Why Join a Parenting Support Group?

By: Jenny Andjelkovic

Parenting comes with such great big giant responsibility and that can make it feel both exhilarating and absolutely crushing all at the same time. Being a parent is such a beautiful, magical, joyful, and rewarding experience. . . and it can also sometimes feel like the most exhausting, humbling, heart wrenching and terrifying job on earth!

Yet, there is no official on-the-job training for this vital role with such critical outcomes. There are no real breaks from the unrelenting exhaustion. And there is NO quitting, even in moments when you feel you are failing and letting everyone – even yourself – down.

Often in parenthood we are consumed by juggling many critical balls – keeping a house, attending to relationships with our partners, other children, extended family, and friends. We are working at our volunteer and employment commitments, and we can be overwhelmed with the details of managing daily life. When it comes to parenting it can sometimes (or very often!) feel like we are only responding to every crisis instead of enjoying the adventure and rewards. As a result, we are unable to be proactive in our relationships with our children, which might actually help to prevent these very moments of crisis. More importantly, in a moment of crisis, we tend to respond emotionally when it would benefit us the very most to be thoughtful and calculating while making decisions.

Being a parent is such a crucial high stakes job! Because of this, research shows very elevated rates of burn out among caregivers which can leave us with even less patience and little perspective. It is a spiral that can be hard to climb out of. Finding support can illuminate much needed perspective and inspire patience when it feels like both are most impossible.

Why should you join a parenting support group?

…because you need “professional development”!

We all know that babies do not come with a clear set of instructions. In fact, the world of parenting advice can be confusing and subjective and filled with conflicting opinions. It is important to keep your eye on research and to select philosophies that fit into your values and culture as a family. It is okay to disagree but finding a moderated group of respectful parents who are somewhat like-minded can provide a safe and honest space for reflection that leads to learning.

Finding this space amid a busy and active life can be difficult, so carving it out is not only ideal – it is imperative. With a good support group often comes important research-based parent education, tools, and skill building. Parents can share lessons they have learned, strategies they have experimented with, and important resources they have found. In support groups empathetic communication skills are modeled, practiced, and then shared at home with our children. Parents feel more ready to face challenges when they have the time to reflect and prepare and when they are equipped with knowledge. The wonderful result is very often a more compliant child and a peaceful household.

…because you need forgiveness!

It is easy to beat yourself up and believe that you are failing if your child is struggling or if you mis-manage a situation at home. Worse, you may feel shame about a behavior issue, a parenting mistake or special needs that your child has. It can be hard to share your difficulties and disappointments when you feel like it might be an embarrassing admission that you are not a good parent, or it seems like others only talk about their triumphs.

Talking openly with others who are in the same boat makes you quickly realize that nobody is perfect! Mistakes are a regular part of the journey, and every parent makes them. We must learn to forgive ourselves and find new ways to handle our mis-steps and guilt so we may move productively forward. One of the best parenting job-perks is that we get to wake up each day with the chance to do it all over again. We can give hugs and we can always try to do better.

…because you need to know that you are not alone!

Parenting can feel very isolating. It can feel as if you are operating on an island with very little time in your day for meaningful adult interaction or conversation. When there are challenges – and there are many no matter what your circumstances and resources are, and no matter who your child is – it can feel like you are the only parent floundering. You may start to think your child is the only one who has emotional or behavioral difficulties.

There are 2 billion mothers and almost as many fathers around the globe. Every second 4 babies are born. Believe me – you are not alone! Our lives are busy so it can be difficult to dive deep into conversations when we run from one meeting or activity to another. Most of us choose to keep things light and positive and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t all dealing with many of the same problems or worries. Having a safe space where you can delve into the nitty-gritty, share your experiences honestly, and receive feedback, inspiration, support for your wins and for your challenges makes you realize very quickly that you are never alone.

When you talk to others and they listen in a non-judgmental way and understand first-hand the emotions and challenges you face – you feel instantly comforted and less anxious. As a result, you are better able to handle difficulties along the way. Best of all, friendships can be formed from these groups creating a lasting support network where humor and knowing you have someone to call upon inspires, motivates, and carries you through the fun days and through the terrible-no-good-rotten days, too.

…because you need to take care of YOU!

We cannot take care of others if we do not take care of ourselves first. Taking time for yourself promotes mental health and helps us regulate our emotions and our reactions so we can handle turbulence with more energy, grace, and resilience. Modeling self-regulation helps children develop emotional intelligence so they are ultimately better equipped to handle problems independently. Teaching our kiddos self-care and positive approaches to facing challenges is hands-down one of the most important things we can do as their parent.

Sharing and problem solving in a support group “provides healthy parenting skills, an increased sense of empowerment, and a feeling of belonging” (M. Law, S. King, D. Stewart, G. King; Child Centre for Childhood Disability Research, 2001). For parents with children who suffer from emotional and behavioral differences – new knowledge and creative ideas are especially important for managing crises and disappointments with renewed energy and hope. For all parents, support groups supply tools and the strength to get through the most challenging moments. . . and the inspiration to appreciate and celebrate the many victories along the way, too!