Gather a Squad

Tide Risers is excited to feature Callan Blount Fleming on the blog speaking about her experience as a new mom, among other things, in honor of Mother's Day.

I will never forget that hot, humid summer morning when my newborn daughter and I were planning to meet up with moms on maternity leave and their babies, almost all of whom we’d never met. Equal parts thrilled and terrified to leave the house — and also a bit nervous about the impression I’d make after sleeping in two hour increments for many weeks. I packed up the baby and walked 25 minutes to a local diner. When I pulled up and took my sleeping kid (woo!) out of her stroller, she’d totally blown out her diaper. I was slightly stunned and unsure of what to do; she’d never done this before. Being a new mom, I didn’t know I was supposed to have a backup outfit. 

But all worries lifted when three mothers immediately sprung to action, offering extra hands, wipes, and their own children’s clothes. (They had gotten that backup outfit memo.) I was touched when one of the moms handed me her baby’s onesie and said, “Take it, we have another one at home.” The onesie had a picture of a bike and said “I wheelie like you.” We wheelie wore that onesie over and over. 

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It was that moment when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do this mom thing without a squad, and I certainly didn’t want to. Since, I’ve intentionally and unabashedly called on this group of new mothers, Tide Risers, colleagues, family, and friends. On this week before Mother’s Day, I would like to celebrate my squad and encourage all of us to consider the power of community in all our creative endeavors.

Thank you, squad, for your practical support and for the opportunity to give to you. 

A common refrain I hear from mothers is the absolute abhorrence to asking for help. Under the hood, there could be many reasons for this. Mom might have been raised to perceive that asking for help is being a burden; mom might have internalized the systemic expectations that she somehow does it all. 

Whatever the case, community offers the opportunity to give and get practical support, from advice to referrals to babysitting swaps to amazingly generous actions like running a breast pump over to your house at 9 PM when yours breaks. It allows the receivers to release a bit of pressure while blessing the giver with the joy that always comes with showing up for another person.

Thank you, squad, for relieving my isolation.

Isolation as a young mother is very real. First, almost no one in mom’s life knows what she is going through. Even her own mother is biologically programmed to forget the mess, pain, hormone swings, and sheer exhaustion. Second, mom’s identity is fundamentally transforming, potentially isolating her from her partner, family, and other communities. Unlike almost all transformations to this point (college, jobs, marriage/partnership, etc.), there is no way for her to really prepare in advance for this identity shift. No wonder we feel off-kilter.  

Further, young children have a host of needs that are challenging to meet in public. For many mothers, it can take a lot of effort and already limited energy to get out of the house. Meeting up with others who will also be nursing, can provide cover for diaper changes, and don’t care if you are thirty minutes late helps. 

Thank you, squad, for sharing your experiences and hearing about mine without judgment. 

There’s no one perfect way to do anything, let alone parent. Let’s please pause for that to sink in. 

As you may know, there is a lot of information out there about parenting, probably too much and certainly not all proven. Oh, and the opinions! My word, the opinions. Calling on my community to help cull through all of it informed my decisions. Intentionally creating a community of folks with diverse backgrounds and experiences broadened my one and only personal perspective on family. 

There was also something powerful about watching other members of the community share, support, and debate with one another. Some folks tackled questions I’d never considered. Many modeled challenges I’d yet to have and previewed possible solutions. Watching others connect taught me new ways of relating to and supporting others.

Thank you, squad, for holding up a mirror, even if you didn’t realize it.

About three months ago, I told my mom squad I wanted to have a difficult conversation in another part of my life. I’ve not yet done it. No one bothers me about it, and if its ever brought up, it is always from a place of curiosity and support. There’s something about making a declaration to a group and then seeing them again that keeps me on track. Or if not on track, aware of it, and pondering why I’ve yet to do what I said I wanted to do. 

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Thank you, squad, for letting me do me.

Many of us feel we need to perform to some extent almost all the time. Out of care for our family, friends, and partner, we craft our words. Out of concern for our career, we take note of the company culture and show up in a way that fits. Many of us are feeling pressure to brand ourselves to our online “community.”

For me, the single most valuable reward of living into community has been the ability to show up authentically, vulnerably, with no makeup on, and something that kinda resembles a messy top knot on my head. It’s been the grace someone gives me when I can’t speak in full sentences. It’s been the safety of knowing all I need to do is show up as I am, and further, I will be loved for it.

While my commitment to community has significantly deepened during this time of early motherhood, community is certainly a transformative resource for all of us at whatever stage we find ourselves. I would encourage anyone feeling the need for community to seek it out.  

So, what’s sparking for you? 

Are you longing to expand your community?

What self-perceptions, habits, ways of thinking, etc., might be standing in your way of calling on community? 

How can you encourage yourself to push through those potential barriers? What small steps can you take?

What practical ways can you tap in to community? For parents, communities that encourage self-organizing abound, such as Park Slope Parents and their ilk as well as apps that connect parents for meet ups. For mission-driven women, there are cohort-based learning experiences like Tide Risers. 

Could you build a community yourself? 

Could we share ideas here about how to build community so we can all learn from one another?

(Hint: please answer these questions in the comments below!)

And to all the mamas out there, and your squad, Happy Mother’s Day!

CallanBlountFleming

Callan is a Tide Riser and a founder, consultant, trainer, and leadership coach igniting the passion and talents of individuals to make organizations remarkable. Her company, Spark Collective, provides services that include customized leadership trainings and facilitations, leadership coaching, and community and culture building support. Her clients include privately-held businesses, charter schools, and lifestyle brands as well as coaching clients working in education, global health, and startup for-profit companies.