This post originally appeared on Babble.com, titled “When you’re socially awkward, mom groups are your worst nightmare” on June 15, 2016.
It’s Tuesday night and you are filled with dread. Tomorrow is mother’s group day, when 20 or more strangers with babies will gather at a suburban park or hospital rec room.
And as much as you crave the company of adults — particularly other new mothers to share your joys and frustrations — you can’t help but feel … well, awkward. On top of being hyper-conscious of your gargantuan t-shirt and the ponytail thrown together during your baby’s 6.5 minute-long nap, you’ve seen how unpredictable these gatherings can be. One could make a friend or witness a face-off between two exhausted moms over whose baby sleeps the longest or who’s hosted a larger play date – and why.
So you smile, nod, and try to participate. And in the back of your mind, you remind yourself that summer camp, too, was uncomfortable. So were childbirth and shapewear — and yet you made it out alive of them all.
You turn to a woman next to you.
“Your baby’s Tinker Bell hat is adorable,” you say.
“Thanks. Actually, it’s Elsa. From Frozen.”
“Um, Frozen the movie.”
Quick, find another common interest that isn’t Disney-related, you think.
“Where did you get it?”
“Target is great. I could spend all day at Target.”
Why did you say that? Now you just feel creepy. Like that pimply boy back in high school, who followed you around just to ask you to prom. That kind of creepy.
Quick, you think, try some self-deprecating humor to lighten things up.
“My kid almost ate dish soap when I turned away for one second to load the laundry,” you say, for reasons unknown. “Worst mother of the year.”
￼They must actually think I’m the worst mother of the year.
“I’m just glad she is OK,” someone says back. “At least the soap was … biodegradable, right?”
“I’m totally kidding!”
Keep trying, pimply pubescent boy. Keep trying.
Your child-free friends keep telling you about after-work happy hours or vision quests in Chile. When you bring up all-nighters, they think it’s this fun thing to do with a hot French boyfriend.
But, you figure, other moms will understand what it’s like being in the trenches of newborn-hood; and so you share with the mom’s group. More like overshare.
“Yeah, we’ve had a rough night, colic and green poop … No, not me, the baby. The baby.”
A child is crawling away from the blinking and spinning toys his mother is giving him. “How old’s your little guy?” you ask, trying once more to rescue the convo.
“Turning one tomorrow.”
“Happy birthday! Anything special planned?”
“Oh, just renting out an urban winery for Phineas and his BFFs. Excuse me.” She turns to a cluster of women next to you to discuss refreshments.
Do it, you think. Bond. Do it now. Be that effortless Instagram mom smiling at salad. No pressure.
But awkwardness follows you everywhere, like a bear on a unicycle.
You apologize to store clerks whenever your baby cries in a store.
You trip while careening the stroller off the sidewalk to make space for spandex-clad joggers, who give you the stink eye.
You might even be uncomfortable nursing your child in public, appreciative of your legal protections, and yet catching glances as if you were making a porn movie while waiting for your burrito.
Turn away. Don’t look. Or maybe stare back so they’ll get the goddamned point and let you feed your baby in peace. But onlookers continue watching you watching them, as the baby wiggles and yanks off the nursing cover.
Suddenly it’s you who feels like a bear on a unicycle.
I know this, of course, because I’ve been there.
But you know what? You’ll get it right, mama; all that clunky, angular parenting stuff. You are already getting it, even if you can’t see that yet. Your baby is thriving from your love – and you’re doing the best that you can. And ultimately, that’s what really matters.
You’ve got this.