It may not always take a literal village to raise a child, but pretty much every parent has days when they could use support from someone who really understands what they’re going through. Not only is knowing other parents a great way to support Baby’s social development as they grow – after all, playdates are great for little ones – it’s also immensely beneficial for your own well-being. To have a strong social network of fellow parents – peers who are also dealing with baby sleep regression or toddler sniffles, neighbors who can give you tips on the best local playgrounds, or friends you can just count on to understand how unpredictable parenting can be – is priceless.
Start small, then branch out
Building a network of parent-friends, especially before Baby starts school, can be hard. It’s even harder if you’re the first, the last, or the only one in your group of friends to have a child. If this describes you, you may want to build your network of support from the ground up.
- Co-workers: Other parents who you work with – especially fellow parents of young children – may be able to give you tips about navigating your work environment as a new parent. This is a great way to break the ice. Plenty of people love being in the position where they get to give advice, and you never know what pearls of wisdom these co-workers might offer.
- Cousins or extended family: Maybe these days, you only really see them at big family parties, but extended family can also be a great source of support during this transitional time. And having a new baby is a great reason to get back in closer touch with people who you may have grown up with, but have since grown apart from. Spending time with extended family members who also have children is a wonderful way to raise Baby with a sense of being part of a larger family group and can even help them feel connected to their heritage. Plus, you get to spend time with some of the only people in the world who might also find themselves using your grandparents’ turns of phrase or favorite bedtime stories when talking to their own children.
- Out and about: Meeting people spontaneously when you’re out in public can feel a little old-fashioned these days, but when you meet other new parents at the park, at the library for story time, or at your parent-baby music class, there’s a good chance they may be just as ready to get to know other new parents as you are.
- Online: If walking across the sandbox to introduce yourself isn’t your style, there are plenty of online parent support groups that can help you find community – this includes online-only groups and even local groups you can initially connect with online and then later meet up with in person in your area.
- Support groups: Parents who have faced challenging situations – including adoptive parents, parents of children who have had health complications, or parents of children with special needs – may be able to find formal groups set up to provide support for the specific challenges they might face, either in person or online. These groups can be helpful since they can connect parents with other families who can provide insight into challenges you and your family might face in the future and ways to handle those challenges.
Keep in mind that even if you manage to find just the right group of people, it can take a little extra effort to go from buddies who wave from across the playground to friends who can really count on each other. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t connect and make good friends right away. It’s totally normal to not quite click with a group or two before you find one where you definitely do.
Appreciate diversity of parenting styles
Your new parent-friends might not parent exactly the way you do, and as your children grow older, that difference can become more and more glaring. Sometimes, differences in parenting styles can even feel like a judgment. It can feel like parents who make choices that are different from your own either a) must be judging you or b) must be wrong. As time goes on, though, having parent-friends who have different views and priorities can actually be a great way to keep an open mind and even better clarify for you just why you make the parenting choices that you do. The best way to start cultivating these relationships is by being as nonjudgmental as you can be when meeting other new parents.
Don’t just do play dates
It can be challenging to bond with a new friend when you’re busy supervising Baby. So don’t feel like all your time together has to revolve around your kids. When it comes to figuring out other ways to get to know parent-friends, try to find some common ground – which may or may not involve your kiddos. What do you like to do in your spare time? What hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy that are even better with a friend? Thinking about this can be a great way to turn a friendship of convenience into a real one.
Try and try again
Building a support network of other parents can take time. You may end up having a few false starts, but when you do manage it, these friendships can become an invaluable resource. It might seem daunting now, but as Baby gets older – more capable of interacting with other children and closer to starting school – connecting with other parents will definitely get easier.