearby, too. So when I feel the urge to chat face-to-face about parenting issues, I’m lucky enough to have a couple of built-in, reliable outlets.

And honestly, maybe my reticence about insinuating myself among a new community of moms is more about my tendency toward shyness (which my brain often tries to justify in lofty ways). But because I've never sought out an anonymous community of moms online, either, something tells me there’s more to it than that.

Perhaps the surprise at finding myself in a life I never previously envisioned for myself is still so jarring that I feel particularly guarded and paranoid about assessing my own performance in it. When I got pregnant, I promised myself that, as much as possible, I’d eschew guilt and cut myself slack. And I’m trying my best to do just that - which for me means listening hard to my own instincts.

Thumbnail image for norm.jpg

Lily's sit-com doppelganger, if Cheers was a daycare center.

Because every parent’s and child’s circumstances are completely different. It seems bizarre to most people, for instance, that I usually go to Lily's daycare at 4:30 p.m., and then I stick around playing with her there until they close the place at 6 p.m. (I call her the Norm Peterson of daycare.) I can do this because Joe makes dinner, not me, so I don’t need to rush home to get things going; because there are no other demands on my time just then; because we have one child; and because our house is a two-block walk away.

Originally, my extensive daily presence at the daycare was noted with raised eyebrows from the staff, other kids, and their parents, most of whom are on a much tighter, more pressing schedule than I am. “Why are you always here?” one kid bluntly asked me while Lily climbed onto the monkey bars. And occasionally, parents look uncomfortable with my presence there, as if I was judging them for not having a schedule that allowed for this kind of daily indulgence.

I'm not judging them, of course. But this demonstrates again that comparing parenting and child-raising practices is a pointless, needlessly aggravating and stressful pursuit - one we’d all be wise to avoid when possible.

My guess is that when Lily enters the public school system, I’ll get to know many more moms and dads; and I think, at that time, I’ll welcome the companionship and camaraderie.

Just now, though, as a new parent, I’m still getting my bearings, which renders me incapable of hearing my own voice in a crowd.

To read more, visit Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 2:30 p.m.

This was a nice piece to read. Our approach until kindergarten was pretty similar. We hung outmostly with family and current friends, allowing our kids to get a bwelnd of kids of all ages. Take the next step and have another one, one child is way too easy, plus you always know who did it.


Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 12:11 p.m.

Your approach is a breath of fresh air. I've watched from outside of the mommy-spheare while all my friends and relatives got sucked into the over-scheduling, over-controlling, and overly paranoid realm of parenthood and have wondered if it needs to be quite this difficult? Granted, most of the kids I have watched grow up these past 18 years or so seem to have come out ok, but I kind of wonder if their parents had dialed it down a bit would they would have turned out just as good as their parents when they grew up in a more laid-back era?