TODDLERS OUT OF EARSHOT, MOMS JUST TALK

Young moms assemble at a recent meeting of Mothers of Preschoolers in Red Bank. Jenni Keatts, below, says she appreciates the chance to chat “hands-free.”  (Photos by Rebecca Desfosse. Click to enlarge)

By REBECCA DESFOSSE

Twice a month, swarms of weary moms march across the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church of Red Bank at Tower Hill, preschoolers in one hand and diaper bags in the other.

They corral their kids into classrooms upstairs, and after wiping a few tears, offer a smile of thanks to the volunteers who will watch their little ones for the next two hours. They then hurry downstairs to the St. Andrews room, where they’re warmly greeted with a “so nice to see you” from nearly everyone they see.

They’ve come for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), a twice-monthly support group for moms of little ones, and this is their refuge.

As moms sip coffee and munch on baked goods, “Mentor Mom” Carol Andrews of Middletown, who has lead the group for 19 years, initiates the meeting with a discussion – this week, on the topic, “Nine Needs of Every Mom.”

“You cannot forget you are worth taking care of,” she tells the women.

After Andrews’ talk, moms break off into small groups to discuss the topic further, bringing in a wide array of perspectives of those who’ve been there, done that and lived to tell the tale. Through lots of laughter and a few tears, the women agree: they need to focus on themselves, and they’re all struggling with having an identity apart from their kids.

Nikki Barreca of Shrewsbury, mom of four, has been coming to MOPS for three years, and has been a part of the leadership program. She says she enjoys “just being with other moms, hearing Carol’s talks, and feeling like you’re not the only one.”

Though “Christian-based” – a church webpage describes the group as part of an international “Christ-centered ministry that helps mothers develop friendships, creativity, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” – Andrews tells redbankgreen that plenty of women who attend at Tower Hill have no religious affiliation, and come simply to learn from others how to deal with difficult situations.

One of the very few MOPS groups to offer free childcare, the Red Bank MOPPETS program is run by grandmas, grandpas and other volunteers. Jenni Keatts of Shrewsbury believes that, “having a hands free conversation with other moms… with no one pulling on me,” is an important part of the MOPS equation.

Lisa Koch of Fair Haven has been coming to MOPS for two years. She comes for the camaraderie of the women as well as the  talks and inspiration – all while knowing her kids are safe.

The next MOPS meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October  11, from 9 to 11 a.m. To register, moms pay a one-time membership fee of $24; scholarships are available for those who have a financial hardship. MOPS also requests a $5 donation at each meeting to cover costs associated with hosting the group.