IT TAKES A VIL­LAGE

In to­day’s busy world we are more con­nected than ever, but of­ten not where it counts. Rais­ing a child is a time when we need sup­port - and it is there, if we know where to look and how to ask for it, as MAR­GOT MAR­SHALL ex­plains

Little Treasures - - NEWS -

Mak­ing con­nec­tions and ask­ing for help is as im­por­tant as ever

‘I needed to ad­mit I needed an ex­tra pair of hands some days. I had to let my guard down’

You’ve likely heard the adage that it takes a vil­lage to raise a child – and it’s a given that hav­ing fam­ily around you after the birth of your baby is a bless­ing – but with life get­ting busier and many of us liv­ing in cities far from our fam­i­lies, where do we find our sup­port sys­tems and what does this vil­lage look like to­day?

Sup­port sys­tems

“It ab­so­lutely takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and the term ‘it takes a vil­lage’ ref­er­ences the scale of a dif­fi­cult task – which I think we all agree, rais­ing a child to­tally is,” says Kelly Banks, co-founder and co-cre­ator of Sup­port Crew, a free on­line plat­form that gives fam­ily and friends the op­por­tu­nity to sup­port loved ones, no mat­ter where in the world they live. “The prob­lem is not that we don’t have enough peo­ple will­ing to help,” says Kelly, “the prob­lem is that when we need help we are of­ten over­whelmed, ex­hausted and stressed. We don’t know what help we need, and we strug­gle to ask for it. Sup­port Crew aims to cre­ate a vir­tual vil­lage by al­low­ing users to co­or­di­nate meals, trans­port, child­care or any other help needed from friends, fam­ily, col­leagues, neigh­bours and the com­mu­nity. No mum gets through rais­ing a child on their own with­out any help from any­one. And ev­ery mum that bravely asks for help is role mod­el­ling for the next mum and the next mum – so that we can cre­ate a rip­ple ef­fect.” “Peo­ple say when you have a third baby you have to let go of some­thing,” says Carly Flynn, mum to Tilly (7), Jude (5) and Fred­die (six months). “But for me to feel great and on top of things I like to be ‘or­gan­ised’. To have food in the freezer. Muffins in the pantry. The wash­ing folded. The beds changed. And yet I found my­self ut­terly ex­hausted. Work­ing, (be­cause I’m self-em­ployed and I love it, and it fills my cup) but with no fam­ily sup­port nearby, great friends who al­ready do a heap, I needed to ad­mit I needed an ex­tra pair of hands some days. I had to let my guard down by invit­ing some­one in, and I ad­ver­tised for a ‘fairy god­mother’. “The chal­lenges to­day are that we live fur­ther away from our fam­i­lies. We don’t know our neigh­bours so much. We typ­i­cally live in cities. We have mas­sive mort­gages forc­ing us back to work quicker. We’re con­nected on so­cial me­dia and smart­phones, which don’t help us switch off,” says Carly. “It’s busy and in 2017, un­for­tu­nately it would seem that we need to pay for help.”

Which sup­port do you need?

Clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Sarah Bell-booth says that in the ab­sence of a nat­u­ral, comprehensive sup­port­ive ‘vil­lage’, some par­ents may need or choose to pay for sup­port. “There are three di­men­sions of so­cial sup­port,” says Sarah. “Emo­tional sup­port, char­ac­terised by con­cern, com­fort and en­cour­age­ment. In­stru­men­tal sup­port, which in­cludes money, time and prac­ti­cal help, and in­for­ma­tion sup­port, which in­cludes ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vice.” So­cial sup­port can come from pro­fes­sion­als or from so­ci­ety and com­mu­ni­ties. “Mod­ern com­mu­ni­ties in general, es­pe­cially in larger cities, are not of­ten tight-knit, es­pe­cially when com­pared with pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. As a re­sult, par­ents can feel dis­con­nected due to phys­i­cal dis­tance or due to the fast pace of mod­ern life where fam­i­lies, friends and neigh­bours are busy and pre­oc­cu­pied with their own re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.” Un­for­tu­nately, this lack of so­cial sup­port and the dis­con­nect can neg­a­tively af­fect men­tal health in par­ents, says Sarah. “In fact, so­cial iso­la­tion is one of the big­gest risk fac­tors for de­pres­sion, which is shown to be preva­lent in up to 20 per cent of moth­ers and 10 per cent of fathers.”

