Photo: Group picture – Rhiannon Giles. MOM photo – Creative Commons 0

The internet is full of criticisms for mom groups; the helpful advice couched in disapproval, the condescension and impractical suggestions. I know the moms who look for a fight, who rage quit at every opportunity and who have turned hypocrisy into an art form. The moms who publicly attack their peers for transgressions in the organic food aisle, and then hit up the drive through on the way home.

But there is another subset of the mom group that so rarely gets its due. The group that works. The unparalleled joy that shows up when we all put aside our differences, get to know one another and truly respect that each mother is doing her very best.

In these groups you find your biggest cheerleaders, the people who tell you that you can do the thing, and who convince you to try. The women who brush off your knees after you fall on your face, and then encourage you to try again.

You stepped in cat puke, fell down the stairs, screamed at your children, and it’s only 9am? They get it. You fed your son a cookie for breakfast because you just can’t even deal with this day? Been there, done that. You’re considering a glass of wine with lunch? Cheers! You are the worst mom in the entire world? Nope, you’re human. And when those bad days string together until you dread getting out of bed, they will remind you that asking for help is not weakness.

Thoughtfulness springs naturally from a place of mutual respect. We have turned surprising each other in extreme times into a matter of course. Whether you’re having a baby or mourning a loved one the rest of the group is rallying to make sure you know you are loved. When my son was born two months early they showered me with small gifts throughout my hospital stay, and then rented a pump for me to have at home.

When you put that many women together, someone has been through every situation you can imagine. The advice is tried-and-true and waiting for you even at 2am. They only jokingly suggest essential coconut breast milk oil as the solution, but they will tell you that formula is not failure, and breastfeeding your toddler is A-OK, too. Sometimes you’re not really looking for advice. Sometimes you just need to bitch that your kid is being a total ass, you are not enjoying being a parent, and you want to run away from home. It’s cool, can we build a tropical commune? Without the kids?

The best is when these friendships bleed over into real life. We stay at each other’s houses, able to drive across the country without need for a hotel room. To date, not a single one of us has turned out to be a man living in his mother’s basement, and no one has been kidnapped. We greet each other as old friends, and stay up late into the night sharing wine and stories. We have cried together and laughed together.

Yes, we have had differences of opinion. And sometimes we put or feet in our mouths. But it is amazing what a group of women can do when we leave all the sanctimommy bullshit for some other comment section.

They have made me a more kind and compassionate person, letting me see their broken pieces and helping me put mine back together. We have shown what can happen when we work for each other, instead of against, and when we see each other with kindness and empathy.

So the next time you get unsolicited advice such as, “IMHO it’s an easy fix, disposable diapers are probably causing your baby’s reflux, sprinkle some turmeric onto his bum, and I would strongly encourage you to cut out all processed foods, and consider relactating. Hope that helps!” or, “I’m totally not telling you what to do, but you should get him out of your bed. If you don’t do what I’m not telling you to do you’re going to be sleeping next to him in college.” Remember that you deserve better.

You just have to look until you find your own tribe of sarcastic, foul-mouthed ladies full of wit and warmth. A group of friends who can share a dirty joke and wipe your tears at the same time – who can see you at your worst, and remind you of your best. If you are very lucky they may make you a better person, or at least teach you that it’s okay to drink coffee out of sippy cups.