Words by Rachael Zimmerman
“One more please, mommy?” My daughter climbs up onto my lap holding her latest favorite book and snuggles in as close as she can. “It’s the club one, Mommy!” She looks up at me, a huge smile across her face as I turn the cover and begin to read. She has the story memorized, but still she lets me narrate Duck’s struggle to find a club willing to let her in. Duck can’t roar well enough to be in Lion Club, or remember things well enough to be in Elephant club; each animal’s club finds something lacking in her. My daughter joins in to declare, “Denied!” and bangs her fist as a gavel to announce each rejection. Her two year old demeanor loves this part, but she’s still too young to grasp the entire lesson of the book. Thankfully, the world hasn’t yet denied her much of anything and she doesn’t know yet what rejection feels like.
But I do.
In the months that led up to my daughter’s birth, I did the reading and the preparing and the planning. In the midst of these preparations I encountered the same directive over and over.
“Find Your Tribe.”
These are the people that will deliver meals in your first days of motherhood. The people that will text you reassuring messages just when you need them. The people that will stop by unannounced, take your baby, and push you into the shower. These people, your people, they will be the ones that get you through the hard times, the messy times, the ugly times. And they will be there to celebrate with you in the good times. They will, simply, be there.
I was living in a town that was fairly new to me and my closest friends were scattered all across the country. Because “tribe” is not something you can add to a baby registry, there would be no random food deliveries or demanded showers. I was still on the outside looking into motherhood and I didn’t get it, but I knew I didn’t get it. And I was worried.
My daughter arrived and my worry turned to loneliness. I took my daughter to storytime and to the park, but the clubs were already formed. I do not share Duck’s gumption in walking up and asking to join every club she comes across. So I watched from afar, jealous of their inside jokes and their play date plans, yet too scared to present myself for inspection and consideration as Duck did.
As my loneliness grew, so did my fear that I was doing motherhood wrong. If I never ended up with a group of other mothers to vent to and laugh with and survive along side, I would never be the mother I was supposed to be. I would never really be a part of the club.
Then, just over a year into motherhood, I struck a bit of luck when an acquaintance reached out to me and invited me to a playground with my daughter. I went because I wanted the interaction, but also because I thought this was my chance, my way to a tribe. We had a lovely morning at the playground, but it was never going to be the opening I had hoped for because I realized I was not open to it. I wanted my people. The friends it took years of cultivating to accrue.
New Friendships Can Be Exhausting
New friendships require a lot of small talk and as an introvert to the core, small talk exhausts me. I don’t want to tell you what I’m watching on Netflix. I want, I need, to tell you how I haven’t slept in weeks, about my fears that I’m screwing up my daughter, and about the loneliness that’s eating away at me. I don’t need a playdate, I need a therapy session. The kind only a tribe can provide.
Motherhood was taking its toll on me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be so much easier if I just had a tribe. My friends were there as much as you can be when you live far away but the distance separating us made it easy to put off that phone call or even that text.. With 500 other things to do and think about in a day, checking in with friends gets lost in the shuffle.
I did my best to reach out when I could; nap time was typically when it happened. Nap time with my daughter has always been a chore. It is an easy time to fall into negative thoughts on the difficulties of motherhood. This is hard. I can’t do this. Why won’t she just sleep? I just want to shower. These thoughts swirled through my head one day as I bounced my daughter in the carrier, dancing around the house singing every song in my repertoire. I paused my well rehearsed steps to text a disgruntled, “Nothing works with this child!” off to a friend and continued my nap time dance. I turned to Facebook for solace and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. My eyes paused on a blog post shared with a mom’s group with the tag, “I’m just going to leave this right here.” The title of the post alluded to motherhood, so I clicked and began to read.
I rounded the corner into the kitchen for the fifteenth time as my eyes moved quicker across each line, pulled further and further into this mother’s world. My breathing slowed, my shoulders lowered, my face softened. And I stopped bouncing.
Finding an Online Tribe
There it was.
Support. Inclusion. Recognition. I was hungry for more and I furiously clicked to another essay, and another, and another. By the time my daughter had drifted off I had read five essays. Solace was my mission and solace I had found. These writers understood. Despite not knowing my name or anything about me, these writers were not here to judge. They were here to hold my hand and say, “Me too, mama.” With no prerequisites, without having to even ask, my application had been approved.
From that one blog I found others, I found new people and businesses to follow on social media, and from them I discovered programs and books and things that led to more self care and overall happiness. My old definition of “tribe” quickly slipped away as I built one up in the way that worked for me.
My tribe is a messy combination of people, platforms, and voices. It is friends near and far who bring support in the ways I originally thought it would come. And it is an online community of women, some of whom I’ve never met, who remind me daily that I am not alone, the support it turns out that I actually need most.
Rachael Zimmerman is a writer, teacher, mama, and wife living in the Chicago suburbs trying to read , write, and adventure as much as I can.