Dear Dr. Claire,
I used to work full time and stopped working after the birth of my son who is now nine months old. It’s been a bit of an adjustment. Overall, I enjoy being at home. However, I feel a bit isolated now that I’ve stopped working. I’ve joined a mom’s groups in my town where we get together for outings and play dates. It’s been stressful though. We take turns rotating play dates at our homes, and I always feel so anxious and stressed out when it’s my turn to host. I feel like my house has to look perfect, most of the other moms seem to have houses that are perfectly organized and clean. Mine is not-I stress for days getting my house ready. I leave the play dates feeling upset because I don’t connect with the other moms. I can’t seem to relate to them. They talk about buying organic, exchange new recipes and compare and brag about their children’s developmental progress. I leave the play groups feeling worse and feel like I’m not like other moms. What do you think I should do?
The adjustment from the workforce to staying at home can be challenging for many moms. I also hear you are feeling isolated being at home, and recent social interactions have left you feeling upset and depleted.
Ask yourself this: What is the purpose of the play group in my life? Is it to meet other moms, have playdates for my child, get out of the house, reduce isolation, or get ideas on parenting? Once you decide on the purpose of the playgroup, you can figure out a plan to deal with your reactions and what changes you want to make.
I wonder if your stress and anxiety before and during the play group is impeding your ability to connect with the other moms. You may be so preoccupied with what others think about you or your home that it’s preventing you from getting to know them more. While you may worry about the other women judging you, I hear you’re judging them for their values and choice of conversation topics. Anytime we judge someone, we lose an opportunity to connect. Judging someone has a distancing effect and shuts down more meaningful interactions. So, if you are not comfortable in the playgroup, then it’s likely time to move on and find another group of women who share your values and interests. But before you do, consider making some personal changes to see if it improves your time at the play groups.
Here’s what I want to suggest to you: find ways to manage your stress when it’s your turn to host. Nothing is perfect, including homes, so let go of comparing yourself to others and imagining what they may think of you. It’s impossible to know what someone else is thinking unless you ask them directly. And you can’t make the assumption that the clean and perfect houses you visit lacked stressful moments preparing for the play dates. If hosting is too stressful for you, suggest other activities or alternative locations, perhaps a park, going for a walk, etc.
Women connect and build emotional intimacy through the sharing of details. While it can seem meaningless to share recipes or talk about child development, it serves a greater purpose that is connection. I hear what you’re saying on bragging, it can get old and annoying. But look a little deeper beneath the surface, what may seem boastful, could be a way for the moms to reassure themselves on their child’s development. Being a first-time mom is stressful, and it takes some time to become confident in mothering.
If you continue to feel low after leaving the play dates, consider creating a new play group on your own with women who have interests and values more similar to you. I would also strengthen the friendships you already have in your life and spend time with people who lift your spirits and energy.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2015
Connect with Dr. Claire at Ask Dr. Claire, her column to answer your questions on relationships, parenting, self-care and well-being at DrClaireNicogossian.com.