Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Winter Issue 2011 | Lucy Elkins
You’re having one of those days with the kids when you wonder what it is that attracted you to parenting in the first place. Your baby is teething, your toddler is having one continuous tantrum. Your older child has perfected the art of sulking and you almost broke your neck tripping over the various toys parked around the house.
It is at times like these when you need your parent friends.
Parent friends are the ones you bonded with at birthing classes, toddler groups or the school gates. The difference between them and your other friends is that they have kids, typically around the same age as yours. So when you call in despair at some child-related mishap, they understand your pain.
“Chatting to friends who don’t have kids is a great release from the day-to-day confines of parenting, but having friends who have children themselves is vital in other ways,” says Dr Jenny Leonard, a Chartered Psychologist and Family Specialist based near Bath.
“It is with them that you can swap advice and ideas.
“Many parents go into parenting without much experience these days.
“Whereas once an extended family would help guide you through and reassure you, now that job is done by a network of friends.”
Talking through concerns about your children can help allay fears that there is something wrong with your child, or your parenting skills says Dr Stephen Briers, a clinical psychologist and author of Superpowers for Parents: The Psychology of Great Parenting and Happy Children.
“There may be something about your child’s behaviour that you think is extreme or unusual but if you discuss it with a parent friend you realise that actually this is something most kids do,” he says.
“A lot of parents I see find parenting generally a lot harder than they expected and presume other people are coping much better than they are.
“However if they chat about their concerns with other parent friends, then they realise that a lot of people feel like this and so that cuts their sense of isolation.
“Having children can be a pretty daunting experience and it is unsurprising that we tend to turn for support and reassurance from others who find themselves in the same boat.”
As families are these days often spread far and wide, relationships with other parents are now more important than ever. Indeed, a survey conducted by the parenting charity the National Childbirth Trust found that a third of parents live more than 40 miles away from their closest relatives, which cuts the opportunity for popping in for a reassuring chat.
“Research has found that parents need 13 parent friends to make up for not having an extended family on hand these days to support you and give practical advice as you bring up children ,” says Juliette Pollard, a health visitor for 17 years who is now a postnatal leader with the NCT.
“Mums often feel guilty about taking time out of the house to be with other mums but actually you could argue that these days it is part of the job of being a parent.
“Contact with other parents makes you feel less isolated and helps develop your parenting skills.
“It also gives your child the chance to integrate with other children.”
And it’s not just mums who benefit from contact with other parents, so do dads. “Men don’t instinctively flock together as much as women do,” says Dr Briers.
“However fatherhood is a difficult transition and a lot of men do feel unsupported through it and struggle with it as a result.
“However, fatherhood can break open new possibilities for men socially.
“Often this comes in the form of other families that their partner initially befriends, but dads need to make the most of the social opportunities that they get.”
Few people are lucky enough to have ready made friends around the corner who are having children at the same time as them, so making parent friends can require a bit of effort.
The NCT is an obvious port of call. It runs antenatal and post-natal groups nationwide for parents and has special events for dads.
Many GP surgeries run post-natal groups too and, as children get older, there are play groups or activity sessions such as gym or music.
“When you have had a baby it is easy to feel scared about feeding or changing in public but remember everyone is in the same boat and if you want to make friends then you have to say ‘yes’ to every invite that comes your way,” says Juliette Pollard.
“As the children get older you can often strike up new friendships at places like soft play areas or even in parks, anywhere where parents are hanging around watching their kids and so are glad to talk to someone.”
Once you make a bond with another parent often they become a friend for life.
“There is nothing like sharing an intense and emotional experience to establish a lasting friendship – and it doesn’t come much more intense and emotional than becoming a new parent,” says Dr Briers.
However it does pay to be selective about who you pal up with.
“Parenting has become very competitive and that is even true among friends,” adds Dr Briers.
Some parents will always want to talk about how well their child is doing.
Equally someone with an angelic child may issue advice presuming their child’s good behaviour is down to their parenting skills, when actually the child was born with an easy temperament.
So when taking advice from a parent friend remember that every child is different and try and limit your close bonds with those parents who make you feel good about yourself and your abilities.
Also don’t ignore your friends who don’t have kids.
“Time with them helps remind you about the other elements of your personality and what you are like as a person, not just as a parent.”