Support Systems for Parents Are Important!

Some people’s friends all have kids at the same time. Is there something in the water? Who knows – but it provides a built-in parent network.

For others though, having a child immediately segregates them from their peer group and that can be really tough - all this new responsibility and a feeling of total isolation.

There are many support groups for new parents which help to bring parents together. Parents don’t have to go it alone. Some choose to. But, taking one day at a time and knowing that options exist can make it easier.

We all know how helpful it can be to have a “safe-person” or group of people to talk to when things aren’t going according to plan.

Those same people are great to have around when you want to talk about the great report card your child received or the funny things your young-comedian-in-training did today.

Your safe-person may be your mom, your sister, your spouse or someone else in your life. This person doesn’t judge you and you can feel free to speak what’s on your mind.

We learn a great deal about ourselves from our children – good and bad. When we speak about our feelings and concerns, it takes them out of our head where they can spiral repeatedly and enables us to look at them for what they are and move past them or take action.

Choose The Right Network For You

As valuable as these friends are, sometimes these networks can work against us. What networks are helpful and what aren’t? Our needs and situations change over time. If you joined the baby group and it was good for a while that’s great. Now however, everyone has had second and third children and the once peaceful group is chaos. If it is more of a struggle than a help, it may be time to make a change. Model for your child that you can’t do it all and nor should they.

This premise extends to classes and activities for our children. If you feel that you “should” go to music class but it takes place during your child’s nap time and he’s sleeping through half of the class– why are you there? He could be napping and you could too. Your child won’t miss the class and nor will you.

Another factor in group gatherings is the parenting issues that arise. In a group of more than 2 families, there is a good chance that various parenting styles will exist. This presents a challenge when behaviour gets out of hand which it invariably will.

If the group is important to everyone involved, it will take honesty and understanding for everyone to develop a set of rules regarding safety and respect. If everyone disciplines their own children things can work well with a few tips:

  1. Come to the group with a non-judgemental perspective. You don’t have to agree with the parenting strategies used by others, but you can accept them for their children.
  2. When another child’s misbehaviour begins to affect your child, approach the situation with honesty. Talk about your feelings:
    “I’m uncomfortable when I see my child being hit. I feel the need to keep Suzy with me until things are under control again.”
    Or teach your child other strategies:
    “Suzy, please use your words to ask Jane to stop hitting you. I’m sure she will be a good friend and listen to you.”
  3.  Have realistic expectations for the children’s abilities when you are together. Children under 3 will need regular supervision as they are just learning how to relate to others. Most 2-year olds are developmentally unable to share or are just learning. Set them up for success by watching and modeling rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves.

Develop A Caregiver Network

Another important form of support is the caregiver network that you establish for your family. Time away from our children can help us to rejuvenate, both mentally and physically.

It also encourages them to develop a greater sense of independence.  Minimize the guilt you may feel about leaving your child. If you do it, develop a routine so that your children feel more comfortable.

If you start when your child is young, it’s routine and the child is less likely to question it. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your child, that’s ok too. Wait until Dad gets home for some free time.

Remember, as valuable as support groups are, you don’t always have to be networking with your child. Set your boundaries to fit you and your family right now. As your family changes, your choices will change as well. Be wise and kind in the choices you make for yourself. Your children are watching to see how you handle situations – what a great opportunity to teach caring and consideration for all of the members of your family.

From Julie Freedman Smith & Gail Bell, Parent Power