“It takes a village.” We hear those words all around us when we begin to grow our families. But what does it really mean? Read on to find out why having a strong support system is important and how you can build your very own parenting village.
Why build a Parenting village?
When I was pregnant with my first, I didn’t know many people in Edmonton that were pregnant or who had children. In fact, I didn’t know many people in Edmonton at all. We hadn’t lived here long, and it’s hard to make friends as an adult! I knew I needed something, but I didn’t know what.
Somehow, I stumbled upon a group called momstown that had an online message board and in person meetups. It was free for pregnant folks, and they were hosting a prenatal class series put on by two local doulas (who also happened to be pregnant). Who could pass that up? Little did I know how much I would truly gain from that tiny decision. When my child was born, I paid for the yearly membership with so many intentions of heading to a meetup as soon as my body felt healed enough. But intentions aren’t enough and I faltered.
Weeks turned to months. It was nearly 3 months before I was able to psych myself up enough to attend a potluck meetup.
I was nervous. I nearly didn’t go. What if I said the wrong things? What if I brought the wrong food? What if my baby cried too much? What if they all thought I was weird? What if they could tell that I didn’t know what I was doing?
I went anyway.
I shook as I walked to the door and the hostess greeted me. I walked into the room filled with babies and breathed a sigh of relief. I saw the two doulas who had hosted the prenatal series. I knew someone – two someones! I sat down next to one of their smiling faces and from that moment on, I knew I had found my village.
What if they could tell that I didn't know what I was doing?
That village has been with me through so much – from my postpartum depression to late night laughs to crying over lost dreams to crying with joy at new life. They’ve picked me up when I’ve fallen and sat beside me while I’ve cried. They’ve wiped my tears, held my hand, cheered me on, and reminded me that I am indeed normal. They’ve watched my children when I needed it and been a refuge for all my fears. I cherish them and their children, and I know they do the same for me. That village has literally saved and made my life.
And research backs this up.
Yes, it’s true!
A research study out of the University of Waterloo showed that connection is needed by new parents. Researchers found that when parents were part of a group that connected new parents to each other, those connections helped them move beyond surviving to thriving in their transition to parenthood. Participants who were suffering from postpartum depression were able to easily connect with others who understood. In other words, parents were able to find people who helped them feel like they weren’t alone. This study did focus on moms, but all parents thrive when they feel connected to others who are in the trenches with them.
It’s so lonely without a village.
Research aside, life as a new parent can feel incredibly isolating. Life as a new parent with older children and a baby can feel even more isolating. It’s so odd to feel so alone when you are surrounded by little people all day, but I truly never felt more alone than the times in my life that my babies were small. Often, the only thing that could pull me out of that funk was having my village. Whether in person or online, I knew I could count on them to have my back with whatever I needed. Even if I needed them at 3 am when my face was streaked with tears and my heart was frustrated with a newborn.
And to this day, I know I can count on them.
You don’t have to feel so alone.
When you have children, especially multiple children, it’s so wonderful to be able to meet up with other parents at their homes, in your home, or out somewhere and know that you can relax with them. There is so much judging that happens in parenting – having a safe space to just be can reassure you that you are not failing at the whole parenting thing. (PS: You’re not failing. You’re rocking it. Even if you don’t feel like it.)
And, there’s something to be said to know that those people are in the trenches with you. When you’re sleepless due to a newborn, they’ve been there recently or are there right now. When your toddler draws on the wall in permanent marker, they know exactly how to help because their toddler did the same thing last week. When their child refuses to pee on the toilet, they know they’re not alone because you’ve told them how your child just peed in the closet the other day. They just get it in a way that other people don’t.
I truly never felt more alone than the times in my life that my babies were small.
So. What now?
Get out there. Make some parent friends. Build your village.
I know it’s hard. I know it’s intimidating to make new friends as an adult. I know you’re worried about being judged. I know you’re worried they’ll think you’re weird or that you talk too much or that you don’t talk enough.
But there are some ways to start. All you have to do is get out the door (easier said than done – that’s a post for another day).
- Check out your local La Leche League for when they hold meetings.
- Head to a library program, either for your baby or for your older kids.
- Parent Link offers free drop in programs in many areas.
- Take a class with Mommy Connections! They have great 8 week programs that will help you connect with others in the same stage as you.
- Check out if your local yoga studio has mom and tot yoga.
- Alberta Health offers a program called “New Moms Network.”
- Talk to new parents when you see them. Sometimes you will just make a connection somewhere as simple as the grocery store or coffee shop!
- Browse some of the local Facebook groups in your area and find one you connect with. Be mindful though – it’s easy to fall into a shame trap in some of these groups. If you start feeling shamed for your choices, then that particular group is likely not for you.
- Not sure of what programs are available in your area? Ask your friendly doula for some resources! I know many of these programs are directed towards moms, but many are welcoming to dads and other caregivers as well.
Trust me. It’s worth it. Down the road when your children are bigger and you look back, you will thank yourself for putting yourself out there. Having that special group of parents who just gets you is one of the best gifts you can give your entire family.