No matter how much a parent reads or researches before birth, parenting isn’t something that one is ever truly prepared for. And, no matter how much bookstores and parenting gurus hope to convince you otherwise, the
answers hints to parenting struggles and the support that we desperately need throughout the journey are not going to come from a book.
A parenting support system is a privilege. I would even say that it is a luxury. Definitely not something enjoyed by everyone. For me, and many people in my fairly privileged situation, parenting support comes from a number of different areas, that all represent different levels of support and trust.
This type of hands-on support, where there is no real emotional investment, can be amazing, especially for parents who are able to be lead by their child’s needs and not focused on daily chores. I was lucky, living in Belgium when Aodhan was born, where this type of hands-on/hearts off support is provided to everyone for the first three months after birth, no matter your family’s financial situation. The country provides you with vouchers that you can use to secure support for your home: cleaning, laundry, garden care. You know, the things that you don’t have time to do when nursing around the clock and your partner has returned to work. To be honest, I was truly thankful for this when Aodhan was a new babe – we had no family and most of our co-workers had returned to their home countries for the summer holiday – it was just me and Kevin, we were thankful for the extra help we had that first year.
In countries that don’t provide this type of support, neighbours, co-workers, folks from your church or social groups and acquaintances can be amazing support. They might not share your parenting philosophy, so you might not be able to sit down and talk deeply about co-sleeping, but they do care and they do want to help. Why not ask them to water the lawn, or you can accept the meals offered or let them drive one of your older children to school. This also seems like the place where family can get their hands dirty in the newborn days. If you don’t feel comfortable letting them hold your baby, which is a totally normal feeling, but they still insist on wanting to help you out, ask them to wash a floor, load a dishwasher or do a laundry load or two.
Online or On the Phone
This type of support was essential to me while living abroad. There were no gentle parenting groups to join (at least none in English or French that I could access), and I relied heavily on the online communities and blogs that I discovered before my son was born. In particular, reading about the lives of HoboMama and CodeName: Mama were little patches of internet miracles for me. These women, though thousands of miles from the Belgian border, had sons that were slightly older than my own and were actually providing me with examples, experiences and real resources for parenting in a way that made sense to me.
But, when I wanted to fill myself up, which is an essential component to parenting support, it was phone and skype that I relied upon. This technology brought me the voices of friends and family when I needed to know that I was still alive and could still laugh and could still be something other than my son’s mother. Having the support of people who truly know you, get you and love you unconditionally is paramount in any parenting journey – even if that reaches you through a telephone or skype date.
Face to Face
I hope most of you are surrounded by people who love you and respect your parenting journey, because if there is one thing we need, it is contact and face-to-face connections with people who understand what we do and why we do it. They aren’t going to agree with everything, but they are going to hold you up and cheer you on through the glory and the gut wrenching. We need to have that closer connection that even the most amazing internet or online community just can’t match. We need that hug, we need that hand to hold.
My husband has been my support from that ‘holy shit’ moment when we stood at that rainy Belgian junction and realized with horror and dread that we were having a baby. He has been there through everything and supported every. single. moment. of our gentle parenting journey. We have parted ways on nothing and he has been my rock through all the naysayers and asshats. He speaks openly about our attachment practices to his friends and co-workers, and sat proudly beside me when I nursed our 3 year old in public. He is there in the middle of the night when I need a hug and listens when I just need to cry and worry. I am lucky to have found a partner who I parent with side-by-side, and I acknowledged that many gentle parents are going it alone, and struggle within their marital relationship to protect their gentle philosophies from more conventional approaches.
It is funny that through parenting we connect with and develop relationships of support and trust with people that we would have not otherwise welcomed into our lives. Just by the virture of sharing similar parenting journies I have connected deeply with people I had only known to say hello to and reconnect with people who time and distance had separated me from.
In its various forms, support is essential. As parents we must be careful not to let our philosophies and ideals stave off the support that can help hold us up. A recent post by Amy Willa does a great job of pointing out how we can deny ourselves friendships and connections because people aren’t swimming in the same water as us, and this can result in a support-depleted family. As much love as you have for your kiddos, you need to draw on other sources to enrich and develop the parent and person that you are capable of being.
My journey is not everyone’s journey. In fact, it is no one’s journey. For as much as we all need support, it is going to look different for every family, for every parent, for every child. But, no matter what our needs are, or from which wells we draw our sources, we all need support to get through the life we live.
What does your support system look like? Do you make use of church/social connections?
Do you find it difficult to make real life connections because of parenting choices?
Have your support systems changed as your child developed?
What do parents with multiple children need in a support system?
What do you do when you feel lacking in support?