I remember the day clearly. I was overwhelmed with nappies, cooking dinner, walking the dog, getting the house clean, and giving my attention to my two under two, feeling like there was no time for me.
A single mum friend popped over for a cuppa. She had been at her guitar lessons and was getting ready for a weekend retreat. I marvelled. “How do you do it?” I asked in awe, “with two kids?”
“I have built up a community,” she replied.
Cuppa in hand we each sat in my couch overlooking the back yard with its tall gum trees. “It takes a lot of work and commitment but it is the only way that I can make my life work,” she told me.
From that day on I have looked at different ways to build a supportive community. And I have also seen how much we all struggle to do it all on our own. So what does it take to build a community to support you as a parent?
Last night I was talking to a friend who felt wrung out. And so did her partner. They had spent years sharing the responsibilities between them. Just as we are all told to do. “He is exhausted, I am exhausted, and then we fight.”
The big change happens in this dialogue when parents own that they need support. And the next big shift is when they look out of the house for it.
Ask yourself: Do I need more support?
Where are you at?
It is so lovely to take stock of the community and support that you already have in your life. Play dates, car-pooling, the big cook up that you do when a baby of a friend arrives, the friend you can always call and so on.
Ask yourself: What kind of support do I already have?
Doing it together
Fridays are mama bake day. At 10.30ish 3 mamas descend on my kitchen – food, pans, children in their arms. We cook together and we parent together. And at the end we all go home with our meals cooked for the week and feeling supported on so many levels.
I have seen so many ways parents get together to spend time and also make their lives easier. Gardening groups, house cleaning sessions, cubby house making, food preserving together.
And it doesn’t all have to be about getting stuff done, sometime it is just about parenting together. And when everyone is playing nice, there is even room for some adult conversation. I love doing camping trips this way too.
Ask yourself: What could I do together with other parents?
There is a line in one of the books I read my girls by Deepak Chopra:
“Give what you want to give every single day. And you will find the very same thing coming back your way.”
While that is not the only reason we give support, I found that for many of us asking for support isn’t always easy, whereas offering can be. I have a friend’s daughter who comes round for Italian lessons each week. I offer because I love speaking Italian. The other upside is that she loves to look after my girls, very handy when I have a deadline.
Ask yourself: What support can I offer to others?
I know, I know, it can feel awkward to ask for help.
“They are as busy as me, how could I possibility ask for help?”
But I would be guessing that there are a lot of people who think you and your kids are pretty great and would be happy to support you in whatever way you need in that moment.
“Want to come over for a play date today? I don’t think I can do it on my own today.”
“Would you be willing to have my boys for an hour while I get a powernap in?”
“While you are at the shops, could you pick me up some eggs?”
“Could you look after my little girl for an evening?”
You get my drift. Often the biggest barrier for asking for support is feeling not worthy of it, that you should be able to do it on your own. I would just like to say that you are worthy. And let’s not do it all on our own anymore.
Ask yourself: What am I going to ask for this week?
Nurturing your community
“Wow, thanks so much. That really helped me out today,” Claire said as she popped back from the shops and picked up her daughter.
“It was a pleasure,” I replied.
Gratitude is gold. We all know what it is like to not feel appreciated. Speaking your appreciation of others is so important to ensure that everyone feels valued. Also receiving gratitude is part of it all. Really hearing when someone thanks you.
It is also important to speak when things feel out of balance. My kids love playing with the neighbour’s kids, sometimes the balance gets out of whack and they spend more time on the other side of the fence. It is important to me to speak openly about this so that there are no unsaid resentments that are eroding our connection.
Ask yourself: How do I feel about giving and receiving gratitude?
Are there conversations that you need to have to clear some unsaid things?
I love the community of people in my life. I enjoy seeing my girls interact with lots of other adults and kids of all ages, watching their confidence grow. And I also love the connection and the freedom building this kind of life allows me.
Ask yourself: How am I going to strengthen my community in my life?