10 Talents of Parenting: Reaching Out for Support
Reaching Out for Support
Do you get enough support? No? I didn't think so! Most parents don't. We may refuse to admit to ourselves that we even need it, or we may know we need it, but are embarrassed to ask for it. We might not believe we deserve any help, or we might feel there's nobody out there willing or able to support us.
Another obstacle to reaching out is all the "helpful" advice and "constructive" criticism we receive from friends and relatives. This type of help can make us feel like we are better off handling everything alone, no matter how hard that is. We may have forgotten what true support feels like. But don't give up. Keep looking and you'll find someone who recognizes that you are doing your best, who enjoys your children just as they are, and who can listen to you without judging you.
Support can come in unexpected ways. I remember one day, back when my daughter was 3 or 4, we were having a big argument. I don't remember what it was about, but I do remember that she kept yelling at me to leave her room. Each time I started to leave, though, she would grab my leg and scream for me to stay. We were both extremely frustrated.
I thought about calling my friend Kris to complain. She had a son about the same age as Emma, and we often had good conversations about tricky parenting situations. So I started to leave Emma's room again, and she grabbed me again. This time, I said, "I'm going to call Kris." She let go of my leg, pushed me out the door, and said, "You go call Kris."
By the time Kris answered the phone I had forgotten our fight because I was laughing so hard at the fact that Emma knew perfectly well what the situation needed - for me to collect some support, to get a little "fresh air" from someone not caught up in the immediate battle we were having. After that phone call, Emma and I had no trouble reconnecting.
It's still hard to reach out though. We all have things we're embarrassed to admit. Some parents really need a break, but they don't want anyone to see how messy their house is. If that rings a bell, check out the strange and wonderful Web site FlyLady.org. The Fly Lady's name comes from the phrase First Love Yourself, and she helps people with CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) and other homemaking dilemmas. Once you're over that hurdle, you'll be more able to reach out for the support you need.
Of course, even the Fly Lady won't come over and do your dishes, but every aspect of parenting goes smoother and easier if we can arrange more practical support (such as childcare that allows a much-needed break or some good one-on-one time with just one child) and more emotional support (such as validation for what a good job we're doing - especially if it doesn't feel like it).
Whenever parents meet to tell their true stories of the joys and struggles of raising children - like at a mom's or dad's support group - everyone's feelings of hopelessness and isolation go way down, confidence levels go way up, and day-to-day parenting improves as well. We usually don't need someone to tell us what to do, but we do need someone to listen to us think it through - and maybe let us cry on their shoulder a little, too. This isn't the same as complaining. Real support requires telling deep secrets about our wishes, fears, hopes and dreams as a parent. If we don't share these secret feelings, they tend to keep us isolated and stuck in old patterns.
So try picking a friend who seems like a good listener, or it could be your spouse/partner, one of your parents or a co-worker. Take just five minutes to talk about what's going well and what you could use a hand with. Make it clear that you don't expect him or her to fix the problem, just to lend some emotional support (though if she offers to do your dishes, all the better!). Then ask if you can listen to his or her parenting concerns for five minutes.
Whenever I suggest this idea, parents always look at me like I'm nuts: Why on Earth would they "waste" 10 minutes on something like that? But I keep suggesting it because I keep hearing back from people who have tried it; they all say that sharing this listening time daily or weekly is what gets them through parenthood in one piece.
One more thing, while we're on the subject of reaching out. Most of us parents have received dirty looks when we were struggling with a temper tantrum in public or involved in some other humiliating parenting disaster. So when we see someone else in the same boat, let's remember to support them, offer to help them out, instead of passing on those dirty looks and rolling eyes.
Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., is a psychologist who specializes in children's play and play therapy, and is the author of several books, including the award-winning Playful Parenting.