Your circle of friends and neighbors is a powerful safety net for families. It can range from the close relationships you’ve had since childhood to the casual acquaintances who are in your circle by chance. Adults look to other adults to know how to act in many situations, including how to behave with their children.
But parenting is a touchy subject. There’s an invisible line that friends don’t cross when it comes to telling other parents how to raise their kids. The secret here is not to tell, but to show, by helping the families in your life build Protective Factors.
Protective Factor #1: Nurturing and Attachment
If you have children of your own, set an example with how you treat your children. Your friends will notice if you’re very close to your kids and that they’re securely attached to you, and can then use your behavior as a model when things get stressful.
Even if you don’t have kids of your own, holding, snuggling with and cooing to the newborn of exhausted new parents reminds them how precious their little bundle is. Asking older kids questions and getting to know them might give overworked parents ideas on how to talk to their kids.
Protective Factor #2: Knowledge of parenting and child development
If you’re looking for an awesome gift for a new parent you should skip the baby blankets and buy a couple of great child development books. There are plenty of excellent books for parents on how to better relate with their children starting kindergarten, becoming a “tween”, beginning high school or experiencing some specific life event or milestone.
Protective Factor #3 & 4: Parental Resilience/Social Connections
Friends are imperative to both of these important protective factors. What makes someone resilient? Getting a break from the stress. And a network of friends – close and casual – are the best source for people to get a break.
Make time to connect
This doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive or complicated. Just take the initiative to plan a time for your parent friends to meet up – for dinner, coffee, a softball game, a watch party of your favorite show – whatever. The important thing is that friends are connecting and that parents are getting a break from the rewarding, but very stressful job of raising children.
New parents, or families that are going through tough times don’t always need a lot. But they do need to know that you’re there for them. Call, text or email unprompted just to “check in.” You just want to see if there’s anything your friend needs and let them know that you’re there if they need you. Even if they never take you up on it, the simple act of reaching out lets them know they’re not alone.
Parenting war stories
When you’re having parenting challenges, but it seems like everyone else’s family is perfect, you can feel very lonely – like there’s something wrong with you as a parent. Feeling like this causes too much shame to seek out help if it’s needed. Friends can help by empathizing – letting a parent who’s having trouble know that you’ve been there too. It’s much easier to deal with stress when you know that your friends have all made it through similar struggles.
Protective Factor #5: Concrete Supports
While as a friend, you may not BE the concrete support that a family you know needs – like a doctor, help with housing, or emergency food – you can make referrals. If you see your friends and their families struggling and you know a service that can help them, SAY SOMETHING.