A Social Life After Baby? Yes!
"You’ve got a friend in me…" Not just a refrain from Toy Story, it reflects a solid piece of research: Support from friends and family help new mothers deal better with stress.
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As joyful as it may be to welcome a baby to the family, it can also be a stressful and potentially isolating period for even the most networked moms and dads.
Why Does Social Support Matter?
Giving birth and the early days of parenting are physically and emotionally draining. Whether or not a mother experiences postpartum depression or the “baby blues,” the beginning of parenthood is typically a roller coaster of emotions. Having people to turn to during this period—to talk with, complain to, cry with, laugh with, and tell us the baby is adorable—can be a vital source of support for parents. Researchers agree: Studies have found that mothers who are able to access trusted help from others feel more self-esteem, confidence as a parent, and struggle less to access information they need in parenting
You, Your Friends, and Baby
Adding a baby to the equation can change existing friendships if, for example, you are the first of your friend group to get pregnant (or the last). Friends may not understand your new perspective, priorities, or challenges post-baby. Some friendships may continue to grow and deepen even in the face of these differences, while others may fall away for now. Looking for opportunities to meet other families at the same life stage can help.
Many new parents find that joining a new parent support group or local play group are great ways of meeting other people who are also knee-deep in diapers. These relationships can be incredibly supportive as you are all encountering similar questions, challenges, and joys. Hearing from others in similar situations can be a priceless “reality check.” It really is not only your baby who has trouble sleeping.
I joined a new mom’s group and the 10 of us became so close…for my daughter’s first 2 years, we saw each other once a month. When I would have a truly terrible day, I knew I could always reach someone from the group to talk it out. Our get-togethers dropped off as our kids got older, but those women kept me going during the early days. We even had a reunion when our kids turned 13!
Rebecca, mom of Ella, age 15
Mapping New Networks
Even though it can feel stressful to figure out how to maintain friendships and family connections with a new baby (as in: the baby poops as soon as you put him in the car seat to leave for a playdate), it’s one way you can take care of yourself during these early months. Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself connected:
- Just get out. Of the house, that is. You don’t have to go far. Even a trip to the grocery store, mall, or playground can bust feelings of isolation. This will leave you feeling more connected to the world around you.
- Find a “mommy and me” group or new parent class. There are different groups that new parents can join and bring along baby. Some focus on the needs of the adult, like parent discussion groups or hospital-run parenting classes. Others focus on the baby’s interests, such as music and movement or infant massage classes. Both are great ways to meet new people. Talk to your obstetrician or pediatrician about options in your area.
- Look for an adult activity. Many new parents feel guilty or overwhelmed at the idea of doing something just for themselves. But at a time when meeting your baby’s needs is a big part of your day, finding some small chunk of time each week just for you can be a healthy way of re-connecting with your pre-baby self. Take a class or join a group that focuses on your own interests and talents. Or just meet up with friends. Remember, laughing is good for you.
- Nurture the relationships you already have. Relying on friends and family might not come naturally at first. But letting people help can bring many gains. A few examples are playdates, babysitting, potlucks, or meal swaps.
- Find an online group. There are parent groups of every type online. Try searching social media sites or any parenting website for groups that may be a good fit. Some are organized by the ages of children, while others revolve around particular parenting practices and philosophies—so explore and find your virtual people, too.
Finding and building your network can take time and effort, but it’s worth it. Whether it’s other new parents, walking buddies, fellow book lovers, or your own siblings, knowing that others have your back—that you’re not alone—can go a long way toward coping with the everyday stresses of being a new parent.
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