03.01.12 One working mom's way of making the mom group work for her.
In my previous post, I wrote about my surprising need to be part of a moms group after the birth of my son. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I got some great responses from working moms, one of whom was Natalie Zmuda, a first-time mom and a New York-based reporter for Advertising Age. She commented, “When I found myself lingering at the dentist to talk to the receptionist, who was also a new mom, I knew it was time to find a mom's group! I ended up asking HR to connect me with other new moms in the office. We now meet once a month for lunch to trade ideas and talk about the kids.”
I love, love, love the idea of a moms group at work, so I asked Natalie—pictured at left with her son Rhys—to tell me more about it:
How did you find other moms interested in a group at your company? I contacted the human resources executive who handled my maternity leave paperwork. She reached out to co-workers who had given birth in the last year, or who were pregnant, and let them know I was starting a moms group. If they were interested, she sent me their information, so that I could introduce myself.
Originally I thought about coming up with discussion topics or themes or for each month, just because I'd heard other moms groups did that. In the end, I asked people to bring pictures of their kids to the first lunch, and since then the conversation has taken care of itself.
How did you decide on the once a month lunch format? I want to spend my nights and weekends with my husband and son, so trying to fit something into the workday made sense. Early on we had a set day and time, but we ended up having to reschedule or cancel a few times because of low attendance. Now we use Doodle Poll and I pick a date that works best for most people. Then I send Outlook invites, rather than an email, so the lunch is on everyone's calendar.
The location has also evolved. We started out at a restaurant that required everyone to arrive before we could be seated. That just didn't work. Now, we go to a restaurant that's across the street, has lots of seating and fast service. People know they can be in and out in an hour. That's been key.
How many women are in the group? There are six of us right now and we all have one child in the age range of newborn to two. We welcome moms-to-be, plus we were all first-time moms when the group started (two of the original women now have two kids!), except one woman who also has a 6-year-old—she tells us what's coming!
What has been the biggest benefit for you of being a part of the group? I've gotten some great advice on things ranging from transitioning to cups to potty training. There are also practical things, like helping each other navigate the company benefits, including the Employee Assistance Program. (I used EAP to find my son's day care, get information on childproofing and research preschools.) Overall, I've been really surprised to see the support and interest across the company.
What advice would you give to a mom who wants to start a similar group? Tell your manager. I let my manager know what I was up to, and she's been very supportive. Also find what works for you and your company; that may mean meeting for a late afternoon coffee or breakfast.
What's been the biggest challenge? It's been tough to see moms go on maternity leave and decide not to come back. It brought to the forefront any doubts I had about working full time. More specifically, the doubts I had about whether I could really balance it all. I didn't necessarily feel guilty for working—I'm a better mom for it—but I felt guilty for wanting to work. Finding this group of moms who are smart, organized, fun and often balancing similar things has helped to make me feel really good about being in the office.
Feeling good about being a working mother—and meeting other moms, to boot? I’m in. If that sounds good to you, too, I encourage you to talk to your manager or human resources department or the new first-time mom in accounting about starting your own working-mom-once-a-month-lunch. Who knows? You may just pick up a new friend along with that great recommendation for a sippy cup.