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Stay-at-Home Moms

Local organizations target moms who stop working full-time in order to care for offspring.

When Martha Allen Godin had her son David, she found it hard to juggle her duties as a new mother and a lawyer. So at the end of the year, she decided to quit her job and become a stay-at-home full-time mom.

"It was a real struggle," said the Oakton resident. "I realized I can always go back to work."

Godin is one of many area mothers who forego working full-time in order to care for their offspring. She is also one of many area moms who belongs to Mothers First, a social organization that started in Falls Church 14 years ago to help professional women adjust to motherhood and staying at home full-time.

Another local organization, the Fairfax-based Family and Home Network, focuses on family and workforce policy concerns. Originally founded in 1984 as Mothers at Home, it changed to the Family and Home Network in the spring of 2002 in order to advocate for both mothers and fathers.

Both reach out to the 45 percent of mothers with children under 12 months old who stay at home full-time, according to Census data.

"One thing that was surprising to me was the number of mothers staying at home who are not in the traditional housewife mold," said McLean author Julie Shields, who wrote The Mommy Trap, a book on sharing parental responsibilities. Shields had interviewed many local families for her research, including those who belonged to Mothers First. "People are coming up with their own arrangements."

Mothers First began 14 years ago as a chapter of Female, a national mothers' support group. The chapter decided to break away from the national organization in order to concentrate on more local efforts and become an all-volunteer nonprofit. They created their own charter and held monthly social events and discussions on parenting, in addition to forming weekly support group meetings.

THE CURRENT MEMBERSHIP stands at around 200, with its members belong to one of 16 to 17 area support groups. Topics discussed at the weekly support groups and the monthly lectures include feeding, discipline, traveling with children and college financial planning. They also talk about creating wills and working with their husbands.

"It's very interesting to meet new people and get in touch with older moms," said Vienna resident Veronique Viola, who heads the Vienna/McLean group.

Godin became part of the group when she found that she needed a social network of like moms who had made the same decisions she made. She found out about Mothers First while taking a yoga class.

"You need to go out and see other women and say, you changed 16 diapers too," Godin said.

Another member, Fairfax resident Diane Sekelsky, agreed. Sekelsky, who worked as a nurse, found that the meetings helped her parenting skills.

"Sometimes I look at them as my co-workers," Sekelsky said.

Although the support groups help the mothers, they also encourage moms to bring their children to the meetings. At the meetings, the older children help take care of the younger ones. Moms also meet each other at the local playground.

The children "like to see the same kids over again," Godin said.

WHILE MOTHERS FIRST concentrates on the social aspect of stay-at-home moms, the Family and Home Network, another nonprofit, advocates for them. They publish Welcome Home, a monthly national magazine whose features include parenting tips and stories, as well as policy updates.

Although some Mothers First moms transition back to work after staying at home for several years, others do not. Either way, the turnover in membership benefits new mothers who are just starting to adjust.

"We become more of a mentor to the new moms," Sekelsky said.