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Home but not alone

September 11, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

It looked like any other day at the beach.

Scores of toddlers waded in shallow water, scooping sand and making mud castles. Attentive mothers stood close, watching and sometimes playing with their children.

But what was really happening at Greenbrier State Park's lake on an August day was a show of camaraderie - support, friendship and strength in shared experiences among women who pride themselves in being a mother above all else.

They are members of the Hagerstown North Chapter MOMS Club, a group of about 60 stay-at-home mothers who come together, sometimes daily, to mutually support their child-rearing missions.

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"If you are at home by yourself for 10 hours a day, like most of us are, you need someone to talk to," says Jessie Frushour, a member of the local chapter. Being a stay-at-home mom "is like a career change. You have to get used to your new responsibilities," she says. "I've become really proud of the job that I have and the choices I've made."

The Hagerstown club, part of a larger, international organization, is one indicator of the new generation of stay-at-home moms. Since at least the early 1990s the number of moms - and dads - choosing to stay at home with their kids full time has steadily increased.

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that in 2004, 23 percent more moms were staying at home with their kids than in 1994. In the same time frame, there was a 93 percent increase in the number of fathers who chose to stay at home.

Such numbers are particularly telling since the total number of married couple families with young children increased by less than 1 percent in the same period. A higher percentage of American families with two parents are making the decision to keep one parent full time in the home.

Moms meet moms



Today's stay-at-home parents face different challenges than the moms of previous generations, since their lifestyle is the exception rather than the rule. Moms often are choosing to stay home with their children rather than pursue their careers. Sometimes, that choice means families must watch budgets more closely.

And since stay-at-home parents represent less than 2 percent of the American population, they can often feel isolated in their home "work place."

The 5-year-old Hagerstown North Chapter MOMS Club saw significant growth over the summer, says Frushour, membership vice president. While it's unclear if there are more stay-at-home moms in the area or if word about the club is spreading, the club jumped in membership from about 45 members to about 60 members over the past three months. There is talk of creating new chapters in the Washington County area.

New outlook



Terri Sears of Sharpsburg is one stay-at-home mom who always vowed she wouldn't give up her career to focus on children.

"I was very career-oriented," she says. "I always said I would never stay at home with my children."

But when her son arrived about three years ago, everything changed.

"As soon as you have a child, your perspective changes. I couldn't imagine leaving in the morning and leaving my child with someone else," she says.

Now, Sears is a member of the Hagerstown-based Moms R' Us, another club that pools support for moms. She's also making changes in her life and career so that her family can keep her at home as much as possible.

"Most of the people in these clubs have the philosophy that they want to be there for their kids on a day-to-day basis when they're young," she adds. "It's good to be around people who have the same values."

It's also nice to develop friends who know exactly what it's like to deal with potty-training, sibling rivalries or bedtime issues, says Shannon Flint, the Hagerstown club's president.

Flint joined the club when her son, Ryan, now 3, was 6 months old.

"I had spent about six months not having anyone to talk to about infant issues," she says. Choosing to stay at home instead of going back to work "was a big adjustment," she adds. "All my friends work so it was hard to find other people who were at home."

In the MOMS Club, Flint found an outlet where she can talk and share experiences about balancing a family life and choosing preschool programs. Her son and later Emma, 2, found play groups with other kids their age.

Club benefits



Some of the most utilized club programs are the weekly play groups divided by children's ages. Moms get a break while their kids play together, and the moms get to socialize with peers.

That kind of program is especially useful for Amy Sargent, one of the newest members of the club.

Sargent, her husband and their 17-month-old son moved to Hagers-town a few months ago. She wasn't sure how she was going to learn about the area and meet people since she decided to stay at home with her child.

After one month, both Sargent and her son, George, already have made friends with others in the toddler play group.

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