Friday, July 20, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

'Mama Tribe' creates bonds beyond mommy wars

The mamas gather together, infants on hip and toddlers underfoot, but this is not a play date.

No one came to force small talk while the kids play.

The women here belong to the Tampa Mama Tribe. And tears or sunshine, they stand by each other. They nurture each other. Bonded by an "It takes a village" attitude, they defy the mommy wars concept.

"We are friends first," says 39-year-old Dora Smyka, artist, mother of two boys and founder of the Tribe. "I guess it's good our kids get along too."

On this day, Smyka welcomes a few Tribe mamas into her home, a townhouse where crocheted hammocks replace living room furniture. The women sit on the floor, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling abstract art, and unpack toys they brought for the littles to share. They check in with each other.

Toula Markopoulos, a 24-year-old earning her masters in psychology, is planning a backpacking trip through Europe, just her and 10-month-old daughter Josie.

"It's not crazy and you can totally do it," Smyka says to Markopoulos.

The other mamas chime in with travel tips.


Abby Moore, 34, is mother to 4-year-old Bennet, 3-year-old Coen and baby girl Annabelle. She studied dance and theater at Bowling Green University. She spent time in Africa. There, she saw mamas wearing their babies and sharing parenting duties. The maternal love she witnessed, she never forgot.

Chelsea Castillo, 31, also a mother to three, works encouraging women through the birth process. She organizes Blessingways for the Tribe, events where women share stories and offer affirmations to pregnant mamas. She is a certified child birth educator.

Beth Creasey, a 25-year-old member of the Army National Guard, just returned from drill. She is expecting her second child. Following a traumatic hospital birth with her first, daughter Caroline, she found support in the Tribe.

The mamas help each other with child care. They support one another's small businesses. They swap maternity clothes like siblings. They bring birthday cakes when husbands forget.

When a fire left Gracie Rivera's family homeless, the Tribe rallied together. Members collected funds. They donated clothes, toys and food.

When Moore's mother fell ill and passed, mamas held her as she grieved.

When Castillo started selling children's accessories, the Tribe helped spread the word.

"Until I found the Tribe, I didn't know women could really even get along," Castillo says, holding her youngest, 2-year-old daughter Wren. "The Tribe is for us. It's about women empowering other women and it's beautiful."

Pregnancy. Miscarriage. Depression. Parenting anxiety. Domestic violence. The Tribe helps you through, mamas say.

And in the day-to-day, whether you're feeling overjoyed, want to punch something or you just want to hide in bed, the Tribe is there.

"I was pregnant, severely depressed and sleeping at a friend's house," Markopoloulos says, watching Josie crawl giggling to Miss Dora's snack table. "My dad had kicked me out. Most of my friends thought I should have an abortion. The Tribe supported me."


A 2012 post by blogger Abby Theuring, known worldwide as the Badass Breastfeeder, inspired the group, Smyka says.

The post encouraged moms to find their 'tribe,' a group of likeminded women to serve as a support system and extended family tree.

"When I first became a mom, I didn't have mom friends to support me," Theuring, 40, says. "I had trouble with breastfeeding and I didn't know what to do. Looking back, it was a scary time."

Feeling lost, alone and doubting herself, Theuring turned to social media.

"Online, I connected with a few women and we became close," she says. "I was able to go to them for advice. It changed everything for me. I wrote the blog because I wanted to share how important it is to connect with other moms."

More than 300 groups in nine different countries popped up as a result. Theuring acquired more than 250,000 followers.

In the West, specifically the United States, women are tired of doing it solo, Theuring says.

"The way the modern world is set up, moms these days can feel really isolated," she says. "When you think of villages in Africa, where everyone helps everyone, and then the western world, where we don't really have any type of community set up."

Mamas such as Smyka, who practice attachment parenting, sometimes feel scrutinized in mainstream circles.

AP, a term coined by pediatrician William Sears, includes breastfeeding, co-sleeping and positive discipline practices.

In Tampa, Smyka visited local moms groups but felt out of place. At home, she sobbed. Her husband suggested she start her own group.

"At other meetups, I felt ostracized," Smyka says. "I breastfed and cloth diapered. I wore my baby. No one seemed to get it. I felt alone."


The Tampa Mama Tribe began as a private Facebook group, a place for mothers to seek advice, vent frustrations and find comfort.

The closed online group now includes more than 250 women, spanning four Tampa Bay area counties.

Out of the online group, close bonds formed.

The core active members and admins meet regularly, at parks and coffee spots, one another's homes and the zoo. Sometimes, they bring the kids. Other times, they get together for nights out. They drink wine, eat fondue, listen to bands and make noise.

The mamas' interests, styles and personalities differ. There are working moms, work-at-home-moms and stay-at-home moms. Some members practice attachment parenting. Some do not. Some are religious. Some are not. The mamas differ on everything from fashion to politics.

Smyka, who owns apparel company Warhole Designs, is a fiery bottled-made redhead. She curses without shame. She vacations on rock-n-roll cruises, requires coffee and doesn't try to appear perfect.

