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Friendships ease isolation for new parents

Published on: October 01, 2006

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Connecting with old friends and making new ones can help moms and dads survive the stresses of new parenthood, and will strengthen the entire family as their kids grow up, experts and parents agree.

"Social support decreases isolation, increases parent skills and knowledge, links parents with community resources, provides a respite from the pressures of parenting, supports relationships between parents and their children, and helps to protect families against child abuse and family dysfunction," reports Mary Gentry, program development coordinator from PEPS.

Sometimes new parents feel isolated, despite existing friendships. "I felt so overwhelmed and sleep-deprived, frustrated by parenting my sensitive child, entrenched in disagreements with my husband over parenting, and surrounded by co-workers who didn't appreciate what I was going through," says Sara Ames*, from Shoreline. "I hunkered down to avoid feeling criticized. Honestly, I just couldn't summon the energy to connect with anyone." (Sara is one of several parents interviewed who requested her name be changed to protect her privacy.)

Other parents report that their existing friendships didn't serve them well once they had kids. "I felt judged and misunderstood by my friends without children so I stopped seeking their support," says Carrie Noble*, from Seattle.

Yet given the critical nature of friendships to the family unit, how can new parents cultivate nurturing social networks?

Make an effort. "New friendships with other women who had a baby the same age supported me by providing feedback, comparing notes, answering questions and just sharing the experience," says Erin Baebler from Seattle. Mothers who found support from new friends agree. "The friendships I made with other new moms were a huge support and confidence booster," says Stacy Hauser from Issaquah. "Even if no one could give me the advice that would solve the issue of the day, just knowing others were having similar issues was often a big help."

Friendships can be the lifeline that helps your family not only survive, but thrive, during the early years of parenting. "Friends are not a luxury for my free time anymore; they are a necessity for my family's well-being," says April Bolding of West Seattle.

Ask for help. Your existing friends, who may also seem overwhelmed and exhausted, can also benefit from your efforts to connect. Rather than seeing social time as a burden on your friends, consider the fact that they benefit from social support as much as you do.

When it comes to asking for help, don't hesitate to tell people exactly what kind of help you need, and also what you don't need. "I'm grateful for the help in terms of food and child care that I received, which was sometimes offered and sometimes asked for," says Karen Anderson*, from Seattle. "It was helpful to have concrete support without having to receive a lot of unwanted advice or talk about my parenting challenges, which only shook my confidence."

Participate. Puget Sound is filled with opportunities for parents to find support and friendship. New parents report finding their lifelines in organized parenting groups, and also in childbirth classes, breastfeeding support groups, prenatal and postpartum yoga classes, religious groups, swim lessons, preschools and even the local park. The key is to pick one or more of these places and make an effort. See below for some of the many resources available.

Keep trying. When you connect with other parents, you may not immediately find your new best friend. "It was harder than I expected to make friends with the other mothers in the group I attended," explains Rachel Beda, from Seattle. "There were such wildly different philosophies and parenting styles. I felt I would be judged by them for not doing things the way they did."Many mothers report reluctance to engage with others if they feel their own styles and practices are not mainstream.

Adds Amy Riggs from Olympia: "Some friends had different parenting styles or schedules. Those relationships did not last long. I certainly tend to seek out parents with the most similar situation to my own."

Freelance writer Tera Schreiber and her family are blessed with many wonderful friends, for which they are eternally grateful.


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