Meaning of Motherhood
Solution Story from Lakewood
Taryn Fuchs coordinates and oversees her support group for moms, Meaning of Motherhood, in order to provide moms in her area with the connection and resources they need to handle challenges of young and/or single motherhood. The group builds social connections between moms in similar situations, and gives them a safe space to address topics that they don’t get to talk about elsewhere, like substance use disorders, mental health issues, financial struggles, and more.
Ms. Fuchs had the idea for Meaning of Motherhood as a young mom who felt overwhelmed and isolated in her community. She often could not relate to the topics and culture of more traditional parenting groups, and was struggling to be connected to her community. Realizing that there must be other moms who feel similarly, she began conceptualizing the idea for a moms group intended for young moms who may be struggling with issues not often addressed in traditional groups. She initially decided to outreach to potential participants by posting flyers in community areas, but received little to no response. Eventually, she began using word-of-mouth, inviting moms that she would see out in her community. This proved to be a much more successful, and the group began to gain traction. During the first meeting she had only one attendee, but Meaning of Motherhood grew steadily as more women heard about it through in-person connections and became involved. At the time of starting the mom’s group, Ms. Fuchs attended a church that was very supportive of her idea, and was willing to provide a space, childcare, and a small budget for miscellaneous resources for moms who attended. Though the responsibility of providing these has shifted over time, the church was instrumental in the initial establishment of the group.
While there are organizations meeting the needs of more traditional moms, there is a lack of resources for the niche of young (teen-young 20’s) parents who are unmarried and may face issues separate from traditional parenting education topics. Meaning of Motherhood helps moms in less traditional situations to manage challenges including substance use disorders, depression, developing healthy relationships with partners, healing from trauma such as sexual assault, and more. They chose to have an open environment where no topic was off the table, and this led to a climate of vulnerability. Vulnerability bound them together and created a place where every mom could say “me too” without fear of judgment or “mom-shaming”. They sought to meet different needs and meet women where they are. Some moms came for dinner or resources, some came for a break, and others to share or be heard. Whatever the reason, they were welcomed and supported.
The first years were a little challenging, as Ms. Fuchs realized that the time commitment and energy required to hold the group was more than one person could reasonably provide. One of the important lessons she learned was to train and activate core group members to take leadership roles as well as “Mentor Moms”. Mentor Moms volunteered their time to mentor each group member individually and act as group leaders. Not only are these leaders within the group key to its continuation and prevention of burnout, but this structure also gives attendees the chance to engage on a deeper level, if they choose, and to grow their own leadership skills.
They also realized that seeking donations to support the group from community members was very draining and had limited success. Instead, they relied on church members and other invested individuals who were willing to provide a home-made meal, buy diapers, and provide other support for the group and its members. For a brief period, Ms. Fuchs and other group leaders tried to incorporate various efficiency measures to streamline group management, but realized that the measures were having a negative effect on the group overall, and weren’t worth the time saved. For example, they decided to stopped sending individualized reminders to group members and tried to leverage social media reminders instead. However, they discovered that moms really valued the connection of a personal invite, and felt less inclined to engage with the group with this change. There are certain areas where they can’t “cut corners”. It has been a continual process of balancing the personal connections necessary to the success of the group with the potential for burnout from group leaders.
Meaning of Motherhood helps attendees to feel less isolated, and helps them grapple with their parenting and life challenges in healthier ways. They form a network that is supportive, and though many members come and go, all generally report that it is a helpful resource. Group leaders send out a survey yearly and continue to find that 100% of the women in the group state that they “strongly agree” that they have made meaningful friendships and would confide in a leader or mentor. Women are feeling connected to one another and a community, and they have the opportunity to be part of something meaningful to them through service projects and leadership development.
Advice on Replication
There is a need for more groups, according to Ms. Fuchs, as there is a subset of the parent population consisting of unmarried, non-teen young moms who need support. In order to replicate this project, Ms. Fuchs recommends developing a vision for how the group and gatherings will operate in advance, and secure a location that is easy to access. Have a surrounding community that is willing to engage in a group (or insert the group in a supportive community with this need). Additionally, she recommends being willing to try new things and to keep in mind that not all gatherings will go well. Lastly, she recommends to celebrate the successes of every group member, no matter how small: “Celebrate a mom, celebrate her child. Also, be sure to break for the summer. Give the leaders time to rest and rejuvenate.