How To Create a Support Network
Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Network
1. Acknowledge you need help.
2. Take advantage of extra-curricular programs.
3. Be a good neighbor.
4. Contribute to your community.
5. Create an emergency phone tree.
6. Keep a list of sitters and share with your network.
7. Carry your neighbors home and cell phone numbers.
8. Know your calendar.
9. Give back to those who help you.
10. Always be flexible.
We've all heard it takes a village to raise a child, but who is this village? With so many people living far from family and work schedules that often take the majority of both parents' waking hours, how can families find community? More practically, how can parents create a network of people willing to chip in when schedules crash. Even "stay-home" parents occasionally need a helping hand, especially if they have more than one child. Knowing you have a network of supporters in place to help out when the unexpected occurs alleviates a huge amount of daily stress.
Your first line of support is the place where your child spends most of his day. It may be with a childcare provider in your home or elsewhere, or it may be school. Even if you're at home with a little one all day you may need support. For example if you get sick or if another child is sick and you don't want to drag the well child into the germ-ridden doctor's office.
Talk to people at school or daycare to find other resources in your area. Local family oriented publications have listings of all kinds of commercial services you can use in a pinch. What will you do with a child too sick to go to daycare or school? In many communities there are services that provide a professional nurse to sit with sick kids in your home. You can also ask local universities if they have a list of education or nursing students who want to care for your child.
What if you just couldn't make it home in time to meet the school bus? Does your child know what to do? Does she have a friend he could stay with if you had to work late? Schools often have "after school care" on site, or they have a transportation arrangement with an off site provider.
Don't Be Shy
If you're a homebody, get over it. To build up your village, you're going to have to be a little outgoing. Engaging other people doesn't have to be scary. They are probably just as eager for support as you are. Make it a point to volunteer at school, but also in the community. Participate in neighborhood events or find time to attend the PTA meeting. Talk to other parents during sports practices and other extra-curricular activities. Make park time productive by getting to other parents in your same boat. You don't have to do everything on the list, but it's important to put yourself out there.
Get into the habit of offering help when and how you can. Maybe you're the parent who works all the time and can't carpool to ballet. Offer instead to pick up dry cleaning on your way home or take boxes to the post office. A support network leverages each person's abilities to benefit everyone.