Mothers in arms

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Lifelong friendships begin with bonding over their children

Motherhood has a secret code. It’s something only those who have struggled with 3 a.m. feedings or juggled a car seat, a purse, a diaper bag, a bag of groceries and a baby or two can understand. While it sometimes feels like those needy little creatures rule your life, among the unparalleled joys of parenthood, many moms say their kids have provided them with wonderful friendships with other mothers.

“I just really cherish all the friendships I’ve made from my kids,” said Susan Manzo, who has a group of women she’s been close to since her son, Nick, was in kindergarten at Monte Vista with their daughters. The moms have remained close. Now Nick’s a sophomore at San Marcos, and instead of complaining, “can’t you be friends with moms of boys instead of girls,” he’s in love with all the cute girls at the group’s annual ski trip, Manzo said.

When the girls were in the fifth grade they started a mother-daughter book club. “Our girls have these great relationships with these other women who aren’t their moms,” said Nancy Lorenzen, who participates monthly with her daughter Kirsten, Manzo and seven other mother-daughter pairs. “We all really enjoy getting together. I think it’s easier to get together with people in a similar life situation or life phase,” said Lorenzen.

That urge to bond with others in the same phase of life is part of what drove the founding of PEP (post partum education for parents) 25 years ago, said board member Jennifer Brannon. In addition to offering support and advice via a 24-hour “warm” line and monthly expectant parent classes, the nonprofit group also has weekly groups, starting from when babies are about six weeks old. “Once that class has been meeting about 12 weeks, they spin out in their own groups and meet at parks. There are kids that are 14 and 15 and the PEP groups still meet,” said Brannon.

“I’ve always been amazed at how much your kids dictate who your friends are,” said Rachael Steidl, the mother of Emily and twins Ashley and Whitney. When her twins were born, Steidl joined both Mothers of Multiples and PEP. While her initial motivation was education, she also made friends. “I really cherish the friendships for the time. … I was one of the first of my close friends to have kids and my relationships for that first year and a half probably changed drastically. … I felt really inadequate because of the fact that I wasn’t working, that I didn’t really have anything interesting to talk about. I mean how many times do they want to hear how many diapers I’ve changed and how many loads of laundry I’ve folded.”

While the closeness shared in those early days can fizzle, many women become bonded for life. Now a grandmother, Fran Davis met seven of her dearest friends more than 30 years ago as a parent at Starr King Preschool. “I thank my stars that I found Starr King. It was the core of all my friendships. (It) was a window or a door to the world for me, and I have never looked back.”

Davis believes the cooperative preschool tended to attract like individuals. The group has been through divorces, remarriages and the death of a spouse. “We’ve shared all stages, which is pretty amazing.”

Over the years there have been camping trips, weekend getaways and other excursions, with and without their extended families. “When our kids were little we would go down to Toys ‘R Us,” Davis said. As their lives have changed, so have their activities. The women now meet regularly as a book group. “Half of our book group is devoted to talking about what’s going on with ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. Right now we’re talking about a lot about the situation in the United States and how distressed we are.”

The group has even discussed some kind of communal living situation, “for when we get really old,” Davis said. “We were pretty much all stay-at-home mothers. … I think that’s a really sad thing that women who have to work these days don’t have opportunities to spend the time that it takes to make good friends.”

Indeed, finding that balance between work and family is a big topic of discussion among today’s mothers. “For a long time I didn’t know what anyone had done in my (PEP) group. It’s like ‘Oh, that’s right, we all had careers before this, I forgot,’ ” said Steidl, who founded her business, Santa Barbara Parent Source, partially based on input from her fellow mothers. “I remember when those issues first started coming up and it was so interesting to hear what people had done and see them in the light of a woman and not just a mom.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon

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