Friday, February 26, 2010

In times of need

Teach your children a sense of community and the rewards will surprise you

It takes a village to raise a child.
This African proverb is wonderful in theory, but I have sometimes thought that we are losing our sense of community.
I say this because most families are so busy working and trying to be everywhere and everything for their children, that they don’t have time for their neighbours (and likewise, the neighbours don’t have time for them).
Workplaces can be the same. We go in, we do our tasks, we enjoy the Friday afternoon drinks, but we still retreat to our home and family during the downtime.
A number of workplaces are breaking this routine and improving the teamwork and morale, not by sending “feel-good” emails, but by increasing the amount of personal interaction.
Face-to-face conversation has been lost with technology. Now we SMS, email, tweet or update our status.
While these methods of communication certainly keep us connected, and improve efficiency, if more people made the time to interact on a personal level, we would have the opportunity to create the sense of community spirit that we love.
And I was proven this week that this sense of community is alive and well in the world.

Having recently been struck down with rheumatoid arthritis, I have been housebound with chronic pain that was something I knew was coming, but was still unprepared for.
My RA first appeared when I was pregnant with my daughter, but my usual optimism at the start of this pregnancy declared “it’ll be alright”.
Unfortunately, it has not been alright, it’s been horrible.
So while I would love to enjoy my pregnancy, take part in pre-natal yoga classes and waddle around the office showing off my baby bump, I have had days where I can barely walk or make myself a cup of tea.
In this situation, you cope as best as you can. I suppose I am lucky in that my daughter is old enough to dress herself and help me out with small chores around the house (such as opening the juice bottle).
But I really felt lucky when my boss turned up on my doorstep during the week with an armful of frozen meals, all prepared by my colleagues.
It was probably the most touching thing anyone has done for me in a very long time, and it brought home to me that there are people who care, and people who are willing to help those in need.
The thing about most mums (including me) is that they rarely ask for help, and some mums don’t have the support network that they should have.
It's humbling, actually, to realise how little we can do on our own (even when we are able-bodied).
No parent is perfect, and no parent can be everywhere. It is essential parents get support as they try to bring up their children.
It takes all of the people involved in the life of a child (parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, babysitters) to give their best in doing their part in the raising of a child.
Parents need a support network because parenting is hard, especially in the first year.
Lack of sleep, combined with other baby problems from feeding to colic to ear infections, on top of regular stresses such as paying bills on time, taking the dog to the vet, sticking to your household budget and remembering to buy milk, is enough to cause anyone to crack.
Super-parents don’t exist so you’re not a failure if you ask for help.
Asking for help will make your life, and your children’s lives, less stressful and this will result in relaxed, happier parents who are better able to look after their children.
For those like me who are isolated in the Far North from family, here’s some ideas to help improve our situations:
* Always accept help offered to you, or ask others to help you. Parents who seek help set a good example for their children by teaching you don’t have to do it alone and it is OK to ask for help when you need to. Seeking help also shows other people they are valued and needed, and you will return the favour in the future.
* Join a mother’s group (through your Community Health Centre) or playgroup. This weekly get-together is an invaluable experience that will allow you to expand your support network and glean free, practical advice when you need it.
* Practical support such as babysitting, money, help in emergencies, assistance with transport or household chores, can be found from extended family, friends, parents of your children’s friends, club leaders, teachers, church elders and so on.
* Personal support through adult friendships and relationships comes from trusted people who are available, willing to listen and share ideas, and offer advice if you ask for it in a positive and non-judgemental way. If you can find a friend in a similar position to you (either mother’s group or one of the many online parenting forums) you can share your problems and help resolve them together.
* Information support is vital because parenting involves learning on the job. A child’s development is constantly changing and with the amount of information available on the internet, in bookstores, or from your 82-year-old neighbour offering their pearls of wisdom, you are never short of advice. Unfortunately much of it can be contradictory, so consider new ideas, but always work out what will be best for you and your child. Sources of information also can come from schools, health centres, your GP, libraries or government departments.
* Use the phone (or Skype) more often and ring your family and friends when you are feeling isolated.
I will forever be grateful to the people who have rallied around me in my time of need, and I hope I can return the favour one day when I’m back to good health.


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