I have been asked to speak about the value of peer support at an upcoming conference. But this time I’m not sharing research or best practice or information about community peer support programs. I’ve been asked to simply talk about what peer support means to me, as a mom.
I had mom friends when my two eldest kids were little. I was a young mom, with no family in town and I didn’t know anybody else with a baby. I met these friends by stalking them at La Leche League meetings. There I met crunchy granola moms like me, and our like-minded connections stuck. These women helped me through the early bleary days of motherhood, a cross-Canada move, and a divorce. I picked up other mama friends in playgrounds, neighbourhood alleys, school hallways and at my kid’s t-ball games. I even moved to Norway with my kids to live with one mom friend and her family (long story).
Seven years and one marriage later, enter Aaron, my son with Down syndrome. At the beginning, it was important for me to be surrounded by moms whose kids also had an extra chromosome. I began a little moms group, and twelve years later, I am still friends with those awesome moms (the lovely ladies are pictured above). As Aaron started in his neighbourhood school and I became invisible on the playground as the mom of a kid who was different, I gravitated towards moms who had kids with a ‘special needs’ designation at the school. Diagnosis didn’t matter then – our commonality was our struggle with systems and society who couldn’t see our kids as kids first. (Don’t worry. I have friends who don’t have a kid with a disability. And friends who don’t have kids at all. And friends that aren’t women, too. I don’t discriminate. But this is about my mama friends). It took me 12 years, but I had a pretty healthy circle of mom friends in Edmonton. They were my peeps, my lifeline, my confidantes.
Six months ago, my husband, son and I packed up our stuff and moved to Vancouver. I am starting from scratch here to build my tribe, for adult friendships are constructed very slowly.
Since we’ve moved, I promised myself I’d say ‘yes’ to any social invitation that came my way. As as a result, I’ve surprised myself by going to musicals and church events and having a great time. The one mom I already knew in this Down syndrome world has been exceedingly kind. Helping us unpack. Bringing over food when my husband was sick. Inviting us for dinner. Introducing me around. Showing me the ropes. Another mom, who has an older son with autism, spent an afternoon with me in the coffee shop, going over her carefully researched list of services that she had typed up for me. I was a mom she didn’t even know. She also connected us up with the lovely young lady who did childcare for us this summer. Lucky lucky me.
One morning in June, another mom approached me on the street – ‘I’ve heard of you!’ she said. She has a young daughter with Down syndrome. She invited our family over for a barbecue the very next day and we met some of her peeps too. She kindly and unexpectedly looked after my boy as I drove my husband to the hospital emergency (another long story). We went bowling with a family whose son plays baseball with Aaron. I drive around the Lower Mainland to Abbotsford, New West and Squamish to meet with other moms. I am happily getting to know my sister-in-law – a new mom herself – better too.
Twitter helps. I find moms who are both writers and who have kids with differences just like me. Soon I am going for beer and burgers at a pub with a new gaggle of moms. Slowly, slowly, it builds.
The bond between mothers with children with differences is very strong. We know without saying. We don’t clean up our houses for each other. We help each other as others have helped us. We never apologize for our kids. We appreciate the notion of a very short playdate that includes french fries and quick exits. We commiserate over the (hilariously-named) Disabilitini.
Mothering any child is hard. We all need support, disability or not, and I wish our world was kinder to moms in general. I feel thankful for my trail of mom friends across Canada and now in Vancouver. Is peer support valuable? Hell yes. But what is peer support, but caring for another human being? These women don’t provide peer support to me. We are simply each others friends.