I know I've mentioned before in my post on Things Large Families May Wish You to Know and elsewhere, the difficulty we've had as a large family in finding community. I even have an entire post dedicated to the issue of loneliness and lack of support in motherhood that I am fine tuning and will put up soon with the dual goal of not whining or being offensive and sending it out as an encouragement. :)
Back in January I realized that the only way for me to get community and adult socialization (no kidding) was to invite women here. It makes no logical sense, this crazy idea, as I have a big family, a very lived in house and had just had a baby a few weeks prior, but there you have it. The desperate, scary workings of my sleep-deprived self. I've been asked a lot how I do a mom's night in our house and so I'll let roll some things off the top of my head as I sit here with my contacts drying on my eyes (I'm whining, I know) and basking in the warmth of the woodstove on this dark and rainy night.
First, it takes re-arranging of the week. This is doable. For me this means Wednesday nights after the littles are in bed and Sean is out with the older two at a church function, I get done any big messes or major cleaning that needs to get done. I'm not stressed. I promised myself I would humbly let people trip over toys and step in their socks on crunchy floors before I would let myself make this a stress in my life. I turn on a good podcast or music and set to work.
Big messes for me are picking up the thousand little items laying around the house that belong to children and putting them all in a wicker laundry basket in the entryway. This is the place kid clutter goes. I decided a few things: I did not want to continually be cleaning up after my kids or yelling at them to pick up their coats, shoes, pencils, barrettes, etc. but I still want the house to not be strewn with kid-neglected items. The basket is my answer. I can pick up the things out of place and relocate them and the kids are left with a big basket of mess to sort and organize, which they do a few times a week.
Big messes might also be giving a quick cleaning to the downstairs bathroom or vacuuming the cracks between the floors. Sounds silly, I know, and unless you've lived in a 220 yr. old house with plank floors with gaps that get filled with k'nex, beads, crumbs, small children.... you might not understand.
The day we meet I make sure the entryway basket is sorted and cleaned and that dinner dishes get done. Then I put water in the kettle for tea, set out a snack, if I've made one and wait for friends to arrive.
So that is the house prep with seven kids. If the week goes awry, I quickly check the toilet for cleanliness, run the broom round the floors, dim the lights and light lots of candles. :)
When I started this group, it was on a desperate whim and I posted an invite on facebook. It really was a God thing that we have such a nice group of women. I like deep conversations, not chit-chat or talking up the weather and so, if you're specifically picking women to invite, I'd suggest inviting a few women who are easy to talk with and outgoing. In this group we have extraverts and introverts, married and single and early twenties to forties, and a variety of marital experiences/statuses, home birthers/hospital birthers/adopters, denominations/churches, home educators and public school lovers. I think a good variety is a good thing. What we have in common is a deep love for Jesus, desire to follow Him, and desire for community.
A few times I've invited older and wiser women to join us and chime in on the conversation. We've been going through the book Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson and it has been good to get the perspective of empty-nesters who have finished raising their children and are now grandmothers. I wish I had an older woman in every week.
I've been asked what I do; how do I facilitate the group and so the nitty-gritty is usually as the women are arriving, people start chatting in the kitchen, Sean's scurrying the kids to our bed for a movie or to their beds for some book reading, I finish any food/drink prep, and invite everyone to help themselves to coffee,tea,water,snack and have a seat in the living room. Sometimes the conversations from the kitchen carry over into the living room and we just spent a while talking about life and our day or concerns on our hearts. I think last night we talked for almost an hour over things other than the book we've been reading.
The book is broken into easy, short chapters and has a question section at the end. If I've highlighted any snippet that stood out to me in the chapter, I'll read it and say a little something about why I agreed, disagreed or why it stood out to me. We'll talk a bit over it and when the conversation stops, I move on to the questions at the back, reading them out loud and asking for input.
I've learned that it helps the conversation to get flowing if you're willing to be vulnerable and open your heart. My mom friends have heard how I've sat by the laundry and cried and yelled at God, so really, there's nothing I have to hide. Each week I've seen this play out. As soon as one woman bares a bit of vulnerability, something she could be judged on or gossiped about, there is a huge amount of both compassion and support offered to her. It is such a beautiful thing.
As far as personal goals for the group, I want it to be a place respectful of each woman's walk with God and His Spirit leading and guiding her in His time/way. It also needs to be free of gossip and husband bashing. Babies are welcome. We meet at a later time (seven) so that we all have time for dinner with our families or time for husbands to get home since a few of the women have to travel close to an hour to get here.
I think that's about all the ideas I have rolling around. If there is something specific, just leave a comment and I'll answer it there, okay?