Published in Kindred, Issue 25, March 08, as part of Many Hands: We Were Never Meant To Do It Alone, also by Robin Grille.
Want to find “Your Conscious Choice Community?” Check out Pathways Connect groups in your local area. These groups are free to parents and sponsored by the nonprofit magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness.
To help your group get off the ground successfully, try the following steps.
1. Gather like-minded people. It won’t work if there is an essential clash of parenting orientations. This doesn’t mean you need to stick to people that do everything in exactly the same way as you, but you will need some common ground on core principles. When a few core principles are shared, everything seems to flow well. Here is a simple list of core values that are endorsed by leading-edge child development research:
- We should do our best to respond to babies’ needs, as consistently as possible; their emotional security depends on it.
- Toddlers and children need freedom to express themselves and to play.
- Toddlers and children need clear boundaries, assertively set and without punishment or shaming.
- There are no bad or naughty children; all misbehaviour reflects some way in which the child feels disconnected from others. We can help children by listening empathically and repairing the disconnection.
- Children are not our adversaries, to be controlled; they are to be cherished, and they need to feel connected to us.
- Children deserve as much respect as we do.
- