Mama tomo (friends): there was a time when those two words would send me running for the nearest exit. based solely on possession seemed so silly. How could that possibly be enough?

I pictured deadly dull “play dates,” where conversations revolved around such thrilling topics as poop, weaning, and the other unpleasant stuff involved in raising kids. No, thank you.

Of course, that attitude was part of my BC (Before Child) life, back when I was the perfect (it’s easy pre-child). I would be fine on my own, and surely my husband’s occasional presence would fill my adult-conversation quota.

But then something unexpected knocked me flat. I gave birth to … a —a real, live, crying, not sleeping, what-the-heck-should-I-do-with-it-for-12-hours-each-day, holy-jesus-mary-and-joseph-it-just-ate-incense-now-what-should-I-do baby. I was lonely. And so very, very lost.

I started dreaming of mama tomo. At the park, I would sneak a glance at groups of moms laughing away (at poop-related stories, I’d jealously think—how I long for those stories now!) while their kids played. But I had no idea how to approach them. Complicating matters was nervousness about my Japanese. Would I hinder conversations, needing extra or slower explanations? No, I just couldn’t make mama tomo. I was destined to be a lone-wolf mother.

Until one day, my infant daughter stared down a Western woman at the park with her kids. She came over for a chat, and introduced me to the wonderful world of mama tomo and mothers’ groups. I haven’t looked back since.

That woman changed not just my life, but my daughter’s as well. And while I don’t see her often, I owe her so much. All of my mama tomo, all of my daughter’s friends, my sanity, and, yes, happiness and contentment as a mother—they’re ours because of her, because of the world of she and others welcomed us into.

Mothers’ groups offer shoulders to cry on, an outlet for venting, smiling faces as each other’s children blow out birthday candles. There are cheers of “you can do it!” and the ever-important “I know what you’re going through; I’ve been there, too.”

Whether cyber-based or of the face-to-face variety, mothers’ groups (fathers are usually welcome, too) are a godsend. And it turns out that language really isn’t much of a barrier after all.

I belong to four mothers’ groups now, and many of my dearest friendships were born therein. There are the local groups, huge Tokyo-based ones, and even Japan-wide Facebook groups. Most are welcoming of anyone and everyone, though some focus on foreign-born moms and dads only. Yes—that’s important, too.

For all the fantastic friendships I’ve built with Japanese moms and their kids, there is something to be said for belonging to a group where I can vent about some of the more challenging aspects of being a foreign mother in Japan. Being able to do that without the risk of offending my Japanese friends is a relief because, let’s face it, no matter where a person lives (home country or not), there are going to be things a person doesn’t like about the place. Being able to talk freely about those parts—and get advice on how to deal with them positively—is a blessing.

Making new friends is never easy, but as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child (and protect a person’s sanity—for some reason, that got left out of the original). And it turns out that having kids is a perfectly legitimate place to start friendships. So, if you’re lonely and overwhelmed, look for us online, at the park, around town. Let your mama (and papa) tomo be your village. I promise you’ll be welcomed with open arms.