The amazing joys and challenges the parenting journey brings are so much better enjoyed with a strong support network. Sharing the ups and downs, crazy antics, touching moments, and worries can make all the difference. In my experience, the best network includes different kinds of people from friends and family to medical practitioners and of course life changing child care providers and teachers. They do not include people who aren’t supportive or make you feel less than anything – less capable, less positive, or unhappy.
The other critical role of my network is helping with a back up plan. For example, if you had a medical emergency, who could you call? This is especially important for people who don’t have close family living nearby. If you have more than one child, who would take care of your child if you have a middle of the night crisis?
Here are my tips for creating a winning parenting network:
Parents who have children of similar ages to yours who you can experience the journey with, share perspectives and raise your children together. Whether in person or through an online parenting group, that moral support and unique friendship born of watching your children grow up together.
Experienced parents with older children/teens who you admire and respect to ask questions and serve as a sounding board. Parenting standards and recommendations are constantly changing so they may not be up-to-date on the latest practices for infant or toddler feeding, but they can give you the perspective of time and experience. Who do you most admire as a parent? What can you learn from them?
Child Care/Au Pair/Nanny/Babysitters are the life line for any parent, as we all know. Whatever your situation whether working in a job or juggling the never ending parenting responsibilities, having the right help that works for you is essential. In addition to work or volunteering, we all need some time off to take care of ourselves, whether for exercise, meeting friends, a date night, or a simple sanity break. If you have a strong network of friends or relatives with similar aged children you may be able to swap some child care time or share errands.
Preschool or School Staff and Teachers become an extended part of the family. As the experts in development of children of that particular age, they can be an incredible source of knowledge. Especially as great teachers and staff will strive to stay up-to-date on the latest recommendations and insights and see lots of different kinds of children. Awesome Bonus? Some of those amazing preschool teachers became favorite babysitters as well!
Building a strong relationship with my sons’ teachers and key school staff has always been so important to me, especially as it allowed us to work together on issues cohesively as a school-home team. I’m endlessly grateful for all I have learned from them over the years. From loving preschool directors to the incredible school teams in early elementary, they really help guide parents through the different development stages. If your child has medical or development issues, other school staff from nurse to psychologist can be a critical part of your team. For example, one of my sons has asthma so the school nurse and school secretary are lifelines when he needs extra attention and critical doses of his inhaler. Most schools don’t have full time dedicated school nurses, so other school staff serve a vital role in administering medications in addition to the other million things they do in a typical day.
Medical and Other Practitioners. Especially in those first years, having access to a pediatrician who you trust is vital when you need advice on the big and small questions. Do you like the pediatrician’s approach and respect her/him? Can you talk to someone during which hours with urgent medical advice questions? (I know my kids often spike a worrisome fever or symptoms in the middle of the night.) The pediatric dentist can also be a lifesaver when you’re worried about something, like the time we worried a tooth that was coming loose had something wrong at night. Our dentist had me take a photo of the tooth on my cell phone and text it to her, giving me instant reassurance that it was totally normal and fine.
If your child has medical issues or special needs, you might have an array of specialists, psychologist and therapists to work with. From my experience, having people I respect and like, who have a wonderful rapport with children, and of course the medical expertise I can trust, is the formula for success. Anyone who makes me or my child feel badly or is less than respectful doesn’t warrant being included. I used to sometimes be intimidated by the expertise of some of the practitioners, until I realized their not having the right attitude often affected their ability to help my child. If my child or I don’t feel comfortable, it really doesn’t matter if they are the foremost expert in the world on “x”.
Other Special Role Models and Support for You and Your Child. From clergy to a youth theatre leader or children’s little league coach, we find inspiration and counsel from special people who play unique roles in our family life. For example, I am blessed to have two very special rabbis and cantor at my synagogue, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, who we can always turn to while they provide a strong ethical and spiritual background to our sons. Our religious school leaders have always gone out of their way to accommodate the needs of our children. The lead of our local JCC Playmakers Youth Theatre, Sheri Gross, is beloved for bringing together youth from across the community in an inclusive, fun, creative environment for children of all abilities. (Which is how I ended up becoming Chair of the Playmakers Committee.)
Who is in your network? What has worked best for you?