Out­side help

Caro­line Fraser, mum to Ge­orge (9), Sam (8), Harry (6) and Ted (3), says when baby num­ber three was born, she and her hus­band found them­selves with three chil­dren un­der three and a half. “My hus­band had a busy job in the city, my mum wasn’t in Auck­land and my in-laws, al­though in­cred­i­bly help­ful, both worked full-time, so con­sis­tent ‘free’ help or sup­port wasn’t read­ily avail­able. Our third baby was by far our most un­set­tled baby, so when I came home from Birth­care and Gareth went back to work I found it in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to main­tain a good bal­ance at home. With an un­set­tled baby and two pre-school­ers I wasn’t able to be there or en­joy any one of our chil­dren as much as I could or should, so it be­came ob­vi­ous we needed more con­sis­tent help that would need to be paid for. “In the first cou­ple of weeks after bring­ing our third baby home, a close friend who had an au pair at the time gifted me some hours of ‘au pair help’ as their present to us for the ar­rival of our baby. This was the cat­a­lyst for Gareth and me to quickly re­alise this was our an­swer. We strug­gled through eight weeks un­til our Ger­man au pair ar­rived to save the day and that made for a hap­pier mum, hap­pier wife and a hap­pier home for the next 12 months.” Fast-for­ward two and half years when Caro­line and Gareth’s ‘bonus baby’ came along, and there were now four chil­dren in the fam­ily aged un­der six. “This time we made sure we had an­other au pair ar­rive and set­tle in prior to the birth,” says Caro­line. “Our sit­u­a­tion had changed slightly in that we now had one at school and one at kindy so had met a won­der­ful new net­work of par­ents who could help out with some kindy and school pick-ups and drop-offs, and play dates. That, in ad­di­tion to the au pair help dur­ing the busiest times of the day, made life man­age­able – an in­ter­est­ing mix of chaos, crazi­ness and fun.”

Em­brac­ing the par­ent­hood jour­ney

The tran­si­tion to par­ent­hood re­quires sig­nif­i­cant ad­just­ment: emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally, fi­nan­cially and re­la­tion­ally, says SPACE (Sup­port­ing

