Jennifer Chapman: Working Hard to Make Mothers’ Lives Easier
Free brunch? She had us at free childcare.
Women who attend meetings of Mastering Motherhood get a little pampering along with advice and support.
“We really spoil mamas,” says Jennifer Chapman, the group’s founder, “because mamas are always serving others.”
The organization, Jennifer says, is both informative and nurturing for mothers.
“They have a place where they can share ideas and become educated on how to parent, and different tricks and tips,” she says, “but also where they can be real with their struggles of how difficult it is to parent these days.”
Upon arriving at the meetings, which are held Thursdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Christ Chapel in Madison, mothers drop off their kids in one of four childcare rooms, then head off to the church’s café for brunch. (“It’s a spread,” says Jennifer.)
After brunch, the mothers sit at tables to hear a talk on such topics as education, finances, special needs, and children in crisis. Then the women discuss the parenting book they’ve chosen to read for the season—there are fall and spring sessions, lasting from 13 to 16 weeks.
As part of the spoiling, one or two lucky attendees receive a present, such as a gift card.
Jennifer founded Mastering Motherhood four years ago, shortly after moving to Madison from Ohio.
“I was a part of a moms’ group in Ohio that I loved,” she says. “When you’re a part of something that’s so fantastic and you’re so supported, it’s hard to move and not have that.”
Mastering Motherhood was originally a group of seven women who were members of Christ Chapel.
“I had felt God calling me to open it up beyond the seven people and to send out invites,” Jennifer says, “but we didn’t have space.”
Then the Christ Chapel school closed, “which was really sad,” says Jennifer—but that freed up meeting space. “I couldn’t really argue with that,” says Jennifer, who tends to see a positive side in everything.
Through invitations and word-of-mouth, Mastering Motherhood has grown to 150 or 160 members, with 32 members in leadership roles.
“It wouldn’t be what it is today without my leadership team,” Jennifer says.
Because of that growth, Mastering Motherhood has started to ask for a voluntary donation of $30 per fall or spring session ($40 to include the price of the discussion book), so brunch and childcare are technically not free; Jennifer says that scholarships are available for women for whom those amounts would be a hardship.
Big Job, Little Training
Jennifer believes that Mastering Motherhood addresses a serious need.
“I feel like moms have—especially in this day and age—a really difficult place in society,” she says. “It’s a difficult job. I feel like you need to be smarter than the kids. The technology these kids have, it’s hard to keep up.
“We have training, internships, college degrees, for the working world,” she says, “but then when we’re a mom, they hand you this baby, and there’s none of that. The only training we’ve had really is from our own experience growing up. And whether it’s good or bad, that’s how we model—usually our parenting is off our parents’ parenting.
“So I think it’s really an important thing to empower moms to realize that choosing to be a mom is really important. Even though they’re not getting a paycheck or the worldly recognition, the job that they’re doing is extremely important.”
Technology, Jennifer believes, has made motherhood difficult in a paradoxical way.
“You would think that with social media it would be more like you’re not isolated and you’re not separated,” she says, “but what social media is doing is putting out the best of everybody, almost like a fake front, and so all these moms are very isolated, feeling alone and seeing Facebook and thinking, ‘I don’t have that. Why am I not like that?’
“And then we’re so busy,” she says. “So we’re running, running, running, right? All of our kids are in 50 million activities, and we’re seeing other moms on the bleachers or at the grocery store and we’re saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’ ‘Great, how are you?’ Whether you’re feeling that way or not.
“So Mastering Motherhood provides a place of just being real,” Jennifer says. “Women come in sometimes just in their yoga pants with spit-up on their shoulders, because they can’t…you know. And women share and are vulnerable and are real. And the beautiful part is that they’re met by other moms that are in the same place, so they know that they’re not alone, and they know that it’s normal, and they know that they have support and care in the place where they are with their kids.
“It’s wonderful,” Jennifer says. “I always feel like at Mastering Motherhood I’m the best mom. Because you get pumped up. You’re here, and you have tools, you feel empowered, you’re excited about being a mom, you realize it’s such an important job. For like the next three days you’re like rocking the mom thing. You’re like ‘I’ve got this under control.’
“And then the fifth day you’re like ‘OK, I need Mastering Motherhood again.’”
More than Meetings
Although the meetings are held at Christ Chapel, which is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Mastering Motherhood is nondenominational. Among the members, Jennifer says, “we have 22 different churches represented, but I would say that half of the women are not churched.
“There’s definitely a faith element in it,” she says. “Our parenting books are biblically based. It’s sound parenting teaching as well. I think people take what they want and, you know, they’re met where they are, whatever stage they’re at.”
Jennifer emphasizes that Mastering Motherhood isn’t only for stay-at-home mothers with infants or toddlers.
“There are moms here with kids grown and in college,” she says, “and teenage moms and newborn moms, stepmoms, nannies with kids, grandmas watching their kids.
“A lot of moms work,” Jennifer says, “and they schedule their work around coming to Mastering Motherhood.”
