In some circles, parenting can get as polarized as politics.
Moms sometimes fall into camps: Breastfeeding vs. bottle. Cloth diapers vs. disposables. Crib vs. co-sleeping. Parents who vaccinate vs. those who don’t.
These choices often lead to heated conversations and controversy, forcing moms and dads to take sides.
But instead of judging and comparing themselves to other parents, a group of local mothers has made it a goal to validate one another – regardless of their strong and differing opinions.
“You are the expert on your own child.” That’s the message parents hear during each gathering of the Mindful Mamas, an informal group of mothers from throughout the Spokane area.
As a result, moms are able to learn about the wide array of parenting options, said Sara Conybeer, who started attending the weekly meetings a year ago while still pregnant with her son, Orin.
Instead of being plagued with doubts and insecurities, many new mothers come away from the gatherings with a feeling of empowerment, she said.
“We have such a diverse group of women,” Conybeer said. “We have strong opinions but we are respectful of each other. …
“Hearing everyone’s perspective and getting their support has helped me feel more secure about my decisions. It’s about finding out what works for you.”
Spokane Mindful Mamas came into being about two years ago when a group of about six mothers decided it would be helpful to get out of the house and meet once a week to educate and support each other.
Their mission was to create a safe and comfortable place for all mothers – regardless of their stance on a variety of parenting choices – to ask questions and share their experiences.
Unlike other groups, Mindful Mamas doesn’t charge dues, elect officers or even keep a membership roster. Its mission is simply to be available to parents and serve as “a forum, a support group, a clearing house of resources and information.”
Conybeer, 27, found the group online shortly after moving to Spokane from British Columbia last year.
She was 26 weeks pregnant at the time and had received no prenatal care. Except for her husband, she also had no one to turn to for advice.
Mindful Mamas became her sounding board for ideas. The women in the group related their various experiences to her and with that knowledge, she made some informed decisions about giving birth and caring for her newborn.
They also became a support network, especially when things weren’t going as smoothly as she had hoped.
“The first week (after giving birth) was a nightmare,” said Conybeer, whose son is now 8 months old. “I thought the baby would be born and he would latch on perfectly and everything would be wonderful.
“I was sadly mistaken. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
Several women in the group, including two or three who were trained through La Leche League, provided her with breastfeeding advice. Most importantly, they assured her that she wasn’t alone, that many mothers and their newborns struggle with nursing in the beginning.
Courtney Clark, a mother of two boys, also turned to Mindful Mamas for advice.
Clark, 24, doesn’t have family in Spokane so she sought other women who could support her without judgment. She had attended other moms’ groups in the area but the only place she felt at home was with Mindful Mamas, she said.
The women there didn’t second-guess her decision to not be medically induced during her first pregnancy.
Her eldest son, Ezekiel, was born 23 days after his due date. During those last few weeks, everyone she knew kept telling her that she was endangering her child by not going to her obstetrician to induce labor.
Clark was anxious, of course, to give birth, but she was wary of medical interventions. She preferred to wait until the contractions naturally ensued on their own.
“I was nine-plus months pregnant and already stressed out,” she said. “I didn’t need to hear that I was harming my child. Mindful Mamas was the only place where people told me it was my decision.”
Mindful Mamas meets every Thursday morning at the Unity Church of Truth on the South Hill.
Every week, about 10 to as many as three dozen moms show up with their children, most of whom are ages 3 and younger. Some of the moms also meet every first and third Wednesdays at the Liberty Lake Library.
While a few of the moms hang out with the older children in a playroom, most of the mothers gather in a circle to introduce themselves and their kids.
The first half hour or so is spent on announcements, such as the recent breastfeeding walk, and addressing people’s parenting questions and concerns.
The introductions are followed by a 20- to 30-minute presentation by a guest speaker or someone in the group who has expertise to share.
Upcoming guests at Mindful Mamas include an expert on Waldorf-inspired creative movement, and Spokane artist and baby sling designer Sarita Morgan.
Next month, the moms will share “labor day” birth stories. They’ll also hear from music teachers as well as participate in a doll-making workshop.
“It’s really low-key,” said Clark, who manages Mindful Mamas’ website and Facebook page.
During each meeting, the older children go back and forth from sitting on their mother’s lap to playing in the adjacent room full of toys. Moms nurse or feed their infants and toddlers. They also can get up anytime to attend to their kids’ needs.
At every meeting, the moms also stress the need for respect. It’s OK to disagree with other women, Clark said, and very rarely do people feel offended.
“Parenting is full of very emotional decisions, so please be kind to each other,” the group stresses on its website.
“Nobody knows your child like you know your child,” Clark and other moms often tell each other, particularly the new mothers who arrive with infants. “We all love our children and know what is best for them.”
In the two years since she has been involved with Mindful Mamas, Clark said she has learned so much from other mothers.
Their advice and friendship have given her so much confidence as she rears her sons, 2-year-old Ezekiel and 6-month-old Malachi.
Whenever she asks questions – lately she has wondered what to do about Ezekiel’s tantrums – she comes home with five or six different ideas to try out, she said.
“Everyone feels welcome and respected,” Clark said. “This group has taught me to be in tune with my feelings and that as a mother, I know what’s best for my children.”