Par­ents Along­side Chil­dren’s Ed­u­ca­tion) co-founder Leanne Daw­son. “Par­ent­ing to­day is very dif­fer­ent from a cou­ple of decades ago. So­ci­ety is con­stantly evolv­ing, which means var­i­ous changes in the dy­nam­ics be­tween par­ent and child and the role of the com­mu­nity. The tra­di­tional ‘vil­lage’ con­cept can be miss­ing, which in turn can make par­ents feel more iso­lated and over­whelmed, so it is im­por­tant to have some­where par­ents can at­tend that nor­malises and cel­e­brates par­ent­ing,” she says. “When we first started SPACE in 2002 we saw a real need for first-time par­ents to be sup­ported, val­ued and con­nected. The tran­si­tion to par­ent­hood is such an im­por­tant time; a time to be sup­ported as a per­son and a par­ent, a time to learn about par­ent­ing and child de­vel­op­ment, a time to build re­la­tion­ships – with your baby, and other par­ents, a time to be con­nected, with oth­ers and to your com­mu­nity. This is key to par­ents recog­nis­ing they are not alone and that there are many other par­ents who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sim­i­lar emo­tions. SPACE recre­ates the ‘vil­lage’ as an en­abler for pos­i­tive par­ent­ing, as we con­nect par­ents with other par­ents and ser­vices and pro­vide sup­port, pos­i­tive role mod­el­ling and prac­ti­cal tools for par­ents,” she says. “It is re­ally im­por­tant for new mums who do not have fam­ily sup­port or a good sup­port net­work to reach out for help and sup­port – it is out there,” says Kristina Pater­son, founder of Moth­ers Helpers. “Some­times you have to dig a lit­tle bit, try things and then try some­thing else if it doesn’t fit with you. Be per­sis­tent and don’t give up.” Kristina founded Moth­ers Helpers after ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an­te­na­tal anx­i­ety and post­na­tal de­pres­sion her­self. “Not only did I ex­pe­ri­ence 18 months de­layed di­ag­no­sis, I found that once I was di­ag­nosed and wouldn’t meet the cri­te­ria for Ma­ter­nal Men­tal Health ser­vices, the only help I could ac­cess was pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion,” she says. “I wanted to help mums to be iden­ti­fied and re­ceive help as quickly as pos­si­ble for anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion. I wanted to pro­vide a re­ally ef­fec­tive, holis­tic ser­vice that wouldn’t just sup­port mum, but help her to re­cover or be­come well, so that the im­pact it would have on her and her whole fam­ily would be re­duced.” “A lot of the mums I see of­ten do not have sup­port­ive fam­ily or they don’t have fam­ily liv­ing close by,” says Kristina. “That lack of sup­port and iso­la­tion is a recog­nised con­tribut­ing fac­tor to de­vel­op­ing post­na­tal de­pres­sion. Poor fam­ily sup­port and sole par­ent­ing are both known risk fac­tors for peri­na­tal (an­te­na­tal and post­na­tal) de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.”

Mak­ing your own vil­lage

Amy Wil­liamson, mum to Hunter (6), says when her son was born she quickly re­alised life was very dif­fer­ent to what it had once been. “The first six to twelve weeks post­birth were the hard­est. I felt alone and iso­lated and even though I am ECE- and Pri­mary-trained with years of ex­pe­ri­ence, none it re­ally helped me emo­tion­ally. I re­mem­ber one night with a cry­ing baby, just wait­ing for some­one to knock on the door and say ‘It’s okay, I’m here, I’ll take him off your hands for a while’, and me just want­ing to get dressed up and head out to town to feel ‘nor­mal’ again. There were some low mo­ments.” Amy says feel­ing iso­lated in the early weeks after her son was born in­spired her to set a goal to get out for cof­fee or a walk each day. “So I did, but I felt lonely. After a cou­ple of weeks, I thought I would look for a cof­fee group to meet some other mums, but I found all the con­ver­sa­tions were around their hus­bands and how great these mums’ lives were. I felt em­bar­rassed and ashamed that I hadn’t been able to keep my son’s fa­ther around and that I wasn’t in a lov­ing, nur­tur­ing re­la­tion­ship ei­ther, so I didn’t go back. “As a sin­gle par­ent from when my son was born, even though I knew I was a strong and in­de­pen­dent woman, I also knew I couldn’t raise him alone. To­wards the end of my preg­nancy I de­cided I needed to be in a warm, safe and se­cure en­vi­ron­ment, and I ended up

speak­ing to my par­ents about mov­ing home with them. They wel­comed me and their fu­ture grand­child with open arms and this im­me­di­ately al­le­vi­ated any fi­nan­cial stress and al­lowed me to pre­pare for the birth of my son. “My par­ents have been the most amaz­ing sup­port and sound­ing boards for me. I have my mo­ments, as we all do as par­ents, but with their un­con­di­tional love and sup­port I have be­come the par­ent I am to­day. I also de­cided to get a dog and he has opened up even more doors for my son and me; we get out on ad­ven­tures and he has re­ally helped com­plete us as a fam­ily. These peo­ple, this dog – they are my vil­lage.”

