You know how it takes a village to raise a child? Screw it. That bar is too high. Instead, decide to cultivate two really close friends. They don’t have to be parents themselves but they do need to be interested in your parenting life and open to hearing about your relationship with your kid. And by ‘really close’ I mean you have seen each other cry. Laughing so hard you cry counts. Dads can aim for this close friend benchmark too. Screw masculine conditioning.
Give it a couple of years
This isn’t a seasonal project. We must really dig in and intentionally nurture friendships over a period of time. There are simple steps we can take and goals we can set. If you haven’t seen each other cry yet, you will after a few years of truly growing closer. Cultivating friendship is not some esoteric thing we should leave to fate. People have power here; we can grab it and wield it like a sword of love. Most of us have simply never been shown how.
Part of growing closer to someone is courageously choosing to be vulnerable, which gives permission for your friend to do the same. Opening up when we have upsets in our lives is the golden opportunity for deeper friendship.
I’m a big fan of crying. I’ve got a sign in the entrance to my apartment that says, “Crying is okay here.” I shed tears regularly with friends, and they with me. We’ve cried about parenting problems and relationship problems. My neighbour and I cried together briefly out of happiness last year when she shared a special story from her daughter’s high school graduation. I’ve cried when I got hurt while skiing or mountain biking and listened to friends cry under the same circumstances. There are a lot of reasons for crying, all of them good!
It’s going to feel hard
Persist anyway. I promise this project will be worth it (see below).
There will be times when you are working to cultivate a friendship and you end up feeling like a stalker. There will be times when you feel unwanted. That’s okay and normal. The consumer industrial complex tells us all we need to feel comfortable and safe in the world is a clutter-free home filled with Ikea furniture – so it’s no wonder that community building is a little outside the comfort zone.
Once you really get to know someone, you aren’t going to like some of what you see. You may be offended by some of their beliefs or habits; you might vacillate between feeling superior and then inferior. You will judge.
It will get discouraging. You will feel like all you do is give. You will ask yourself, ‘can’t someone just come and care about me for a change? How come nobody is breaking their back trying to get close to me?’
Why is this important?
Taking the time to cultivate authentic support for yourself as a parent is like purchasing insurance: you honestly hope you will never be in the situation where you will need to use it, but what if you were and you didn’t have it? What if your kid gets suspended from school or gets pregnant or arrested or starts using drugs, or goddess forbid, develops a mental illness or becomes suicidal? Do you think you’ll be able to conjure up close and caring friends during such a crisis? At times like this we need people who have our backs and know our story and let us fall apart on their doorstep.
We want to bring the best of ourselves to our kids and partners, but it’s really hard to do this without support. Life runs us ragged, and it’s tragic but true that our families experience us at our worst. This is screwed up and especially unfair for our kids. However, I’m not saying we should use the space outside our family circle as an emotional dumping ground – that would also be unfair. What I am suggesting is that friendship can offer us a haven to let down our guard a bit, act a little silly, think about someone else’s struggles for a change, and see other perspectives on our own situation.
Many of us are used to blowing off steam with a few drinks or a Netflix binge. But really those things merely hold our stressors at bay for a short time, they don’t actually serve our growth the way a soulful heart-to-heart and some honest reflection with a loving friend can. Next time you feel yourself losing patience at home or getting snappy with your children, schedule some tea time or a long walk with a close friend. Listening to each other is the salve you need to come back to your family refreshed.
Friendship heals. By trusting a close friend with our struggles and discouragement and despair, we create a safe space for those feelings and we can keep them away from our kids who are actually harmed by exposure.
Taking charge of anything, including building support for yourself as a parent, is a personal growth opportunity. Whenever we decide to make a change or tackle a challenge or take on an exciting project, we are telling the universe, ‘I’m leading my life and this is where it’s going!’ We are sending a bold message, to ourselves especially, that we are not victims – we are in the driver’s seat. Remember too that if you don’t want your kids to adopt a subconscious victim mentality, the best way to assist them is by modelling your own ability to lead your life.
It’s actually fun and makes life richer. Having a couple of friends who care deeply for you brings SO! MUCH! JOY!
How have you managed to build support for yourself as a parent? I would love to hear from you in the comments below 🙂