When I had my first son, I was living in downtown Toronto and didn’t know anyone else having a baby. I lived in a condo and only saw a handful of children at a local park. I had no family in Toronto and was feeling quite isolated at home with my baby every day. One day, I reconnected with a friend from elementary school who told me about a wonderful group of local moms whom she met with each week. She was enjoying the group and thought that I would love it, too. It was called MumNet.
The closest MumNet group for me – there are several throughout Toronto – wasn’t exactly in my neighbourhood, but it wasn’t a far drive. It offered me the opportunity to network and exercise with a group of moms who had children approximately the same age as mine. Plus, they had on-site childcare! This meant that I could workout, have a coffee, and listen to a speaker or have a discussion with these new mom friends without having to balance a baby on one hip. I could actually have a focussed conversation without picking up thrown toys or other distractions. It was the best part of my week and the best thing I had done for myself since having a baby!
When I was expecting baby number two, we moved to a different neighbourhood and MumNet was the first thing I sought out. I was lucky to discover a group nearby and I felt like I had found an instant village. Even though the women were all new to me, I instantly had a group of moms who understood what I was facing every day with an infant and a toddler, and the chaos of life as a parent. Being new to a neighbourhood and to Toronto, I found that joining a local moms group was the perfect way to discover a wealth of resources – they were my go-to if I needed a recommendation on anything from a plumber to a good wine pick! The moms I got to know in my local MumNet group are women I still see and connect with to this day: some I run into at the grocery store, some are now at the school-yard, and some I see at after-school activities, book clubs, boot camp…the list goes on and on.
Looking back, my first few years in MumNet were a crucial investment in my self-care. I learned to make sure my needs were being met helping me to truly be the best mom I could be. Simultaneously, I learned to let go of the mom-guilt when things weren’t perfect (far from it, in fact!). As a stay-at-home mom, I was craving ways to continue my personal development and MumNet offered amazing opportunities for that, too. I volunteered to be a leader of the group that had become so near and dear to me and I received lots of training in areas of leadership, group development, and facilitation. I loved the fact that I still benefited from the exercise, discussion, and social time with other moms while giving back, helping them to take some much needed time for themselves. I went on to be an area coordinator, a leader of the MumVet group (for moms of school-aged children), the office manager and then, three years ago, I had the honour of being selected as the new Executive Director.
Each week, I get to interact with all kinds of moms across Toronto: new moms, veteran moms, single moms, moms who identify as LGBTQ, adoptive moms, etc. Through these interactions, one thing is clear to me: moms of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and parenting styles can connect, empathize, and lift each other up over the challenges of being a mom, and it can help prevent isolation and postpartum depression. They don’t need to all take the same approach to things like sleep, feeding, or other parenting trials and tribulations, but they can all relish in a few hours each week when they get to focus on themselves.
Today, MumNet hosts 15 groups weekly at 10 different locations across the city. We offer two different programs, and both include a fitness class and onsite babysitting:
- MumNet, for new moms and moms with younger children; and
- MumVet, for moms with preschool or school-aged children.
As Executive Director of MumNet, a registered charity, I’m focused on raising awareness and funds so that we can reach more moms throughout Toronto. It is important for moms to know that MumNet exists so that they can get the support, friendship, and fitness they need as they enter and journey through motherhood. It’s equally as important for moms to know that we offer subsidies to women in need so that our programs are available to any mom in Toronto, regardless of financial circumstance.
People often say that you meet your friends through your children. Because of my children, I met mine through MumNet, and I love helping others find theirs.
Dominica Larkin, BEd, Health Education, has been working in the non-profit sector for over 15 years – with a break in the middle to stay at home with her three young boys. Today, Dominica is the Executive Director of MumNet and lives in North Toronto.