Finding Your Support Network
Posted on January 20 2016
I call them My Tribe.
I think it’s because I love the idea of a robust community, and the romantic imagery of a group surrounding and lifting up each individual in their community with love and solidarity.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, we were living in a town half way across the country from our family and dear friends, so I didn’t have a built-in support network of other moms I could casually call and share a nature walk with or bitch about having little to no sleep.
Cobbling together a motley crew of like-minded moms might be easier than you think.
It Take a Village
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Decades ago, that was a given. Neighborhoods were built for community interaction. Part of our social/leisure time was spent out in front of our houses, watching our and every other kid in the neighborhood, run around like little maniacs.
These days, it still takes a village, we just don’t have as many willing neighbor-participants. Our jobs are more demanding than ever and pay less (when accounting for inflation). It used to be the norm to expect to stay at a job, if not through to retirement, at least a decade or so. None of that is true today… Which means we collectively have less time, less money and less energy to spend on social interactions building friendships. Finding a support network, then, just doesn’t work the way it used to.
Reaching Beyond Our Comfort Zones
To circumvent the advent of job instability and varying economic conditions (yes, this is how I talk), websites like MeetUp, and local-mommy Facebook groups popped up. These are still really good places to find other parents, particularly parents who are also going through the challenges of breastfeeding and/or pumping. But you have to get out there, and introduce yourself, even on line. If your tribe is a liberal, working mothers group, you’ll find them. If your tribe is a bad ass SAHM group, you’ll find them. If you really identify with folks who drive Jeeps, love shopping on cloudy Tuesdays, and also have a child named Seth, YOU WILL FIND THEM. It just takes a little key-word cruising and reaching out, despite being new.
It bares repeating that Le Leche League is an amazing organization made up of all volunteer mamas who are dedicated to breastfeeding and have the broadest experience with everything that pops up during every phase of your journey.
Asking parent co-workers to get together outside of work hours can not only provide nice options for play-dates, but since you already have work in common, sharing parenting time could boost your understanding and comfort level with your co-worker and being a working parent in general. Seeing someone else you’ve known professionally, freak out when their two year old licks the floor is such a great normalizer.
A more bold move, of course, is physically attending classes, where your would-be tribe members go, but where you know no one… yet. We have several organizations here in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area (like Blooma, Amma, and Enlightened Mama) that offer pre and post-natal yoga. I’m personally a huge fan of yoga before and after birth, for my health, yes, but also because of the long-term friendships I’ve made with the women who went through their pregnancies and births alongside me. Classes that are geared to pregnant moms and moms of young children are excellent places to establish and cultivate organic friendships. The bond shared, is pretty powerful, or at least, has been for me.
This all assumes you don’t have a well-established tribe of friends and family. If you do, awesome! You’re not the norm. Most parents find that when baby comes, their social lives change, their friendship circles change, and their roles change. It’s a disorienting time, and an isolating time for many. It’s also one of the best times to reach out to friends and family, ask them to gather around us (ohhhh, I know, I know Type A-ers, how hard it is to ask for help - I’m one of you). And if they aren’t able, make some damn new friends.
Long Term Support Networks
Cultivating long-term, local relationships pays off big time when families grow up together. This goes back to the concept of “taking a village” to raise well-rounded, socially adept children. Children who feel a they are a part of a community tend to have a good sense of responsibility, grounding and belonging. That’s not to say those who don’t lack responsibility or belonging - it just helps if all of the lessons don’t have to come from parents, but are supported by the community around them.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the particularly difficult plight of single parentdom. Finding a support network is especially critical when parenting solo. As a single parent, it’s often all on you. All of the paperwork, all of the appointments, all of the conferences, all of the daily grind stuff. All parents are overwhelmed at some point, but a single parent often doesn’t have the luxury to hand-off, ever. So single Mamas, on top of everything else you do, which is herculean, you need to be vocal about asking for help and finding people, too.
I’ve kind of run the gamut, cobbling together whomever would love my baby and I, and I count on them on a daily to provide encouragement from every corner of the world. No one person provides everything, or should provide everything. I get a healthy dose of worried love from Taya, boundless encouragement from Nim, shared Mama stories from Shelly, professional support and advice from some of the smartest, most compassionate folks in their industries, and warm, enveloping care from my artist friends.
Your tribe is out here waiting for you to find us.