Each discussion group, Jennifer says, includes “an older, more wise woman who’s been there and done that and come out the other side and can tell the young moms, ‘You will live. It is OK. Everything is for a reason.’ Their job is really to come around the other moms, to love on them, to pray for them, to offer support outside of the group in any way that they can.”
Mastering Motherhood involves more than just weekly meetings.
“As it has grown,” Jennifer says, “we have special teams that have branched out from it, so we have Mamas’ Night Out. We have Giggles for God playdates, which is really fun for moms with little kids.
“We have Making a Difference events,” she says. “These are purposefully put together for moms to serve with their kids in our community. Because I think one of the most important things we can do as a mom is to teach our children how to serve others and the joy that comes from serving others and not just serving ourselves.”
Women and children from the group have held teas and Mother’s Day brunches at a residence for single mothers in New Haven and have visited the Watrous Nursing Home in Madison for arts and crafts, story time, trick-or-treating, and Christmas caroling.
“I have to say that Mastering Motherhood has grown so fast,” says Jennifer. “It has become all-consuming, and it’s become a full-time job for me, but it is such a blessing to run.”
‘Stepping Out in Faith’
Asked what has been the biggest reward of her work with the group, Jennifer says, “Stepping out in faith to even start this. I didn’t feel qualified. I think stepping past fear and obeying God in what he called me to do has been the greatest blessing of this whole thing.”
Asked what “stepping out in faith” means, Jennifer says that it’s “stepping past what the world has set before you and really getting in tune with God and figuring out what he has for you. Which is such a cool place to be. It’s like the biggest high you’ll ever have in your life.
“God calls us to serve others,” she says, “and that looks different for everybody because he’s created us all differently and with different gifts, but it always usually means stepping past fear, because we’re never called to do something that’s comfortable, but if we do, the reward is so much greater than what the world gives—comfort or money.”
Jennifer believes that the demand for Mastering Motherhood is bigger than what the Madison group can handle—”I know people that drive 45 minutes to an hour to come on Thursday mornings,” she says.
“I really feel called to step past my fear again,” she says—she is going to start working with other churches to found their own Mastering Motherhood groups.
(People who are interested can contact Jennifer at MasteringMotherhoodInc@gmail.com.)
Jennifer was born in 1974, in Richmond, Virginia, but was mostly raised in England, where her father worked as a transportation consultant. She wasn’t brought up in a church, and didn’t become religious until her junior year in high school.
“My dad had become a Christian a year before,” she says. “He came to know the Lord in an airport. God brought him to his knees. And he came home a very changed man. And I saw the change in his life.
“He went on a mission trip to Romania,” Jennifer says, “and dragged me with him, and I was at an extreme point of rebellion as a teenager. I was not in a good place, and I encountered people who loved the Lord and had nothing. And they had a joy that far exceeded anything that our western culture had. Because they were totally dependent on God, and God provided every day, and it really changed my life when I gave my life to God.”
Jennifer graduated from high school at the end of her junior year and went to Gordon, a Christian college outside of Boston. Her future husband, Craig, was a year ahead of her there.
Jennifer had dated a friend of Craig’s who was attending Gordon temporarily. After the friend left, Jennifer kept trying to set up a friend of hers with Craig.
“We would do things,” she says, “and I would always invite her to go with us, until he finally said, ‘No! I just want to hang out with you.’
“And here we are,” she says, laughing.
They were married shortly after she graduated. They moved to Thibodaux, Louisiana, where Craig worked for a manufacturing company that is now part of Parker Hannifin. Jennifer says that moving to bayou country was much more of a culture shock than moving to Massachusetts from England.
Having earned a double degree in business administration and art, Jennifer found work at an advertising agency in New Orleans, even though a professor had once told her she wouldn’t be very good at commercial art.
“The one thing you don’t tell me is something I can’t do,” she says, laughing.
She worked her way up from intern to creative director, but when the family’s first child was born, she became a full-time mother. Craig and Jennifer now have four children, all in Madison public schools: Carter, who’s 18; Pierson, who’s 16; Anna-Catherine, who’s 13; and Beckham—Jennifer calls him “our little blessing”—who’s 5.
Parker Hannifin or its various affiliates have sent the family around the country; Madison is their seventh home.
Jennifer stresses the positive side of all this moving.
“It’s been great for the kids, actually,” she says. “It makes them very secure in who they are. If you ask them what they’ve learned, they’ll say to not change yourself to fit in. You just be who you are. And also that friends come and go, but your family’s always there.”
With her background in advertising, Jennifer must have weighed the name Mastering Motherhood carefully. Asked by email whether the name might seem a little daunting to struggling mothers, she responds, “I have heard that people absolutely love the name, but yes, I have heard that some moms find it daunting. But mostly I’ve heard the jokes from the husbands who constantly ask their wives, ‘Haven’t you mastered motherhood yet?’
“That is why it is Mastering Motherhood," she says. "It is always a work in progress."