8 keys to building a strong support system

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I was lucky enough to live by family when I gave birth to each of my four children, and I’ve always been part of a close-knit church, but even with these two distinct advantages on my side, I often felt alone and unsupported when my children were young. (Motherhood can do that.) And like many mothers of older children, those feelings quickly resurfaced when our family moved to a place far from our family and our established network of friends.

Social connections and a strong support system are key to a mother’s health and happiness, but mothers today often live far from “home” and the benefits of a built-in support system, unlike mothers of previous generations. (Some even consider this a modern mental health crisis.) It makes me wonder how many mothers are suffering needlessly from fatigue, stress-induced depression, and loneliness because they don’t have a strong support system?

There’s nothing quite like getting together with other moms who share similar experiences and struggles, but what’s a girl to do if she doesn’t have any mom friends? It would be pretty easy to stay home and throw a daily pity party, but it would feel much better to proactively build a support system. This might seem like an insurmountable task if you don’t know a single person in town or you can barely get yourself into the shower every day, but making the effort will reap huge benefits in the long run for both you and your children. I have a few ideas of how to do this, but I’d love to hear yours as well.

  1. Be willing to help yourself. Without this, you won’t get anywhere. Surprisingly, I’ve met many mothers who are surrounded by various people willing to help, but for one reason or another, they prefer to go it alone. (Usually, they don’t think anyone else can “properly” take care of their children, or they feel a sense of pride in doing things themselves.) There is no glory in pointless, solitary struggle. I hate to see a mom unnecessarily burn herself out because she refuses the help of perfectly capable and willing people. For those who truly don’t have any outside support, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone, reach out to other moms, and get assertive about taking care of yourself. You owe it to yourself and your children.
  2. Go online. This is the first stop for most moms. Even if you are physically alone, you can “visit” all kinds of moms and parenting experts from the comfort and convenience of your laptop. Message boards can be a lifesaver during the winter months or the first few weeks of a baby’s life when you aren’t taking them out very much. (Of course, websites like the Power of Moms also provide tons of support, but you already knew that!) If you’re in a position to easily get out of the house, sites like Meetup.comTrueBlueMatch.com,MommyandMe.com and Yahoo Groups are all excellent resources for finding local groups. (I would recommend a Learning Circle . . .) The Internet is a great tool for those who are unable to get out of the house as often as they would like, those who have no other resources, and those who are on the shy side. (Once you make a connection online, you can always decide whether or not you’d like to meet in person.)
  3. Go to a park or a play place. Online relationships and connections are great, but nothing compares to a living, breathing friend who you can look in the eye. Parks and play places are great ways to meet and talk with other moms who are in similar stages of life. If you really hit it off, you can suggest meeting up again at the same time and place next week. Doing so is much less intimidating than inviting another mom to your home, which can sometimes feel like a commitment for a “long-term relationship.” But who knows? Weekly meetings at the park may just lead to a life-long friendship.
  4. Get moving. It’s important for a lot of moms to get back in shape after having a baby, and for those who were athletic in the past, it’s also important to not lose that part of their lives. If you can afford it, getting a membership at a gym that has child care can be the best postpartum money ever spent. I went to a couple of different gyms when I had babies, and it cost me virtually nothing since I volunteered in the child care center. (If your local gym doesn’t offer this option, suggest it!) Not only will you get your endorphins going, but you’ll start seeing the same moms over and over again and possibly develop a friendship. If a gym isn’t an option, get an inexpensive jogging stroller (garage sales are best) and see if there is a mom’s walking group nearby. Missing your favorite sport? Most communities offer plenty of opportunities to connect with other people interested in a variety of sports. (Start with the recreation center.) If you really can’t find what you’re looking for, there are probably other moms who feel the same way. I know of one mom who started a regular beachside “stroller aerobics” group for moms with babies. Way to think outside the box!
  5. Join an already established group for mothers. Check with your pediatrician or hospital, the community center, and local churches for information about groups for mothers. Search local newspapers and websites for information about baby fairs or parenting conferences in your area where you can come in contact with other mothers. Many nationally organized groups for moms like MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) have hundreds of chapters all over the country. Whether you want support for breastfeeding  or for mothering a child with autism, chances are good there is an already established group organized and you just need to find them. (The joys of living in the Internet age!)
  6. Take a class. Check out local classes through the parks and recreation department, community center, or community college. These classes are usually super affordable. Making time for yourself to pursue a new or previously enjoyed hobby is a key way to reducing stress and feeling supported, and you’re almost guaranteed to make a friend or two in the process. If your children are young and you don’t have a reliable babysitter, consider taking a “Mommy and Me” class where you will not only get out of the house, but spend valuable time socializing with other moms. It’s a win-win.
  7. Volunteer. I know, there’s not a lot of free time when you’re a new mom, but for those with older kids, not only does volunteering boost your mood, but if you volunteer at a place that has a mission of particular interest to you, you will most likely meet other like-minded people who are potential friends. (Think children’s hospital, animal shelter, the library, or food kitchen.) Of course, one of the easiest and most fulfilling ways to volunteer while staying connected to your children and the other moms in your community is by joining the PTA.
  8. Join a church. When my not-so-churchy friends find out that the ladies at my church always organize a week or two of meals to be brought in after a new mom has a baby, they can hardly believe it! (This is a worldwide phenomenon in the LDS church.) Postpartum meals are just one of the perks that can come from being the member of a church focused on service and building community among its members (among other things). Churches provide many opportunities to learn, socialize, serve, and feel a strong sense of community. Not only will you be associating with like-minded people, but hopefully your kids will too. Nothing reassures the parent of a teenager quite like the positive peer pressure of a strong youth group at church. (And FYI, go to these websites for ways to organize postpartum meals outside of church: mealbaby.commealtrain.com ortakethemameal.com.)

Looking at this lengthy list of resources makes me happy. We really do live in an amazing age. Even though many moms today may not live near their own mothers or in a town where everyone knows their name, we are light years beyond the days of the pioneer woman thrown out on the Oklahoma prairie. It’s my hope that more and more struggling moms will take advantage of the resources available and help themselves by creating their own support system so that their children will have the support they need too.

QUESTION: Do you have a strong support system? What do you think are the keys to feeling support as a mother?

CHALLENGE: If you’re a mother who needs a stronger support system, pick one thing on this list and go for it! If you’ve got all the support you need, try to be a little more aware of those moms around you who may need a friend and reach out.

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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