Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Nurturing Support System for Moms They Learn from Each Other at Mothers' Center

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Nurturing Support System for Moms They Learn from Each Other at Mothers' Center

Article excerpt

BY THE TIME Sharon Curran's son was 18 months old, she felt isolated and alone. For 10 hours a day, she had no one to talk to but a toddler with about a dozen words in his vocabulary.

"Donnie had been the most colicky baby in history," Curran said. "My pediatrician told me that if Donnie had been his first patient, he would have found another line of work.

"As he got older, Donnie just went from one wild stage to another. I was looking for a job simply because I was ripping out my hair at home. I was the only mother on my block who was at home with her child. I was at the point where if I saw someone with a stroller, I'd stop them and try to start up a friendship."

Then Curran happened upon a brochure for the Mothers' Center of St. Louis, a peer-support group. "I started crying when I read it," she said. "It sounded like just what I needed."

That was four years ago. Today, Curran's son, Donnie, is a happy, easy-to-handle 5-year-old, and Curran is a happier mom. She gives partial credit for both of their transformations to the hundreds of hours she's spent at the Mothers' Center, which is housed in a cheerful suite of rooms in the Carondelet Community School at 516 Loughborough Avenue in south St. Louis.

"The women there gave me tons of understanding," Curran said. "I found the adult fulfillment I was missing at home."

Curran, 35, is one of more than 1,000 St. Louis area women who have been members of the local Mothers' Center over the last 15 years. The concept originated 18 years ago in Nassau County, N.Y., and has since spread to about 100 cities in the United States and to Europe. There's one in virtually every suburb on New York's Long Island.

The first mothers' center was founded by a social worker who was alarmed by the number of women she counseled who described pregnancy and the first few years of motherhood as painful, alienating, and personally diminishing experiences. She designed a research project to find out how widespread this response was. It confirmed her view that women needed a place to come together to discuss their experiences and learn from each other.

In the old days, when few mothers worked, neighborhoods provided an informal support system. Women shared their life experiences over clotheslines or a cup of coffee. But that all ended with the entrance of women into the work force. Today, the majority of mothers work outside the home. Some return to their jobs as little as two weeks after a child is born, giving them little time to get to know their own babies, let alone explore the cataclysmic changes in their personal lives that motherhood causes.

At the local Mothers' Center, women from as far away as Town and Country and as close as the next street over gather every weekday to take part in discussion groups on such topics as "Motherhood and Guilt," "Sex After Childbirth," "Mothers and Sons," and "The Mommy Wars." The discussions are facilitated by members who have taken training in group dynamics. The direction of the discussion is shaped by questionnaires developed by other mothers' centers.

As the mothers sit in overstuffed furniture and share their deepest thoughts, their children play happily in an adjacent room under the watchful eye of other mothers, fulfilling their monthly work assignments. Parent-child crafts sessions are also on the center's weekly schedule. Every now and then, the center holds a "mom's night out" at a local restaurant. It even sponsors an annual mother-child camping trip.

The women run the center themselves, providing child care, facilitating the discussion groups, putting out a newsletter, and deciding the agenda.

"Our philosophy is that everyone has a say," said Curran. "Everyone's opinion is valued and respected. We don't institute a policy without reaching a consensus. And we don't talk about issues that divide women, like abortion, or whether it's better to be a stay-at-home or a working mom."

Patty Ketner, 37, of Webster Groves, came to the Mothers' Center six years ago in search of a play group for her son Joey, who was then 2. …

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