(You see what I did here? I totally crack myself up…)
“It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.” Hans F. Hansen
We live in a time where we celebrate the individual. Where we, especially as Americans, pride ourselves in the DIY mindset. And if you’re crafty enough and entrepreneurial enough, you might just be able to move through this world on your own merits without the help of anyone else around you (Although I wouldn’t encourage it!)
But there’s no room for this mindset when it comes to pregnancy, birth and especially parenting. We’ve all heard the familiar phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But I would expand on that to say, “It takes a village to raise a family.”
All too many of us move away from home when we reach young adulthood. There are job opportunities, lovers, or exciting adventures that woo us away from our families of origin. And when we settle in our new and distant homes, we don’t really consider that two plane trips to get home is a big deal – until we have a baby. Suddenly, all we really want is to be nestled in among those we love, soaking up their wisdom about how to do this thing… raise a baby, become good parents, start our new little family.
Phone calls, emails, texts and extended ZOOM sessions certainly help to bridge that distance, but what about the day-to-day?
Everything about this experience of parenthood is new and challenging. We know there are local resources to help us through this transition. But why are we so reluctant to join? What is it that makes us remain isolated in our new parenthood?
As new parents, we really need connection with others who have gone through or are going through the same things we are.
Most communities have New Parent Support Groups. I work for one hospital system that names their postpartum groups, Baby & Me, which I think is much more welcoming to partners, and not exclusively focused on just the birthing person. They’ve even moved them to ONLINE platforms during COVID-19 to make it easier for new families to get the support they need, even if that means being socially distanced. I often ask my families how many of them have gone out of their way to check out one of these groups. I’m always amazed at how many haven’t.
These groups can be such a wonderful way to reintroduce yourself and your new little family into the world. Most of them are fully prepared to accept you and the littlest of newborns – in fact, it can be your very first “outing” with your baby – even if you’re just logging on from your living room. You could be in your PJs and not yet showered and there will be no judgement. Why? Because the other new parents in the group, the ones who look all put together and ready to go? They remember when they were exactly where you are now.
They remember the truly sleepless nights and the challenges of getting breast/chestfeeding down. They remember their own anxieties about being good parents. They remember recognizing that their Baby Blues were not easing up and how hard it was to ask for help with postpartum depression or another mood disorder. They remember the days of questioning, “Who’s great idea was it to have a baby, anyway?” They remember having the same arguments with their partners about: sex, finances, or who was doing more work.
Most importantly, they remembered the first day that they decided it wasn’t okay to do this parenting thing alone anymore.
They remember second-guessing whether they had it in them to try and get a shower in, thinking that maybe it wasn’t worth the hassle, worried that their baby might be too fussy for the group and then – after deciding to make it happen – realizing that because of the latest diaper blowout that had to be changed, they were already 20 minutes late!
But they also remember how it felt to have someone welcome them into the circle. How warm and inviting these faces seemed, how eager they were to offer encouragement and support. They remember that once they got settled in, it was the first time that they felt able to take a full and complete breath. They felt safe and included, a part of a village.
This parenting journey is one of the best life adventures you could ever go on. But it is hard. In some ways it will get easier, but you’ll always benefit from creating your own group of people – your village – that will surround you, lift you up when you’ve fallen down, and celebrate all of your successes with you along the way.
A bit of advice for the yet to be initiated: identify who will be the members of your parenting village – now. And understand that for a while, it might not be your current circle of friends. If they’re not yet on this journey, they’ll not be able to best support you in this way. Don’t give up on them, just look deeper.
Join a Baby & Me group, the sooner the better. You might not need to come every week, you might find that you discover some incredible members within this group and splinter off on your own. All of this is fine – there’s no right or wrong to it. But, please do it. Create your own parenting village. It will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make as a new parent.
And one day soon, you will be the parent sitting in the circle, eyes shining and eager, ready to welcome those who’ve decided to join you on this parenting adventure.
After you had your baby, did you join a new parents group? Why? Why Not? What was your experience?