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11.18.2010

Don't have a good support system? Find one!

Everything about children is hard work. Pregnancy, birth, parenting... it's all hard. And it's impossible to do it completely by yourself. However, many moms find themselves in the position where they at least feel like they need to do so. She may be a single mom, or her partner not be supportive or helpful. She may have no family nearby to help, or her family may be unwilling or unable to help. Her family and friends may question and attempt to undermine her well thought out parenting choices. There are any number of reasons that a new or expecting mother may feel isolated. But I am here to tell you that it doesn't need to be this way! You, too, can have a supportive network to help you through this journey.

First I want to talk about partners. Spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend- whoever you chose to start this journey with (or didn't choose, as often happens to the best of us)- in a perfect world this should be your number one supporter. Of course, the world is not perfect, and for many moms this is not an option. But for those of us who are lucky enough to be in relatively healthy relationships, be sure you (for lack of a better phrase) take advantage of this. Use your partner; don't think "I'm the mom, I can do it all, he/she's just not going to do it right" or "he/she's going to think I'm crazy for trying to do this, so I'll just do it by myself" (this, by the way, was how I felt about hypnobabies- despite the fact that I have a totally supportive and open husband I felt insecure about it sounding too "crazy" and opted to do it by myself, and while it turned out okay, mostly due to my stubbornness, it would have been better to have him involved). Even if you think your partner is going to think you're crazy, talk about your choices with him. When I told my DH I wanted to use cloth diapers I had an entire bulletted presentation written out, with key points and their support in order of importance. At first he was a little resistant, but since he's gone so far as to say cloth diapers are easier than disposable (mostly because it was his job to take the trash out, but it's my job to wash). Also remember that men's natural instinct with babies isn't immediately to care and nurture, as ours is. In fact, often it seems that their instinct is to run away:) Give him time and space and he will figure it out in his own way and become an invaluable supporter.

But that is seldom enough. In most cases your partner is a man, thus not a mother, and there are certain things we need to talk to other women or other mothers about. However, there is good news- even the shyest, most introverted of us (ahem, me) tends to open up when the topic turns to kids. When you become a mom you instantly have something in common with a huge population of women. Everywhere you go you'll find yourself spilling intimate details of your child's development and your parenting style with virtual strangers. Because, even if they don't know you at all, they get it. So meeting new moms that could eventually become lifelong friends is not as hard as you may think... even if you are like me. Here are a few places to look.

  • Your hospital or birth center, or your OB, Midwife, or Doula's office. Often these places will know of classes or groups for new moms- some even run them in house. And I know I say run the other way when it comes to hospital birthing classes, but I can't say the same thing about post-partum groups. I joined a group called Moms Joining Moms that was run by the hospital I had my first birth in. The facilitator was amazing, and is at least indirectly responsible for pointing me in the direction I ended up going. She introduced me to natural baby care, baby wearing, general attachment parenting principles, infant massage, baby sign language, and various other topics I may have never come across on my own. But, and what I think was remarkable about this class, she never taught any of these things as the "right" way to do things. In fact, while on one hand she introduced us to infant carriers and baby wearing, one of the books she had available for us to borrow was Baby Wise (and while I know many people are anti-Baby Wise, I tend to take a more "what's right for some isn't right for others" stance on it. I know moms who have used it and had it work well for them. You just have to learn to balance the schedule it presents with your instinct to meet your baby's needs... anyway). Further, I continued to be friends with three of the moms in the group and became extremely close to one of them.
  • Meetup.com- When I made the choice to use cloth diapers my first stop to check them out was a little baby boutique near where I used to live in CA. When I was there I saw on their event calendar that they gave cloth diaper classes, and had a meetup group. But when I went on Meetup I didn't find it. I did find Cloth Diapering and Baby Wearing in the IE. Honestly, I don't think I would have stuck with cloth without the insight and advice I got from this community of people, and they were invaluable as friends, too! In fact, in retrospect I see how lucky I was to have a community of people around me like that- similar to me, making good choices for their children and their families. They were such a good influence on me:)
  • La Leche League- I have never been to a La Leche League meeting, but in retrospect I wish I would have joined. Regardless, every community I have lived in has had a nearby La Leche League chapter. Any mom interested in breastfeeding will benefit from this kind of network.
  • MOPS- Stands for "Mothers of Preschoolers." It's an international group that basically runs a support network for mothers of young children, meeting a need that would otherwise go largely unfilled. Like La Leche League, it is a larger group that coordinates and sponsors a large number of local groups that gets moms together to support each other.
  • Your Church, Place of Worship, or Community Center- many churches run faith based "mom and me" classes or moms only bible studies where you can meet other moms within your community.
  • Online Forums- hopefully at least one of the above suggestions will work for you, or you have friends already who have children and support you, and online communities will only be a supplement. Resist the urge to rely only on online communities- but they do make for nice support when you're stuck at home or are searching for information. Some of my favorites: Babycenter.com, Motheringdotcommunity, Diaperswappers, Cafe Mom, and Circle of Moms on Facebook. I, personally, try to stay away from the online forums because I either get too bogged down and overwhelmed with reading strings and strings of topics, or I get too carried away doling out advice that most don't listen to... kind of like I do here:)
Point- you don't have to submit yourself to your mother telling you that formula is as good as breastmilk, or your sister telling you you're crazy for using cloth diapers, or your Mother in Law telling you you're messing up your son's entire life by not circumcising him, or your Grandma telling you you're crazy for not getting an epidural (BTW, that last statement out of all that I listed is the only one I don't find crazy- I get that the generation before the epidural was available would envy us a little. My Grandma told me that before she had her first baby she didn't know anything about what was going to happen- no one even told her that it was going to hurt. That was probably a fun surprise). Find a community of people who are either like minded or at the least supportive of your choices and mothering will be a much more enjoyable experience for you.

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