Having a great support network is golden. It can be a lifesaver in so many ways, but support networks are not just for falling back on. They’re two-way relationships – you give and you get.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make in regards to support networks is presuming that the sole purpose of having one is simply to benefit you. For starters, if it genuinely were a one-way street, it wouldn’t be called a network. It would be more like a support hierarchy. A form of support networks is support groups, which is actually how you should rather address your network. The moment you start thinking of your network as a group that provides support to all its members and not just one individual, i.e. you, it changes everything.
Family at the core of a support network
I have an incredible family. I am forever grateful for the sacrifices and support my family has provided me with over the years. It’s not just my immediate family that I grew up with, i.e. parents, siblings, and my own grandparents, but also my in-laws and extended family I gained through marriage. And there are just no words for how thankful I am. Be it a shoulder to cry on, venting, spending time with my kids or babysitting, proofreading, feedback, career advice, jump starting my car, help with running errands, you name it, my family has got me covered. This said, my family is definitely at the core of my support network.
Baby sitting vs. bonding and quality time
Even though I know my family is there for me, I don’t expect them to be. I’ve stated on several occasions that I don’t believe in taking anyone or anything for granted. I don’t presume that people will rearrange their lives on my behalf. Though I’ve seen it happen on several occasions, it’s not something that I see as self-evident. Take for example baby sitting, it’s not a given. My kids, my problem. If I’ve hired outside help, then it’s baby sitting. If I’ve asked my family to help, I like to think of it rather as quality time spent bonding with grandparents or aunts and uncles (even though occasionally it will be simply baby sitting).
I want to foster the relationship between my kids and their extended family. This means I encourage and enable them to spend time together, and preferably to have fun together. However, I wont oblige anyone. I have immense trust in my family, hence I don’t set rules for what they may or may not do together. My parents and my in-laws have decades of parenting experience and they did a pretty great job with bringing up five kids combined. I don’t have a legit reason to question their skills to spend quality time with my kids.
Benefits of involving grandparents
There is a lot of research concluding the immense importance of involving grandparents in the lives of children. Yet again, it’s a two-way relationship, and beneficial for all parties involved. In addition to having fun (and getting spoiled with attention) with grandparents, children will often find safety and stability in the relationship. Grandparents are also usually chests of wisdom, filled with advice, life skills, and a listening ear.
The benefits for grandparents are also great. There are a lot of proven health benefits, such as maintaining mental sharpness and increased social behavior! Mental health remains much more stable and the risks of falling ill with depression are significantly lower among children and grandparents alike. Being an involved grandparent can also provide an important feeling of relevance and belonging. And well for the third party, the parents in the middle – they get a helping hand as well as mentally happy and healthy children and parents. It becomes a win-win-win.
To encourage the health benefits for involving grandparents, baby sitting and time spent with young kids should however be kept moderate. Research shows health benefits for tending to grandchildren for an hour a week, but are quite contrary for grandparents who have to fully take on the parent’s role or watch children for example five days a week. You can read more on the subject for example in a publication by Lisa Esposito in the U.S. News.
Out of personal experience, being a parent of young children can be exhausting. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination on my behalf to acknowledge that spending longer periods of time with young children can be tiresome for anyone. Hence, babysitting in moderation.
Giving back to your support network
In the beginning I stated that you should try to address your support network as rather a support group. Now it’s evident that parents need a break at times, and an extended family who can give you a hand is gold worth. But what about your parents, grandparents and siblings? Could you give them a hand in some way? Help out with errands when possible, provide a listening ear? Give them a break in some way?
Especially with several young kids in tow, careers, busy schedules, etc., it can seem overwhelming to squeeze in extra “tasks”. However, I strongly urge to try to find ways to help out and provide support in ways that are feasible to you. I dare say, one of the easiest ways to do this is by being genuinely appreciative. If you need someone to babysit for you, make sure it’s also convenient for them. (Emergencies etc. are obviously a different story!)
Simple ways to give back
- Respect time. When relying on “unpaid help”, if you agree upon two hours of baby sitting, stick to the schedule! Just because someone is retired or unemployed or perhaps didn’t have any plans for the day, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to presume they are available for your service the entire day.
- Did you know that it’s also perfectly acceptable to call someone even if you don’t need anything from them? Make it into a habit to speak regularly, and show interest in their lives.
- Involve your extended family in your life. If you live close by, try to see each other regularly. Maybe agree upon having dinner together once or even twice a month? Take turns in who’s hosting! If you’re far off and traveling is challenging, choose video calls over regular phone calls. Also make this into a regular habit.
- If you haven’t already read my post on learning to listen, there’s a lot of good pointers on the importance of listening.
- Trust. Now there are obviously again exceptions, but perhaps entertaining the idea of full-on trust could be very beneficial for the relationship. If you’re relying on someone to look after your kids, there’s a lot of trust already present. Checking in constantly or providing a long list of do’s and don’ts’ can be very stressful for the caretaker. It also portrays a certain level of insecurity in regards to your belief in the other person’s capabilities to look after your kids. Give trust a go and rely on the caretaker! You might be positively surprised!
- Appreciation. Be genuine when saying thank you. Don’t take the people closely involved in your life for granted, instead be appreciative!
A support network is not a given
Sadly, not everyone has family nearby to rely on as a support network. Even if family is physically close by, there may be grudges or life situations that simply don’t allow for a healthy relationship. Though I personally advocate for sustaining a close relationship with my family, I acknowledge that my situation is perhaps more of an exception than a rule. There are however many other people you can rely on for building up a support network, but that will be an entirely different post!