Grow your Village – A guide for new parents
Jessie Everts, PhD LMFT
As the African proverb goes, “it takes a village” – not just to raise a child, but to support a new parent. Connection with others and support are so vitally important in early parenthood. You feel less alone when you know that there are people out there who care about you and how you are doing, and other parents who have gone or are going through the same thing you are. When you’re home with your baby, most of the time it can feel like it’s just you who feels this way – it’s not. Feeling support, care, and love from other mothers, parents, and friends who may not understand it personally but who care about you – that is your lifeline and your buoy for times when it all feels overwhelming.
It is OKAY to need help and support and to ASK for it! A lot of us might feel like this is a sign of weakness or might be uncomfortable asking for help. Let’s cancel this idea that you’re supposed to have figured everything out and know exactly what to do when you have a new baby – it’s harmful and keeps people from reaching out when they need help. Instead, recognize (and normalize for other parents!) that no one has it all figured out in this postpartum phase, and it is a really overwhelming time in life – so if you can get some support, take it!
Feeling alone and isolated after giving birth can make you feel like all of your struggles are unusual or unique, when really they are very normal and shared among new moms and parents (Wiegartz & Gyoerkoe, 2009). Talking with other people and parents about feelings and fears shows you that many parents share your experience, and it also builds up your support network, which is so important to your postpartum health, life satisfaction, well-being, and ability to deal with stress and mental health symptoms (Balaji et al., 2007; Dennis & Ross, 2006; Glazier et al., 2004; Negron et al., 2013; Raikes & Thompson, 2005; Zachariah, 2004).
REFLECT ON YOUR VILLAGE
Reflect on the people already in your life who are or could be considered “support” for you. Try to identify who fits some of these roles for you – knowing one person can fill a few different categories (Weiss, 1974):
- Who gives good advice?
- Who is reliable, is there when you need them?
- Who feels reassuring, or makes you feel good about yourself?
- With whom do you feel most secure and close?
- With whom do you have interests or things in common?
- Who is most nurturing or helps take care of you?
If there is a category where you don’t have a person, think about how you might connect with someone in that specific way. If you’re lacking a person who gives good advice, consider whether finding a counselor, therapist, or parent educator might be helpful. If you don’t have someone who has common interests, think about whether there is a group you might join that would introduce you to some new people around things you like.
Take a moment to feel gratitude toward the people you did identify. This is your support system! Recognize the important role they play in caring for you and helping you care for yourself (and your baby), especially during hard times.
GROW YOUR VILLAGE
Here are some ways to grow your village, if you feel more isolated or lonely than you would like:
- Practice accepting help – Allow yourself to take help that is available or offered. If there is someone in your life who has offered emotional support or practical help, allow yourself to consider it. Recognize thoughts such as “I should have it together” and allow yourself to soften those judgments about yourself. You can be a strong, great parent and also need help. Even if you said “no” at the time, you can change your mind and reach back out to let the person know that you reconsidered – they will probably understand the feeling and be grateful that you let them in
- Reach out – Even if you have doubts, reach out to someone you know and let them know a little about how you are doing. Even if they haven’t had the exact experience, they probably have had similar fears and thoughts.. If you have a hard time reaching out, ask someone you trust whether they will reach out to you once a week, to give you some space and practice to talk about how you are doing. If they are also a parent, offer the same kind of check-in for them
- Go online – Search for a supportive parents’ group around a topic that you are feeling particularly stressed about, like NICU babies, postpartum depression, etc. Look for groups that are supportive, not judgmental or pushing of a specific point of view – groups like this might make you feel worse, not better. Or check out PSI’s free online support groups here.
- Telehealth Therapy – Therapy can be a great addition to your support village, a place to talk about how you’re feeling with someone who will not judge you and who can help you to see a different perspective or challenge your thinking. Almost all therapy clinics have telehealth options for virtual meetings now, so it is easy to connect with a therapist right from your own home. Check out PSI’s online directory of trained perinatal mental health providers here.
- Create your own support group/team – Know that there are many parents out there who feel some of the same struggles you do and probably also need help building their support system, so reach out and create one yourself. You might start by connecting with other parents in your area through an Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) or other parent group, and then establish some regular supportive meetings where you can connect as people and parents!
BE THE VILLAGE
Feeling overwhelmed, lonely, anxious, and isolated are such common experiences for new parents. If you feel well supported, you might turn your thoughts to other new parents you know, and see if you can offer some care and become part of their village. Remember the types of support you needed most when you were brand new and how difficult it felt to reach out. Make it easier for another new parent. Recognizing that this is a tough time in parents’ lives, we can all come together to make it easier to connect, support, and hold one another up when we need it.
Jessie Everts, PhD LMFT is a therapist, mom, yoga/mindfulness teacher, and the Owner/Founder of Empower Mental Health. She uses mindfulness practices along with cognitive and acceptance therapies to work with women and LGBTQ+ individuals who might be struggling with anxiety, parenting, postpartum mental health, work-life balance, trauma, and life transitions. Her book on living mindfully postpartum, Brave New Mom, will be released in early 2021.
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Dennis C-L., & Ross L. (2006) Women’s perceptions of partner support and conﬂict in the development of postpartum depressive symptoms; Journal of Advanced Nursing 56(6), 588–599.
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