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):
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:
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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Raikes, H. A., & Thompson, R. A. (2005). Efficacy and social support as predictors of parenting stress among families in poverty. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(3), 177–190. https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.20044.
Weiss, R. (1974). The provisions of social relationships. In Z. Rubin (Ed.), Doing unto others (pp. 17-26). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Wiegartz, P.S., & Gyoerkoe, K.L. (2009). The pregnancy & postpartum anxiety workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
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