I get it… the LAST thing you want to do is get yourself dressed (dressed? In actual clothes?! What are those??) and leave your house with your tiny baby. But hear me out because you may be really glad you did.
I’m sure you’ve already heard (and realized) by now the African proverb popularized by Hillary Clinton in 1996: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Tough to disagree. BUT, the proverbial village is not exactly a mainstay of modern American parenting…
For the last 50,000 years of human existence, most new moms would have been surrounded by sisters, moms, aunts, and other relatives who would have aided them through the first few delicate months of motherhood. I imagine women back then… sitting in their huts, preparing food, and nursing their babies and toddlers. Complaining about their mates being out too late hunting tigers. You know, the usual.
But modern parents are often far-flung from the family and friends they hold near and dear. Many of us spend long days alone with our new babies. Watching the clock. Counting down the hours until your partner gets home (if you have one). If you’re a single mom, it can be even more lonely and bewildering.
I used to sit around wondering what I should be *doing* all day.
Add COVID to the equation, and this picture gets much more bleak.
While this type of isolated living may be “normal” in our twenty-first century society, it’s certainly not natural. We weren’t meant to raise babies in a vacuum.
What can we do about this? How can we – as new parents – try to have a lifestyle that is more consistent with how we evolved?
Find (or Make!) Your Tribe
The postpartum period is a critical time to connect with other parents.
*This article series is primarily focused on new moms, but these same principles hold true for all new parents (especially those who are primary caregivers).
Old-school, In Person
The hardships, joys, and bewilderment of being a new mom foster bonding in a rare and unique way. These relationships can be enduring; the friendships many of our staff made when their first children were born remain strong today.
Meg says, “outside the many fun play dates and happy hours, we have leaned on each other over the years for support — whether it’s helping each other navigate preschool and grade-school admission, sharing potty training secrets, or dealing with behavioral challenges. I think back to those early days when we all used to meet at the Starbucks in Noe Valley — all sitting around the table… waiting for someone else to nurse because we didn’t want to go first. I look back and laugh about that now, but those days were so critical to our bonding.”
This is especially true if you don’t work or aren’t going back to work. When we stop working, the loss of our place in a group or community can feel even more pronounced, not to mention the loss to your sense of self.
Which brings me to my next point….
Parents Learn from Each Other
Who better to learn from about motherhood/fatherhood, parenting, and all the different things that go along with having babies than other parents? If you needed support or had questions about a work project, you’d likely collaborate with a colleague, right? Same thing here. You have now taken on this new job of being a parent, and other parents (new and experienced ones alike) are your colleagues. Even if they don’t have the answers, you can bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.
And believe me, it can be downright funny/entertaining at times.
Who else is going to be straight with you about all the nitty-gritty details of new parenthood (and not be grossed out by the photos you snap of your baby’s diaper rash)? Seriously, though, other moms/parents can help you figure out a great deal of the baby stuff you’re unsure about: how much spit up is too much; what you’re supposed to do about your baby’s gas keeping her up all night; how to increase your milk supply; why you shouldn’t freak out that your baby isn’t smiling yet (but your baby tracker app insists s/he should be by now); and when you’ll actually feel like having s-e-x again (never?? Just kidding… kind of).
When it comes to navigating this whole “keeping a baby alive” thing, other moms get it and have your back. Not to mention, moms are super smart and inventive—have a problem you need a solution to? (How to keep your playroom organized? How to store diapers?) Ask a mom. Chances are, she’ll have a hack for that.
When We Get Together, We Feel Less Alone and More Confident
It may be obvious, but it’s true! Too often new parents hunker down in their homes with their newborns. It’s so isolating, and the days can get loooong. Suburban and rural moms/dads are at a greater risk for isolation. And let’s face it: with the convenience of Netflix and Instagram at your fingertips… it’s waaaay too easy to fill your day by sitting around on your phone. We also know this is not good for you.
This is especially true if you give birth during the colder months and especially during COVID times— it may seem like too much of a hassle to bundle your baby (and yourself) up just to go to the store (or wherever). This was the case for me after my first arrived. She was born in late October, and when we left the hospital we hit a cold snap; the snow started falling and didn’t stop… until April! I didn’t want to go anywhere. It was cold, the streets were icy, and I was nursing round-the-clock… it was just easier to stay home.
While this is probably true—it is physically easier to stay home—it’s certainly not mentally or emotionally healthy to confine yourself 24/7 to your house. Knowing this, I joined a new mom’s group through a local group, and in addition to meeting up once a week for an hour with our babies, we were also encouraged to get together outside of our group time. Our leader would say, “Do your best to go, and even try to nurse in public.” This scared the sh*t out of me! I didn’t want to go anywhere, let alone pull out my milk-makers in front of others … but I did it, and slowly but surely I gained more confidence in my abilities to take my baby out by myself.
