Match your Parent Support System to Your Needs
If your friends all have kids at the same time it provides a built-in parent network. If not, having a child can segregate you from your peer group and that can be tough – a load of new responsibility combined with a feeling of total isolation.
There are many support groups for new parents, (online and IRL,) which help to bring parents together. Parents don’t have to go it alone.
It can be helpful to have a “safe person” or people to talk to when things aren’t going according to plan as well as when things are going great! Your safe person may be your mom, sibling, spouse, or someone else in your life. This person leaves you feeling 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 spiraling thoughts out of the head and enables us to look at them for what they are, move past them, or take action.
As kids grow, we can ask ourselves which networks are helpful, and which 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 concept 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 conflicting parenting styles. This presents a challenge when behaviour gets out of hand. It will take honesty and understanding for everyone to develop a common set of rules regarding safety and respect. Things can work well if everyone disciplines their own kids.
Three tips to make it easier:
1. Come to the group with a non-judgmental 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 using an ‘I message’:
“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. Kids under three years will need regular supervision as they are just learning how to relate to others. Two-year-olds are developmentally unable to share. Set them up for success by watching and modeling rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves.
Lastly, the caregiver network is an important source of support. Minimize the guilt you may feel about leaving your child. Time away from our kids can help us to rejuvenate, both mentally and physically. It also encourages kids to develop a greater sense of independence.
If you do use regular childcare, develop a routine so that your children feel more comfortable. If you start when your child is young, it becomes routine for everyone involved. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your child with formal childcare, that’s ok too. Trade off with the other parent or a close family member 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 the members of your family.
Author, Blogger, Podcast Host and Parenting Expert, Julie Freedman Smith has been helping parents across North America for 20 years. Find out more at www.parent-break.com