Parents, Build Your Village!
Years ago I was facilitating a group parenting workshop series for our school district and we were discussing discipline. As I was teaching a new strategy, I noticed one mom with tears in her eyes. I stopped teaching, pulled up a chair, and asked, “What’s up?” “This is all so hard,” was all she could say at first. I offered to slow down and review what we had just covered. Then I realized, learning the strategies wasn’t the hard part. She was referring to raising kids that felt really hard at that moment for her and her husband. Wow, haven’t we all been there?! We’ve had gloriously great days, but we’ve also had incredibly exhausting, emotionally draining hard days. I got quiet for a minute, just to let everyone in the room sit with their feelings to her statement as well. Suddenly, another mom said, “You’re not in this alone. I think it’s hard too. How can we help you right now?” I won’t lie, I got tears in my eyes. What was happening was so much more important than any parenting technique I could have taught that night. That mom was finding her village. One by one, moms and dads in that room shared their struggles on a deeper level than we had the week before. One by one, they each realized they were not alone in this parenting journey, they just had to be okay with saying, “This is hard. I don’t have it all together.” I love teaching workshops. I love sharing tips and strategies. The best part, I love that parents are seeing they aren’t alone in their struggles and they are building community every time they get together. This was a lesson I wish I’d had and understood as a young mom. We raised our kids on a block full of other young moms and kids. I had other wonderful moms to chat with and do “kid switches” so we could run an errand alone. That was great. What I didn’t do was allow myself to be vulnerable and open up about some of the struggles we were having. I thought my husband and I had to figure the hard stuff out on our own. Turns out, we had a village. I was just too embarrassed to say, “This is all so hard.” I felt like the hard parts were just something we had to figure out. We are taught to be strong and independent, but parenting can take its toll on you as a parent, and on your relationship with your partner as well. It may seem like a weakness to ask for help, but really it is a sign of strength. It takes corsage to say, “I could use some support.” It shows you are willing to open your door and invite someone in. Going back to the workshop story. Those parents were amazing! Moms were offering to create date night switches so Sarah and her husband could have time alone once in a while. They admitted they wanted the time for themselves as well, which helped Sarah understand she and her husband weren’t alone in needing a break. I know the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a kid,” is overused but sometimes a phrase is there for a reason. Parents need support. Parents need a break once in a while.
Your relationship needs that reboot once in a while. It serves as a lifeline to keep your partnership going. What I saw that night was a village being formed. I know right now forming your circle of support may feel awkward or “needy” but hear me loud and clear when I say we all need support at some point. This parenting gig is not meant to be an isolating experience…it’s too hard that way. How do you find your village? 1) Begin chatting with other parents in your child’s class. It can start with just a “Hey, how’s it going” and build from there. Just one other parent or couple could be the lifeline you need! 2) Get to know the other parents in your child’s extracurricular activities. We all need to put down our phones and start actually connecting with face-to-face conversations.
3) Get involved as a family in church, school, or community events as a family.
4) Build more front porch experiences! Let me explain this one: I call this the “Front Porch Effect” on families. When I was a child, our entire neighborhood had homes with porches. Every. Single. One. After dinner, we would all be back outside playing and my parents would grab a cup of coffee and sit on the porch. Other parents did the same thing, and eventually, they’d all wander over to each other’s porches and chat. That built our village! Every parent knew every kid on the block (and didn’t hesitate to correct us if we got out of line, haha). Parents watched out for each other’s kids. If one family was going through something, I can promise you the casseroles were showing up at the front door shortly. The bottom line is that, yes, it is all hard but you don’t have to do this alone. One of the healthiest things you can do is to build your village. When you feel connected to others. It helps your mental health, which trickles down into more positive dynamics at home. I encourage you to be brave. Make the call. Send a text. Reach out and just say, “Hey, how’s it going” and see where the conversation goes. I can promise you that you and your partner are not alone in feeling occasional overwhelm. The bonus: You will feel more like a team when parenting challenges do arise!