Right now, you may still be following strict COVID safety protocols, which makes all of this 10x harder. Only you can be the judge of how comfortable you are being with others, how many, where, etc. If you have some discomfort around meeting indoors, try meeting people outside. Even getting out of the house every day — for a walk, or even just to stand in the yard for a few minutes and breathe in nature — is incredibly rejuvenating and healthy for both you and baby.
You may pass some other new parents on your daily walks — give a friendly wave, a “how’s it going?” and a knowing smile. You get each other in a way no one else does…
Being the parent of a new baby can be challenging and isolating enough, and Covid certainly doesn’t help matters. One in three new parents who had babies during the beginning of the pandemic experienced postpartum depression – potentially triple pre-pandemic levels – while one in five had major depressive symptoms, according to research led by the University of Michigan School of Nursing and Michigan Medicine.
Please remember that isolation and fear can definitely contribute to depression and other undesirable mental health states. While it’s of course important to take safety precautions when it comes to Covid (or any virus/disease), it’s equally as important to consider your own mental health needs and the benefit of socializing with other new parents.
To help you make the best decision when it comes to getting out of your house and being around others, talk to your pediatrician about the health risks associated with the virus, versus the risks posed to your mental health due to feeling isolated.
Even if it’s not a formal group like mine was, some parents may find that the simple act of having something on the calendar that they need/want to do not only gets them out of the house, but helps them feel more “normal” during the postpartum period. This could be anything from scheduling a doctor’s appointment, to “scheduling” a daily or weekly walk, or an outing to a mall or coffee shop. It might even be dropping your older child off at preschool, and then heading to the market. Whatever works for you, and holds you accountable for getting out of your house and feeling like yourself again.
Did you Know?
- Studies have shown that moms who have stronger support from a community they’re connected to have consequently lower levels of stress and feel more optimistic about parenting in general (this could be other moms, or any network that helps make you feel supported and empowered).
- Oftentimes women are intuitive and emotionally connected to one another in ways that sometimes even a partner isn’t; if a new mom is experiencing symptoms of the baby blues or postpartum depression or anxiety, it may be a mom friend who recognizes the signs first, supports her, and encourages her to get help. Read also: Your New Life as a Parent
- When you want to cry because you’re running on two hours of sleep, your baby just had her fifth blowout of the day, and your partner just called to tell you he’s going to be an hour late tonight… you can call a mom friend (who will totally get it), and she’ll help you laugh about it.
What if I don’t feel like socializing?
Bear in mind that not everyone loves playgroups, breastfeeding groups, new mom classes, Mom’s Night Outs, etc. That’s okay, and I totally get it. Here’s a little secret: I’m an introvert. While I love people and really enjoy spending quality time with a few close friends, I’m not a fan of being out all the time (especially with crying kids in tow) and constantly socializing in big groups.
This is a case of “know thyself”: Are you an introvert, extrovert, or do you fall somewhere in between? An introvert often feels drained after long periods of socialization (yet likely enjoys and feels energized by meaningful conversations with one or two closer friends), while an extrovert feels drained after long periods of alone time, and recharges by being out with others.
After I had my first child, I could not imagine going out and having to spend time with others making casual chit-chat. This sounded painful and tiresome (and I was already exhausted!). Worse, with so many people telling me I should do these things—meet other moms, get out of the house, have “girls’ nights,” etc.—I felt ashamed and guilty for not actually wanting to do these things. (“What’s wrong with me that this doesn’t sound appealing??”) I also felt completely overwhelmed by new motherhood and the long list of tasks it brought, so that going out with a group of moms and socializing felt like yet another overwhelming task on a seemingly unending to-do list.
It took me a while, but I finally found my stride with this. While I realized how important it was to meet other mom friends—I really did crave a network of women who understood what I was going through and who I could lean on for support—I began to understand that it wasn’t the amount of mom friends I had (or the number of times we went out together) that mattered, but rather the quality of the friendships I made.
I nurtured the few close mom friends I made—the ones that I really connected with—and replaced all the other social outings with self-care hobbies, such as spending time in nature, going for walks, sipping tea in a quiet space, and writing.
If this sounds like you, that’s okay! Every woman is different. The postpartum period can be tough enough; know yourself and be true to you. A “support network” means something different to everyone, so if you aren’t into the whole group thing, don’t feel pressured to do it.
So now that we’ve established the importance of meeting some other parents in the same boat as you (and building a “support network”—however that looks for you), how the heck are you supposed to meet these moms?! Don’t worry! From apps, to Facebook, to the neighborhood library, read ahead to get the lowdown on all the latest and greatest ways to actually connect with other parents.