There’s no doubt about it, we’ve all been more isolated than usual over the last 18 months. We’ve spent less time hanging out IRL and more time hanging out on screen. Whether we’ve been on Zoom, Facetime, Slack, Houseparty (remember that?!) or attending events online, a lot of our interactions have been digital. And even as the world has opened up again and we’ve learned to live pandemic parallel, the way we mix has still stayed pretty virtual.
For those with kids, this transition has been notoriously tricky. The real life community lifelines we once relied on have become frayed and thin as we’ve moved online. One of the biggest hits? Community for parents. But community for parents has always been, and always will be, crucial for so many reasons. Online community is magical in loads of ways – we see it every day on the Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group and on our Instagram page. There’s solidarity, understanding, friendship and, often a virtual shoulder to cry on. But real life community for parents? It’s invaluable. It offers numerous benefits to both parents and children. Here are nine of the hidden benefits of communities for parents that will have you itching to go from url to IRL and get to your nearest toddler yoga, playgroup or Mums meet-up ASAP.
It’s an obvious place to start but friendship is one of the biggest benefits of groups that offer community for parents. And this isn’t just anecdotal evidence either. Research carried out in Australia by Joanne Commerford and Elly Robinson found that playgroups and communities offered an opportunity for parents to socialise, which in turn hugely reduced feelings of social isolation (see #4) and improved feelings of wellbeing and confidence. Parent pals aren’t just nice to have – they’re actually pretty essential. And they’re good for you too.
#2: Peer support
It’s not just kids that learn from watching those around them, adults do too. Commerford and Robinson’s research found that parents informally learnt from each other by watching the ways others interacted with their kids at similar stages of development. Not only that but community for parents provides a network of people to ask questions. A pregnancy yoga group might be in the know about when you need to sign up for nursery places. Parents at a meet-up might laugh with you at the weird things your kid does because their baby did it too. Spending time with people who’ve been there or who are in the trenches with you is priceless.
There are times as a parent we can feel rudderless, especially in the early days. For those who are used to having a anyone used to having a strict routine related to work, maternity, paternity or shared parental leave can come as a shock. Groups that offer community for parents can be a good way to add structure to a time that can be overwhelmingly open. As writer Matt Haig says though, when you’re creating a routine, make it one that is “baggy enough to live in”. The last thing you need, especially in those early, misty-eyed baby days, is to fill your social calendar with numerous things to do so you end up whizzing round like a bluebottle.
We know you love the tiny human you’ve made so much you think your heart might fall out of your mouth. But parenting can be lonely AF. This isolation has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. While we may have become settled in our uncomfortable comfort zones, getting out there and socialising with other parents is incredibly good for our mental health. According to the mental health charity Mind:
“Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.”
While spending time with other parents isn’t the only way to look after your mental health, it’s a great place to start. Communities can provide a place to share with others who have similar experiences and listen to those in a boat that might look a bit like yours.
Communities for parents are rich in resources. While you might want to avoid any unsolicited advice, there is nothing better than having someone to turn to when you have a burning question, especially if you find that question comes during a 4am cluster feed. Whether they come from an NCT class, a baby yoga class or are a friend you made when your oldest was a newborn and you’ve got another tiny one now, knowing you can cry “what do I do?!” down the phone to someone you know really well is so useful. One of the best things about parenting communities is that there is nearly always someone who has experienced what you’re experiencing and they’re always willing to share.
Building a strong community around you also benefits your children too. When parents put effort into getting to know each other, it models to children how friendships are made and relationships are formed. According to Wonderschool early care and education mentor Neta Raz Studnitski, “they start to realise that other people have emotions and points of view,” she says. “They’re not the centre of the universe, and not everybody’s the same as they are.” Studnitski adds: “You don’t have to be friends with everybody”, which is great news for the more introverted amongst us, but she explains “being cordial and respectful of other parents teaches children the expected behaviour. They mimic us. When we model good relationships, they will pick up on that.”
It may feel like extra work to build these relationships, to attend these groups, meet-ups and hang out in these communities, especially if you’re shy or uncomfortable meeting new people – but they’re so valuable. Being part of a shared space, especially IRL, gives people the chance to be inspired, solve problems, laugh together, cry together, vent their frustrations and share their achievements.
After all, it really does take a village