By Megan Stonelake
After my son was born, I was fortunate to have my mom stay with us at least one night each week for several months, so my husband and I could catch up on sleep. She also made us countless meals and took care of us so we could focus on caring for our new baby.
During those first few weeks, I was struck by the fact that most first-time parents aren't as lucky as we were. I recognized that the majority of new parents don't have families living nearby or who are able to travel for the birth of a baby. In some cases they do have family available, but the visit is more stressful than it is helpful.
At MotherWoman, we believe having support in parenting, particularly early on, is not a privilege; it's a right. It's something we all deserve. As Birdie Gunyon Meyer reminds us, "We have seasons of giving and seasons of receiving....As a new mom, you are in the season of receiving."
We've likely all heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Recently I read a Subonfu Some quote which added, "...and a community to keep parents sane."
Children certainly thrive when they have a network of devoted, loving adults. Having a community of people who unconditionally love our children is a blessing to us all. While the social and emotional needs of children can't be overstated, when I hear "It takes a village to raise a child," the wisdom I perceive is that we aren't meant to parent in isolation. When we do parent without the support of a community, we are attempting to do the tasks of many. Parenting without a village can lead mothers to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and inadequate because we aren't able to fulfill multiple roles for our children.
We no longer live communally as our ancestors did, but our babies don't know that. They don't know that being awake for hours in the night is torture for a single mom who has work the next day. They only know they need a loving adult to meet their needs. Therefore, finding ways to create our own community is invaluable to children who thrive with the added support and guidance. It's also vital for mothers, who were never meant to parent without lots of support.
Many of the women I work with in my counseling practice are faced with the reality of parenting with little or no help. They feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and I can't help but wonder how a broad system of support might alleviate some of the depression and anxiety I witness in them.
I've discovered that the most valuable work I can do with these women involves helping them construct a village around their families. Upon beginning work with a new mom, my first thought is always, "how can we create a system of support?" In the modern Western world, this requires some creativity. Postpartum doulas, home visiting nurses, parent coaches, new parent groups, and mentors can all provide valuable support to new parents. I also encourage parents to find relevant groups online with which to connect.
Recently I worked with a new mom with postpartum depression. She's in her early twenties, and while she was struggling to adjust to her new role as a parent, her friends were going out and having fun. This mom's social support hadn't quite caught up to the drastic changes in her lifestyle. Working together, we found a mentoring group for young mothers. We also identified a weekly playgroup near her house, and I referred her to a home visiting program.
Through these resources, she gained a better understanding of her baby's development, she learned that her feelings of frustration and isolation were normal, and I witnessed her self-confidence flourish. As she began to recognize the importance of community, this mom even decided to initiate regular potlucks with the other families in her apartment complex. The families now meet regularly and exchange childcare. This young mother created her own village, ensuring that she and her daughter could both thrive.
Utilizing services and creating lasting friendships with other mothers can reduce our burden and isolation, but even more important is how we choose to view our role as mothers. Cultural expectations of mothers are not ours to internalize. Our work is to recognize our individual limitations while accepting that we are good enough.
Megan Stonelake is a therapist, an advocate, and a mother. She's passionate about gentle parenting, social justice, and baked goods. She can be found on Facebook (facebook.com/EmpathyinParenting) and on her blog empathicparentingcounseling.com.
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