"I yell sometimes," she says. "I make mistakes."

She also makes everything into a learning project for her sons, 6-year-old John and 4-year-old Orion. When they cook together, they practice math. For science class, they build robots. They dig into nature and read books exploring the human skeleton. They paint and dance on the bed.


Smyka sacrifices personal time to keep the Tribe strong. When a mama has a need, she tries to help. She fits last minute babysitting into her busy schedule. She answers midnight phone calls from hysterical mamas.

And the members reciprocate.

"Dora created something that I think is very important to all the members including herself," husband Jim Smyka says. "It may have created stress and frustration at times for her and us, but the upside is far greater in my opinion. The amount of love and sharing in Dora's group has gone beyond my original expectations."

The Tribe offers refuge and reassurance, laughter and inspiration, Smyka says.

"When I created the group, I wanted it to be something where moms learned from one another, where they could feel safe and comfortable, and not be judged," she says. "It grew to become this beautiful sisterhood, which is what I wanted initially. But it took years to evolve into this."

"We all feel like we're failing as moms at some point or another," she says. "It is a learning process every day. The tribe gave me the courage and strength I needed as a mom. Without it, I don't think I would be as involved with my kids to the degree that I am. It has made me a better mom. I am more connected to my children because I know other moms."

In February 2016, I went online in search of a preschool homeschool co-op for my son. A friend added me to the Tampa Mama Tribe homeschool group and the Tampa Mama Tribe. At my first Tribe event, a trip to Sweetwater Organic Farm, I instantly felt welcome. The mamas offered me support and encouragement throughout my second pregnancy. They are always there when I need a listening here. The love and support the women show for each other is remarkable.

Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]

In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

By the second week of August, public schools will be back in session across the Tampa Bay area. That may seem far off, but sleep experts say now is when parents need to start easing the kids (and themselves) into those early wakeup routines. The foll...
Published: 07/20/18
Deep-fried wonders at Plant City Strawberry Festival to be featured on Cooking Channel

Deep-fried wonders at Plant City Strawberry Festival to be featured on Cooking Channel

The strawberry-laden and deep-fried wonders of Plant City’s Florida Strawberry Festival will be featured on two episodes of the TV series Carnival Eats, the first on July 29.The Cooking Channel series features host Noah Cappe as he marvels at the "ga...
Published: 07/19/18

Tell Me About It: Family put off by another big wedding

Q: I’m engaged to a wonderful man, "Jim," and we’re planning our wedding. We just booked a gorgeous inn and I am going to wear a stunning full-length white dress. We’ll also be having a sit-down dinner with band and dancing for the reception.I’m in m...
Published: 07/18/18
First look (with video): Universal’s new high-tech fountain shows ends the night at the theme park

First look (with video): Universal’s new high-tech fountain shows ends the night at the theme park

Visitors to Universal Studios in Orlando on Monday night got to witness the premiere of the new high-tech, dancing-fountain, cinematic show to end the day in the park in what the show’s creator called "a kiss goodnight." It’s full of ima...
Published: 07/17/18

Tell Me About It: Stepmom expects gift will become an issue

Q: My husband’s daughter just announced she and her boyfriend are getting married, and we are very happy for them. They are planning a wedding that we consider over the top. The cost will likely exceed her annual salary.My husband has been blunt abou...
Published: 07/17/18

Tell Me About It: The grieving process differs for everyone

Q: My parents died in an accident a year and a half ago. I grieve for them every day and still find it difficult to talk about them without tears. I see a grief counselor and have been screened by my doctor for depression, and both said what I was fe...
Published: 07/16/18

Tell Me About It: Wife’s beefs with family are indefensible

Q: My wife occasionally picks fights with members of my family of origin, especially my sister. What am I supposed to do about that? The general guidance is that protecting my spouse from my family of origin is my responsibility, but it was my wife t...
Published: 07/15/18
Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks longevity, the road and picking the perfect opener

Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks longevity, the road and picking the perfect opener

There was a time, believe it or not, when Rascal Flatts was considered cutting-edge country. Okay, "cutting-edge" might be pushing it — the trio’s wholesome, harmony-laden style was never all that controversial. Still, when you survey the pop- and R&...
Published: 07/13/18
Updated: 07/18/18
8 things to do this weekend: Sam Smith, SharkCon, Extreme Mud Wars, deal at Chihuly

8 things to do this weekend: Sam Smith, SharkCon, Extreme Mud Wars, deal at Chihuly

Concert Sam Smith and Cam: On Friday, Sam Smith (Stay With Me) is coming to Tampa with opening act Cam, whose latest country single Diane is one of Nashville’s most rollicking of the past year. Smith is the headliner but both acts are worth ca...
Published: 07/13/18

Tell Me About It: Decision to adopt must be her own

Q: I’m a 45-year-old single woman who is financially secure and a self-described introvert. I am happy being single, have a decent job, own a home, and have created a good life for myself. I badly want to adopt or foster a child on my own and I have ...
Updated one month ago