It was 2012, and L was expecting her second baby.
She and her family had arrived six months prior, suitcases in one hand and their near future in the other. Weekends with the family were spent like tourists—exploring hutongs, meeting new friends, and getting to know their new city. Weekdays started off more adventurously: each day with a plan to keep both her and her firstborn busy. But as the days went by, so did its excited pace, and soon she started spending more and more days at home or online, because lunch meet-ups with a toddler and a huge belly had become tiring and, frankly, sometimes unwelcome.
It had generally been fun if only she didn’t feel so isolated sometimes.
Fortunately, she found—or rather, she helped bring together—the beginnings of a community that understood.
MOPS: A Community for Moms by Moms
She decided to form a community for their specific demographic: mothers of young children from zero to pre-school. Along with three other moms of toddlers, they drafted their plan. The idea started off as a small support group where moms of young children could get together with other moms and share ideas with each other. They’d hire an Ayi to take care of the kids, allowing them to just chat away.
That’s when someone suggested chartering with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers)— an international community of mothers that’s doing exactly what they wanted to do. Suddenly. they were getting support from fellow mothers across the globe, including parenting resources and guidance. How inspiring is that!
News of their little project started spreading and bit by bit the curious asked their questions. Do you have to be a Christian to join? Do you need to be married to join? Do we need to pay?
No, the ladies answered. All you need is to be a mom who has a kid who hasn’t reached primary school yet.
MOPS originally started out with a mainly expat audience, but is now also slowly gaining traction with the Chinese visitors at its Ivy School venue. I found this quite interesting considering the speakers were mostly expats themselves.
“MOPS is a community where moms can bring kids to MOPS meetings,” Emily, one of the coordinators for Beijing MOPS, says when asked why Chinese moms like attending MOPS. “Kids can stay somewhere and people can take care of them. So moms come here and feel very relaxed. And also. we learn something. and we can share something.”
Emily also adds that local parenting talks generally have a more classroom feeling, with a teacher in front talking about parenting techniques for an hour or so and then giving out Wechat articles for parents to review at home. These are paid sessions and do not have childcare.
One thing that sets MOPS apart is that its two hour sessions are divided mainly into two parts. The first hour and a half are allotted for volunteer speakers who come and share their expertise on topics ranging from personal development, marriage and relationship, to advice on practical parenting. The second part is discussion, where the audience members are asked to share their thoughts and answer questions about the topic within their respective groups. Through this interaction, moms get to share their own experiences, thoughts, and advice to the rest of the group.
The childcare bit is a hit with the parents as well. Teacher volunteers and interns assisted by ayis take charge of the children while the mothers listen to the speakers, confident that their children are safe and being well-taken care of. The mothers then spend two hours investing in themselves and concentrate on building new relationships. Finally, someone else is taking care of moms.
A Safe Place
One mom describes what it’s like to be at MOPS. “I come here and I can say what I really want to say. In my home, I can’t say this with my husband. I cannot say it with some friends (because) they don’t have kids.”
As a mom of two, I can’t help but agree completely with her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comment that they’re envious of my housewife status, while in my head I’m envious of the way their careers have set off. Then there are days when I’m tired and my husband goes, “oh, but at least you got to nap.”
But in a community where everyone’s a mom, we don’t need to explain that just because we’re in the same room as our children doesn’t mean we get to nap too. We don’t need to explain to our peers why our child is throwing a tantrum for no reason at all. Who best to understand you than those who know what you’re going through?
The Focus is on Relationships.
Melenie, one of the leaders of MOPs 2016, shares why MOPS is still here, almost five years after its original conception in Beijing. “MOPS is growing because we have dedicated moms who are passionate about loving and supporting other moms and bringing them into community. We’ve experienced it and want others to too. It’s really tough to be a mom sometimes and even more so if you’re alone and isolated. It doesn’t matter where you come from, as moms of little ones, we all face similar struggles. and we can all relate to each other. I think that’s why this kind of group works.”
“We want moms to grow and be equipped. We want families to be stronger. By sharing our experiences. we can grow in community with one another in a really positive way.”
So moms with young children, here’s a group for YOU. Leave the kids with the program’s childcare, and invest in yourself. Grow as a mom. and, most importantly, meet people who know what it’s really like behind the scenes.
MOPS English talks are on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month. 10am-12pm. BICF Office, Room FA 201, 2F of the 21st Century Hotel, Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District.
MOPS Bilingual talks are on the 3rd Monday of every month, 2pm-4pm at Ivy Bilingual School, Building E, Ocean Express Campus, No. 2 East Third Ring North Road, Chaoyang District. www.bicf.org/mops
Photos: Courtesy of MOPS.