Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Message Is Out

This past week, I went to one of the biggest cocktail parties ever. I wore my little black dress and heels. It was mom’s night out.

It’s wasn’t to the presidential palace, or to a corporate banquet.

It was to the annual meeting of my support group—Message. I joined the group some 16 years ago when I was pregnant with my first (and only) child. Life as a mom can be difficult anywhere, but in a foreign country without family and friends, it can be daunting.

Message was there to help.

At first I was a bit wary. I didn’t need a “support group.” Was it some kind of 12-step program? Would I have to bare soul or my lactating boobs in front of strangers?

The short answer was that I found a surrogate family who were willing to care and share.

The idea is simple: moms (and now dads) host a playdate or outing. Members sign up. You get together, the kids play and the parents celebrate … or commiserate. And it’s free, beyond the reasonable annual membership fee.

The idea is so simple and powerful that Message grew from a handful of members in 1984 to more than 2,000 today! It’s one of the biggest English-speaking associations in France. And entirely volunteer-run.

Through Message, I found a neighborhood playgroup for my daughter, then started one of my own. In the playgroup, my timid 2-year-old found her first friends. And I found some long-lasting bonds too!

Beyond activities, the association hosts parenting classes and trained breastfeeding help. There are programs about education and health. The website has a wealth of information … including about my current worry, raising teens. One of my friends purchased all of her baby gear second-hand through the site’s classifieds.
Message Easter egg hunt in 2010 at Les Arènes de Lutèce in Paris 

The group is always ready to rally to the support of a member truly in need, whether they’ve lost their job, their spouse, or their baby—totally anonymously.

Without Message, I think I would have truly lost my sanity. Instead, I think I’ve retained about more than half—not too shabby!

It goes to show you the power of community, even in France, where people tend to look to the government first for help.

One reason I’m writing this post is to “get the Message out.” Together, we can do so much when alone it might feel impossible. Together, we can kick up our heels once a year and say: We made it!