Support groups for mothers who feel as they are raising their children alone provide a valuable service not only for counseling and support, but also for socializing and information sharing. If there is not a support group in the area you live, people frequently ask how they can start one in their area. The process of beginning this support group can initially seem daunting, however, it is easier when broken into steps.
First, review our organizations link page to see if there is an established organization which you would want to join. If not you can start your own support group in your area.
Step 1 - The Organizers and Members
After you have decided that you want to start a support group, identify two or three people who share your interest in starting (not simply joining) a support group. Although it is possible to run a support group by yourself, you it is easier and you reduce the chance of burn-out if you have other people assisting you. If one of the people assisting you has a computer, that is an additional benefit, as they may be willing to maintain the mailing list, make flyers and print minutes and notices.
You also need to have an idea of how many people want a support group. Is there a group who have expressed an interest in meeting for support? A feel for the demographics will affect not only who you have in the group, but where you meet and even what will be the group's emphasis.
You have to decide who can attend the meetings. Do you want the group to be only for Single Mothers or can any Mother and their child(ren) and family members attend. Possible solutions are to have 2 separate meetings, one for Single Mothers, and one for family members. Another solution is to open the meeting to family members every 3 months. Of course, another option is not to include family members at all in the beginning phases of the support group.
Step 2 - Preparation
You will need to decide a number of things before the first meeting of your group, such as the frequency, location and emphasis of the group.
Decide how often your group will meet (at least once a month or once per week). If your group meets less often than once a month, it runs the risk of losing momentum and focus; interest may die out in the long weeks before the next meeting. Some groups may have the interest to meet more than once a month. If so, feel free to go with the interest, but don't feel that every two weeks is the norm. Many starting groups only meet once a month and are quite successful.
Decide how you will get the word out. Most people will have a list of people who would be interested in a support or discussion group of this type. Local attorneys, day care centers, or churches may be willing to make a mailing to advertise the meeting, but don't expect them to turn their list over to you. Other places to advertise and solicit names are from local newspapers. Most papers have a free section to advertise meeting notices.
What Kind of Group? There are many kind of support groups. Each has its own style, and each speaks to people in a different ways. You and the other people who are interested in starting a Support Group for Mothers probably already have the type of support group you want in mind. Major types of support groups are as follows:
Peer Support groups. Groups led by others with similar concerns, fears, and needs. Usually these groups are not led by a professional like a social worker or rehab psychologist or counselor. They can be led by another Mother, thus leading to a Mothers-Helping-Mothers type of group.
A Professionally led Support Group. These groups are led or advised by a professional like a social worker, counselor, or family-law attorney.
A Discussion Group. Not necessarily a support group, but a group with an educational emphasis to them. These groups may have a speaker or topic each meeting. One week the topic can be on Child Custody, the next Child Support, the next Family Law, etc. These groups may also provide a time afterwards where individuals can discuss issues of interest and concern to them to see if others have suggestions or have experienced a similar situation.
Step 3 - Location
Decide on a central location. In many cases transportation is an issue. A library or church can provide a good location, as many people already know where it is, and you will have access to large meeting rooms as well as professionals interested going to a central location. Some people may not feel comfortable meeting in someone's home for personal reasons, so polling a few people about the location is wise. A private residence with a large room, or a clubhouse makes a good alternative, as are school classrooms. The location should, of course be accessible, with plenty of parking. Don't forget to make sure bathrooms are accessible.
Some people may be tempted to have a rotating meeting place to make the meeting more accessible to people with transportation problems. This has benefits and potential problems. A benefit is that some people will have at least a few meetings in their area. This can increase the total number of people attending throughout the year. A potential problem is that the group becomes fragmented because only certain people attend certain meetings. Also, unless the meeting locations are well publicized in advance, people may forget where the meeting is and decide not to attend. With the same location, people always know where to go.
Step 4 - Reaching The People (advertising)
Advertising is crucial to a beginning support group. It is important to leverage all available media (especially free outlets). For example:
- Newspapers usually have a place to announce support meeting and clubs.
- Radio stations do public service announcements. Make a special effort to try for stations that serve the population you want TV and cable.
- There is also local community access cable channel. Many cable channels have a scrolling marquee that announces meetings in the area.
- You may also be able to get air time on your local channel, since many of them are in need of programming.
- Make up a flier announcing the meeting. In the flier give them the basics---date, location, time, and a brief description of the purpose of the group. Use large type and few words. Distribute the flyer to all the people on the mailing list.
Step 5 - Meeting at Last
So what will you do in your meetings? If your meeting is strictly a support group meeting, you will want to go around and check in with everyone and then begin the meeting using whatever model you choose. If your meetings will have an eduational component to them, then planning the meetings will require additional effort. At the meetings ask participants what they would like to hear about. The attendees are an excellent resource for information, each of them has special skills and insights on certain topics that others may be interested in. There are also books dealing with single motherhood, women and custody, child support, etc.
Plan a time for people to just hangout either before or after the meeting, and make sure that people don't leave without signing up with their address and telephone number. Not only does this keep your mailing list up to date, but it also allows your support group to grow.
Running a meeting is a learned skill, so don't feel discouraged if you're not perfect at it. It helps to have someone available who has done this before, so ask around.
Running a support group is not easy, but it is a very rewarding and important service to the community of single mothers and their children, or mothers raising their children alone, or mothers who feel that they are raising their children alone.