(This article appeared in the April 9, 2018 edition of the Register-Guard)
When you are an expecting parent, your friends, family and co-workers may gush over cute baby clothes and name choices, provide their lists of top 10 “must-have” baby gear, and share stories of explosive diapers and gas smiles.
Even when baby first arrives, you may feel slammed with visitors offering to bring you a casserole or to vacuum your floor — which is great, by the way. Never turn down their offers!
But what people may neglect to tell you about is the more challenging side of parenting — the isolation. Even with a willing and loving family and an adorable child, parenting can be crushingly lonely.
This month is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and our column is about the unique power of parenting groups in supporting families to reduce isolation, manage stress and find the joy in the job of parenting — the most important and stressful job there is.
Before my first son was born, I worked full time and entertained at my house every weekend. I thought I was “connected.”
After the initial rush of friends and family who “stopped by to see the baby” came to a halt and my husband’s paternity leave was up, it was just me and my little peanut — all day.
This is not everyone’s situation, of course. For me at 29, none of our friends had children, and the grandparents all lived three hours away. It didn’t help that my son was very colicky, and I was terrified to leave the house with him. I had questions about parenting and needed support.
I needed a parenting group.
Parenting groups provide an opportunity to create connections between parents. Having “parent friends” to turn to decreases isolation and the feeling that you have to do it alone. Parenting groups also can normalize a parent’s experiences. One of the most common things we hear from parents at Parenting Now is, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way” or “I thought my baby was the only one who did that.”
With all the baby books available and information online about child rearing, some parents question the need for an in-person parenting group. However, we believe there is nothing quite as impactful as parent-to-parent contact.
Parenting groups have the power to:
- Normalize a parent’s experiences, so they learn that how they are feeling and what they are going through is shared by others.
- Provide connections, where parents can talk face to face with peers as well as a parenting educator. At Parenting Now, many of our families still are good friends with their former group peers, decades after their children have left toddlerhood.
- Offer support, which in turn reduces a parent’s stress.
- Increase knowledge about child development, which helps promote realistic expectations for the child and the parent themselves and helps form a close family bond.
- Provide a built-in community where friendships and networks can be formed.
- Provide a time each week where parents can practice being intentional about their parenting.
Parenting a child is not a virtual experience — you can’t do this online or via text. Just like your child needs your physical presence and attention, we as parents need other adults around for confirmation, ideas and support.
And parenting groups are fun! Sharing our tales of joy, frustration and confusion is infused with the very human and often hilarious side of raising a tiny person and being pulled and pushed into things you never thought you would be faced with. Finding another parent whose child is singing the same maddening song all day, every day and how they cope with it is the kind thing that creates friendships that last for years.
Locally, there are many resources available to parents and caregivers, including Parenting Now, Well Mama, Relief Nursery, Healthy Families, Daisy C.H.A.I.N., The Child Center and more. For a full list of resources in our area, visit, https://resources.parentingnow.org.