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This Lynn mom realized she wasn’t alone in her parenting struggles. So she started a support group

Jessica Luque comforted her 1-year-old daughter, Penny, at their home in Lynn.
Jessica Luque comforted her 1-year-old daughter, Penny, at their home in Lynn. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Last October, Jessica Luque selected a perfectly scenic Christmas tree farm, hired a photographer, and set off with her husband and their three young children to pose for their annual holiday photo.

Almost immediately upon arrival, 3-year-old Flynn fell facedown on the rain-slicked ground and became not only dirty, but also decidedly unwilling to look at the camera. Penny, 1, was more interested in putting a rock in her mouth than sitting down, and Landon, 4, wouldn’t stop yelling. Feeling overwhelmed, Luque then began directing “death glares” at her husband, Andrew, while commanding everyone to smile brightly for the camera.

“Our happy photo was all fake, and by the time I got in the car, I just unraveled. I released every frustration from the four years I had been a mom, and just began sobbing uncontrollably,” recalled Luque, a special education science teacher at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School who lives in Lynn. “I felt defeated and exhausted. It wasn’t a healthy road I was going down, and I realized I needed professional help to become the best version of me for my family, my job, and my life.”

As she opened up to friends and colleagues in the weeks that followed, however, Luque was astounded to discover she was far from alone in feeling pushed to the brink by family and work demands. Rather than suffer in silence after failing to find a moms-only support group, she formed Real Talk Real Moms to share struggles, lessons learned, and hard-won victories.

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The free drop-in group meets two Thursdays monthly, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Peabody Institute Library South Branch.

“There is a gap for many women after they become moms, and it’s a serious problem,” said Luque, emphasizing that group participants are just as welcome to relax and listen as join in the conversation. “My mission is to create a judgment-free, safe space where we can all be real, have each other’s backs, and really hash out our feelings without partners or kids.”

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At the first meeting, which took place on Dec. 20, half a dozen women expressed both initial reluctance and delight in taking an hour for themselves at the height of the frenzied holiday season. Topics included strategies for battling holiday stress; various child-related challenges; issues with partners, parents, and in-laws; postpartum depression; anxiety; and the importance (yet scarcity) of making time for self-care.

There was also plenty of laughter, with the evening passing so quickly that no one made a move to leave until a librarian’s reminder that the building would close at 9 p.m.

Following the meeting, Sarah Coleman said she was grateful that her husband, Dave, encouraged her to overcome the temptation to stay home and rest after a long day at work and then caring for their sons, 3-year-old Liam and 18-month-old Eamon. She previously attended groups for mothers and their babies born at Beverly Hospital, but says Real Moms Real Talk fulfills a special need.

“It’s another outlet to know I’m not the only one who constantly feels like I’m in survival mode,” said Coleman, who teaches anatomy at Peabody High. “It’s so hard to find a balance. And as much as I tell myself over and over that doing the best I can is enough, it’s easy to forget unless you hear from others feeling the same way.”

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Farah Roman, a stay-at-home mother to Yesmina, 6, and Zein, 2, credits Luque’s warmth and disarming honesty with inspiring others to express their own vulnerability with women they hadn’t met before.

“Everything was insightful and interesting, but the most helpful part for me was hearing Jess talk about going to therapy. She was very brave to take control of her own happiness, which is what we’re all trying to do in different ways,” said Roman, who learned about the group from her husband, Samuel, a Lynn firefighter along with Andrew Luque.

“I’m very grateful that Jess started this group,” added Roman, laughing at how she related to another participant’s admission that her family more than occasionally retrieves clean laundry from a pile that doesn’t get folded, never mind returned to drawers and closets. “It’s a way to get out of the house and do something for myself, while connecting with other women. I really enjoyed it.”

Luque has received so much positive feedback and interest in future meetings that she hopes similar groups take root in other towns. A Facebook group — which has a privacy setting so names and posts are only available to other members — has grown to 101 participants who share articles along with affirming or consoling comments.

“I’m really proud that I’ve opened the doors to moms who want this bond and outlet,” Luque said. “Behind every cute and happy Facebook and Instagram photo is the real truth of motherhood, and it’s very powerful to know we’re all in it together.”

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For the meeting schedule and additional information about Real Talk Real Moms, visit the calendar link at peabodylibrary.org. Registration is not required.

Jessica Luque sat with her sons Flynn, 3, and Landon, 4, as they played with dinosaurs in their Lynn home. Her husband, Andrew, 33, held their 1-year-old daughter, Penny.
Jessica Luque sat with her sons Flynn, 3, and Landon, 4, as they played with dinosaurs in their Lynn home. Her husband, Andrew, 33, held their 1-year-old daughter, Penny.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.