The story is all too familiar: Karyn Dunn, a full-time nurse with two preschool children, began to see a gulf opening between her professional life and her role as a parent.
The relationships she had at her job were centered around the work itself and did not carry over into free time. When she was home, she didn't have enough contacts with other parents to make her feel part of a family-oriented community.
So Dunn, 30, of Chatsworth, joined a chapter of the MOMS Club (Moms Offering Moms Support), a 10-year-old national organization open to both working mothers and those who stay at home. For a low annual fee, which varies from chapter to chapter, members receive a newsletter and are invited to play groups and other activities, including monthly dinners at local restaurants.
Says Dunn: "It made me feel I was still a mom to be with women who were also mothers."
These days, as so many women return to jobs before their children are grown, low-cost support groups are springing up to help them juggle work and family life. While some of these groups are also open to men and stay-at-home mothers, many focus on professional women, who find themselves challenged in ways they might not have expected.
Judi Lirman, a marriage and family counselor who runs a Tarzana-based working mothers support group, Supermom, says many women feel lonely and benefit greatly from contact with others who share their interests and concerns.
"Some women talk about losing the connection with other mothers," Lirman says. "And they feel much less committed to work than they think they should. They worry that they should be more of a mommy and a better worker, and they never feel easy anyplace."
The level of support that mothers groups offer varies widely, as does their cost and the degree to which they are structured. Some provide just a weekly play date at the park, a chance to get to know other mothers and children and discuss the sometimes banal but often essential details of daily parenting.
Other groups focus more on organized activities. Creative Parenthood, for example, a nonprofit educational corporation founded in the San Fernando Valley 22 years ago, holds weekly play groups for parents and children, and provides educational programs on topics from potty training to home schooling. Open to men and women, with a majority of its membership made up of working-parent couples, the group also schedules special events such as family camping weekends, Halloween parties and bowling days. A family membership is $36 per year and, for an extra $10 annually, parents have access to a baby-sitting co-op that allows them to exchange sitting services with other members.
Creative Parenthood member Judy Kessler, 34, of Sherman Oaks is a free-lance caterer with a 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. She appreciates the sense of community that she feels in the group, in addition to the guidance she gleans from it on issues that could be time-consuming to research on her own.
Some mothers are seeking assistance with the psychological tasks of parenting, particularly the need to balance complex, competing demands, says Lirman, whose Supermom group is organized as a weekly, two-hour, $25-a-session workshop.
"The women learn that they need to have realistic expectations of themselves and that saying no isn't selfish," she reports.
Lirman believes that for mothers of young children, simply structured play groups provide an enormous amount of support and help. Many career women, she has found, are "downright surprised at first that they enjoy these groups."
WHERE TO GO
Moms Offering Moms Support (MOMS): Call Gigi Pircher, (818) 345-1783.
Creative Parenthood: Call Lori Jacobs, (818) 887-6675 or Theresa Wallace, (818) 368-3052.
Supermom: Sessions are held at 19634 Ventura Blvd., Suite 206, Tarzana, from 8:30-10:30 p.m. Mondays. To reserve a place, call Judi Lirman, (818) 999-9684.