By Guest Blogger, Olivia Spitzer
We have all heard the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As new parents, a big piece of your work is identifying who will be included in your child’s village. During (and even before) pregnancy, you are already thinking about which grandparents will be available to you for support. You know which friends will serve as aunties or uncles. You find a pediatrician, you weigh your childcare options and you think about schooling. You carefully craft the village around your child; choosing each provider, friend, and family member with intention. A child is doing the work of becoming a person, and everyone in their village influences that work. Your child is precious. You want to give them the best support available.
But What About You?
You need intentional, well-planned support. The friends, family and providers surrounding you should be chosen with care – the same care that you used to choose your child’s village. As a parent, you are becoming a new version of yourself. You are precious. You also need the best support available.
How Can You Best Support Yourself Along Your Parenting Journey?
It can feel like an overwhelming task. Here are some steps to get you started.
Identify Your Needs
As you imagine your life with a newborn, think about the support you might need (or want). Maybe you love cooking, but hate the clean up. Maybe you enjoy walking your dog, but taking them to the dog park feels like a chore. Start thinking now about which activities you will want to make time for when you baby arrives, and what you will be happy to delegate.
I often tell my private clients that having a baby is a life event that your community gets excited about. No one wants to help you move or grieve. People want to help you get married and have a baby. Take the time now to consider how to make that help useful for you. Hand-me-down baby clothes are great, but so is the neighbor who is willing to roll your garbage cans down to the street and back up your driveway again. Help comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. The work in front of you is to name what you need and ask for it!
Look at Your Current Circle
Once you have an idea of what you will need, it is time to figure out how to get it! Who do you imagine will be helpful as opposed to simply excited once baby has arrived? These are the people who should surround you in the early days. Are your friends and family supportive of your choices? Who will take on the project of setting up a meal train? Do you have friends and family who will cook your meals and do your laundry? Do you feel like you can be your authentic and unprepared self in front of your friends and family? Which family members can help you pay for a postpartum doula? Who can you count on to wash a sink full of dishes, or let you catch a nap? Who won’t balk when asked to walk your dog? Make a list for yourself and review it with your partner.
Look at Your Current Providers
You may need professional help beyond your healthcare provider. There are myriad professionals who help expectant and new parents such as doulas, lactation consultants, mental health professionals, acupuncturists, massage therapists and more. Do you already work with a chiropractor you love? Do you have a physical therapist you feel “meh” about? Pregnancy is a great time to reassess and make sure you are working with a team you trust. It is important to know that it is never too late to switch providers. These providers will be taking care of you as you grow, birth, and care for your baby. They are caring for you, so that you can care for your family. Their work is very important!
Ask the Professionals
Maybe you are working with an acupuncturist you like and you’re curious about adding a parent-focused exercise regimen to your life. Ask your provider who they recommend! Ask your midwife which doulas they love in town. Ask your doula which lactation consultants they recommend. If you have a practitioner you already appreciate, it is likely you will appreciate the people in their network as well.
Every city, town or region has perinatal professionals. Take the time to dig around and keep asking people. You may have more options than you imagined. Get creative about where you look for information. Text friends of friends, ask your hair dresser, or post in a Facebook group.
In the US, we do not do a great job of helping parents. This is not a shocking revelation. In 2020 we all had to adjust our daily lives dramatically with little guidance and minimal support. It is worth acknowledging that it is your responsibility to build your own village – our country does not automatically provide care for you. That might feel overwhelming to think about and that’s normal! Our hope that this list of first steps might help you to imagine an easier way forward. Start by identifying your needs, look at your current resources and then use what you already have in place to help you find more. Ask your friends who they love, ask your family who they trust, ask your providers who they recommend. We want you to know that there is support out here for you. No one should have to go through this life changing journey alone.
About Olivia Spitzer
Olivia is the co-founder and coordinator of The Parent Trip PDX, a Portland Oregon organization committed to help you find your village as an expectant and new parent. The Parent Trip PDX hosts virtual events three times a year highlighting dozens of local providers and offering families free information about available community support. They also produce multiple free informational panels each year. The Parent Trip PDX has given away over $20,000 worth of goods and services to growing families in the last two years. They are committed to doing their part to change the state of parental support in their community.
You can tune in to their YouTube show, The MixTape: Because Parenting is a Trip, the first and third Wednesdays of every month to continue to conversation with Olivia and Sarah.