May 11, 2019 10:00:39 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
As a young mother, Lorena Thomas was feeling a bit lost in 2010. She had two small daughters born 18 months apart, no experience with children and few people to lean on or ask advice of. A native of Ecuador, she also daily faced language and cultural issues, although she had previously earned a master's degree at Mississippi State University. That's where she met her future husband, who is from the Philippines. After completing her degree, Thomas had returned to Ecuador, but eventually came back to Mississippi to marry. It wasn't long before she was learning on-the-job how to be a mother.
"It was a very lonely world," Thomas said, looking back on her inexperienced start. "I had moved to Columbus, and I hardly spoke English and didn't have any friends. My life was so different when I came back here. I wasn't working; I stayed at home for the first time, and I had never been around little kids. It really was just a shock, with the culture being different and just not having a friend ... "
What Thomas did have was a neighbor who told her about MOPS -- Mothers of Preschoolers. Founded in 1973 in Colorado, MOPS -- later MOPS International -- rallies women to come together in their own neighborhoods and help each other through motherhood. It encourages and equips moms of young children to realize their potential not only as parents, but as women and leaders, in partnership with local churches. Several groups are active in the Golden Triangle. The one Thomas was told about nine years ago currently meets twice monthly at Main Street Presbyterian Church. Casey Erickson is president.
"This group has been around for 14 years, and amazingly, I've been involved the entire time," Erickson said. She has yet to "graduate out" of the networking group for mothers with preschoolers because, with six children ages 2 1/2 to 16, she continues to have a preschooler at home. Even as experienced at parenting as she is now, she can still relate to the insecurities Thomas felt.
"Anyone who has become a mom can agree it's one of the most wonderful, meaningful and awesome things that can happen to you -- but also one of the most difficult," Erickson said. "It's easy to become isolated, overwhelmed and discouraged. At MOPS, we want to give moms a chance to get out, make friends, have some adult conversation and trust God in the process."
What Thomas found at the first meeting she attended made her hopeful.
"It was very inspirational," she said. "The moms just started talking a little bit about their lives, and I met a mentor mom, a more experienced mom who has done this already and is willing to teach younger moms." Thomas discovered she wasn't the only mother with questions; she was able to voice hers face-to-face, on everything from meal-planning to time management. Her mentor mom, Kelly Hutto, became a significant resource and friend.
"I remember one thing she told me was that it's very important to wake up before the kids, to have a quiet time," Thomas recounted. "You need that time, to see what you need to do with the day and to spend time with the Lord."
To this day, Thomas and Hutto try to get together once a week outside of regular meetings. The group as a whole also organizes play dates, game nights, ladies night out and other activities that strengthen support among a cross-section of women who represent different ages, interests and ethnicities.
Regular daytime meetings are September through May and often feature speakers on topics of interest to moms; some teach a hands-on craft. Childcare is provided.
"We recently made a chore chart, and my boys love it!" said member Cyndi Walls. She is the mom of two sons, ages 5 and 7, but from 2011 until 2018 she and her husband were also house parents at Palmer Home for Children. She joined MOPS about three years ago after seeing a Facebook post. "I honestly have a hard time doing things where I have to go meet new people," she said, "but being a mom full-time, I was looking for an outlet."
The group helps Walls re-focus, she said.
"They talk about so many things, from potty training to holiday traditions. We can swap funny stories, run ideas past somebody else, or ask moms that have already gone through all this before. It's a place of encouragement."
Members' children benefit, too, through new friends, play and activities.
"The kids have a great time," Erickson said. "My child is always asking, is today MOPS day?"
Effects can ripple throughout families. Member Ivy Harris' husband, Justin Harris, said, "MOPS has provided a two-way street for our family. Not only has it benefited us with regards to spiritual, family and parenting aspects of our lives, but it's provided an opportunity for our family to serve others in our community in the same ways as well."
MOPS welcomes new participants.
"If you're the mom of a preschooler, then we'd love to have you," said Erickson.
If day meetings aren't an option, a newly-formed MOPS group hosts monthly evening meetings at the downtown Columbus YMCA. Another group meets at Starkville's First Baptist Church.
"There's so much we can learn from each other," said Erickson. "The Lord has taught me a lot during my years of being a mother of preschoolers, and I want to share that with new mothers -- and I want to learn from them." Motherhood can sometimes be hard, she added. But it doesn't have to be lonely.
Thomas has a third child now, another preschooler at home -- but she no longer feels lost. She's been at this mom thing for a while now, and her support system is intact. She relishes "just having friends and being able to go and have a play date and to talk to somebody, just a grown-up that knows your name, that doesn't call me 'Mommy' and need me every second," she smiled. "A lot of times you can feel like you're failing, but you're not alone. These are common problems, and moms who have gone through it, they are able to share encouragement and friendship."
Editor's note: To learn more about this MOPS group, contact Casey Erickson, 662-242-0964, or Ivy Harris, 662-251-2868, or visit facebook.com/goldentriangleMOPS. For information about MOPS meeting at the YMCA, email Fran Guerry, [email protected] Visit fbcstarkville.com/events for more on Starkville MOPS meeting at First Baptist Church.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.