Main­tain­ing con­nec­tions

Mid­wife Sharon Weir says an­te­na­tal classes and cof­fee groups, while typ­i­cally very sup­port­ive, oc­ca­sion­ally dis­in­te­grate when women re­turn to work or don’t gel with oth­ers. “There are still women who are lucky enough to have amaz­ing fam­ily sup­port in the first few weeks and months after hav­ing a baby, but many grand­par­ents are them­selves still work­ing or not in the same part of the coun­try as the new par­ents, and there­fore not al­ways avail­able for more than a very short time.” Alexan­dra Austin, mum to Henry (3) and Ge­orge (6 months) ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand rais­ing chil­dren with­out fam­ily sup­port nearby. “Liv­ing in Aus­tralia we don’t have ei­ther of our par­ents in the same coun­try and it is chal­leng­ing at times, es­pe­cially when you just want to say, ‘Mum, can you pop over and help me out for a cou­ple of hours?’ and it’s just not pos­si­ble,” she says. “I re­lied on good friends back home in New Zealand for men­tal sup­port and ad­vice and I also started go­ing to a moth­ers’ group, which I didn’t re­ally think of as a good sup­port net­work un­til a few weeks in, when I started mak­ing some close friend­ships in the group. Once I had es­tab­lished these friend­ships, these women be­came my Aus­tralian fam­ily and my vil­lage. We were all in the same sit­u­a­tion – liv­ing away from home with no fam­ily sup­port. We all un­der­stood what it was like and would of­fer to help each other out if an ex­tra pair of hands were needed,” she says. “There are def­i­nitely times when I have felt iso­lated and lonely, but the way so­ci­ety is so con­nected by tech­nol­ogy now has also made it a lot eas­ier – be­ing able to Face­time or join What­sapp groups has pro­vided great men­tal sup­port for me.”

On­line con­nec­tions

Blog­ger Maria Foy, who founded Happy Mum Happy Child, says when her first child was born she didn’t feel she had a lot of sup­port. “My par­ents were liv­ing over­seas and other fam­ily weren’t read­ily avail­able,” says Maria. “I had an ex­tremely ‘spilly’ baby and couldn’t bring my­self to go out be­cause ev­ery five min­utes I’d have to change her clothes. I felt scared, and very alone, so turned to Facebook. This is where I made a lot of ‘friends’ and re­ceived a lot of sup­port dur­ing this tough time. I met many moth­ers who felt a sim­i­lar lack of sup­port, for what­ever rea­son, and found on­line fo­rums a great place to ‘hang out’.” Maria says she started her blog as a way of shar­ing ac­tiv­i­ties she did with her chil­dren, and now cites her main mo­ti­va­tor as help­ing par­ents feel less alone in the par­ent­ing jour­ney. “I know there are many things about the in­ter­net which are neg­a­tive, but for me per­son­ally, it was a god­send,” says Maria. It’s no se­cret that so­cial me­dia can leave us feel­ing iso­lated. “As much as tech­nol­ogy has been bril­liant for so many as­pects of our lives, it also has the abil­ity to only show the per­fect ‘show reel’ of our lives and not the ‘real reel’, which can of­ten leave new mums feel­ing like they are the only ones who aren’t cop­ing, or don’t have the per­fect ‘new Mum’ life,” says Kelly. “So­cial me­dia can be both re­ally good and re­ally bad,” agrees Sharon. “There are some amaz­ing mummy blog­gers who tell it like it is! How­ever, it is also very easy to hide be­hind a façade and pre­tend that all is well with the world, be­cause ‘celebrity’ mums have got it all to­gether, when in re­al­ity it is the com­plete op­po­site. “It is im­por­tant for women to be hon­est with them­selves and oth­ers around them with how ev­ery­thing is go­ing, good or bad, so that peo­ple know how to sup­port them through the tough times.”

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