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The Source

Support group for L&C moms now welcomes dads too

June 24, 2010

  • Isabelle Demarte and her son Nicolas
    Isabelle Demarte and her son Nicolas

Mom Tea Talk (MTT), a support group for faculty and staff moms, now welcomes faculty and staff dads to its monthly meetings. Associate Professor of French Isabelle DeMarte started MTT more than two years ago to “bridge the traditionally separate aspects of our lives as professionals and as mothers.”

The group includes more than 30 mothers, mainly from the Fir Acres campus, but Isabelle hopes to engage faculty and staff parents from all three campuses.

“It’s informal and a nice way for the community of parents to get together and network,” said Rebecca Holt, senior development officer and mother of 3-year-old son Forrest.

The Source caught up with Isabelle to find out more.

How did Mom Tea Talk get started?

A few years ago, a number of faculty and staff who had been hired at L&C in or since the early 2000s, women for the most part, started having children or were contemplating doing so. We all faced the typical challenges inherent in going back to work with an infant in daycare, juggled the competing needs and demands of being a parent and a higher education professional, and we struggled to keep our former heads straight on shoulders and bodies whose balance had been altered by giving birth and going through the new motions of motherhood. One day, while several of us were discussing all of the above at the Trailroom, we all agreed that it would be wonderful to have our own support group—most of us having attended such mom and baby groups off-campus. The energy buzzing around that idea prompted me to start Mom Tea Talk in February of 2008 around a basic principle, that MTT would be a friendly environment in which our professional selves and (m)other(ly) selves could intersect and interact freely.

How often do moms meet?

At first, there being only a dozen or so of us, we’d try and get together once a week, rotating days and times to accommodate varying schedules. This lasted about a term and since Fall 2008, we’ve been meeting every other week, alternating between, say, a Monday or a Wednesday one week, and a Tuesday or a Thursday the other week, usually around lunch time. With more mothers, this format works the best, although it’s impossible to find a time that every MTTalker can make.

What kinds of things do MTTers talk about?

Any and every kind. Whatever is on our minds on a particular day or at a particular stage whether for the child or the mother, is food for talk. In the early days, we’d talk about sleep, breast-feeding, or the sometimes tricky logistics of pumping at work, but we also talk about daycare, teething, potty-training, schooling, parenting styles, gender roles, you name it. With more moms on board now, there is a certain degree of repetition, the important thing being that we share and discuss issues that we face at whatever level it may be.

Why did you expand the group to include dads and add a monthly Parent Tea Talk meeting?

This is fairly new. Opening Mom Tea Talk to dads has been a recurring topic of conversation. While the very intimate physicality of motherhood warrants the need for some mothers-only interaction, I have personally struggled with the de facto gendered exclusion of dads, many if not most of whom face similar challenges in terms of combining work and home lives. In fact, dads have sat down with us over time, and for the better. And just a few months ago, with MTT going into its toddler years, the need for being inclusive has made itself more tangible. We found a balance between genders with one of our two monthly gatherings including Mom and Pop Tea Talkers, or PoM Tea Talkers, and the other one remaining a Mom Tea Talk. 

How many parents are in the group?

Quite a few, actually. Over the past years, existing MTTers have had child number two, and new or expecting MTTers have joined, bringing the membership from its original dozen to well above thirty Moms. With the recent addition of ‘Pops’, we are nearing 40, I think. In fact, we are poised to create a listserve that would make it easier to manage the growing list of members, especially as parents who aren’t so new anymore have started to join. We’ve even been talking about reaching out to the Law School and to the Graduate School.

Is there a baby boom on campus right now?

It definitely seems like it. Babies have been popping up from every corner and every constituency of the College.

In what ways do MTT and PoMTT help parents on campus form a community?

I think that PoMTT doesn’t form a community as much as it provides an already existing community a channel to become more visible. Just as gender is only one aspect of someone’s identity, so is parenthood. It characterizes us but doesn’t define us. It’s actually one side of the broad spectrum of diversity on-campus that reaches across or transcends other kinds of diversity. Every one of us comes from and may have created a family or is poised to create one.

If you could have three wishes granted to benefit parents here at Lewis & Clark, what would they be?

Number one would be “Daycare on campus” without a doubt. Talk about community… This would unite various constituencies across L&C. Number two: Having a space designated as a mothers’ room in every building on campus. Number Three? Hmm… Probably a lounge or some variant on a faculty/staff club where we could get together comfortably. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Yes! That some time over the coming months, a PoMTT Moodle Page will be born to provide a virtual repository of parents’ information and related resources. One recent MTTer suggested that The Green may also be a friendly space for PoMTTers to interact. Anyone interested in PoMTT should feel free to email me.