So you have your village, what now? Use it! I may have shared this before but I’ll share again. A Facebook friend of my sent me an IM late one night (neither one of us could sleep) about how overwhelmed she was. This friend was very depressed and shared that she had lost all joy in being a mother. She was actually looking for a job halfway across the country and was not planning on taking her children with her when she moved. I asked her what kind of support system she had in place and she told me that she had no one. This friend had moved away so she had no close friends or family who could take her kids and give her a break. The relationship with the girl’s father was a little acrimonious so she couldn’t ask him for help either. I counseled her as best I could, suggesting she see a doctor for her depression and stressing that any decision she made right now would have a lasting effect on her kids lives and their relationship with her.
- We all want to be good mothers, knowing when to accept help is the first start. Remember, there are a lot of mother’s out there in the same boat so reciprocity is a wonderful thing! Here are some ideas of how to use your village, they aren’t rocket science but I hope you will find someone of them useful.
- Have alternative carpooling in place. I cannot tell you how many times my bacon has been saved by someone else picking up my kids for me, especially when my husband was working 2nd shift. Whether it was my son, my mother or a friend’s parent I had someone who would be willing to fill the gap for me. Knowing your children are safe is priceless when you can’t be there.
- Barter for services. Managing stress is all about knowing what you are good at and getting someone else to take care of what you aren’t good at. You may be an awful housekeeper but you are able to whip up an awesome birthday cake in no time flat. By collectively pulling together as a group you and your friends can save time and money. Consider trading a few hours of house cleaning for a birthday cake. How about a friend who is a whiz at sewing, she can take care of all your mending while you watch her kids so that she and her husband can go out without paying a babysitter. My experience has been that we are all so busy we’re afraid to ask for help or perhaps even more afraid that we will be asked to help! The possibilities are endless if you get creative.
- Get a cooking group together. I’ve seen it done different ways but I personally like the method where everyone decides on a dish to make. You make X amount of those dishes in your own kitchen and then swap (kind of like a cookie exchange). Everyone goes home with as many dishes as there are people in your group and you only had to whip up one dish X times. You could explore the option of seeing if there is a kitchen where you could all get together to do your cooking. A local school may (depending on regulations) let you borrow one of their Home Ec classrooms for a cooking get together.
- Swap babysitting or plan a kid party. Last year I filled in for one of my daughter’s babysitting gigs and made $40! Who can afford to spend that much on a babysitter? Getting out for a date night, errands or shopping is important. Rather than paying a sitter, make arrangements to swap with a friend. Another idea, take turns with a group of moms hosting a kid party. This idea came from my son’s birthday parties which were always the week before Christmas. The other moms loved me because I would watch their kids for a few hours while they finished Christmas shopping and all it cost them was a birthday present! An example would be if you had four moms whose children got along reasonably well, you could schedule every 8am – noon on Saturday as ‘free time’. Once a month each of the moms would host the play date while the other moms got four hours to themselves for whatever they wanted. Is four hours of child horror fun worth the three free Saturday morning you got?
- Solicit (and take) advice from those of us that came before you, we have a lot to share. I can guarantee you that the overwhelmed feelings you are experiencing have been experienced by the majority of us at some point. Rather than brushing off the well meaning advice, see if there isn’t a speck of truth in it. I remember as a new mother I completely disregarded the advice not to let the baby sleep with us. When I finally weaned the three year old from our bed I decided that maybe those mothers knew what they were talking about. Our daughter slept in her crib from day one. You need to do what’s best for your family but sometimes as young mothers we think we know better than the older ones.
- Use your mentor at work for feedback on your professional development. I see women floundering all the time with trying to balance their career and their family; the internal conflict can be incredibly overwhelming. To help ease your way see if you can make friends with someone you admire at work. Ask for honest feedback as to your strengths and weaknesses, how you come across to others and what their recommendations would be to improve. Some women may not feel comfortable offering you advice but you don’t know until you ask. However, if you are going to ask you need to be open and honest with yourself about what you hear. It may be painful.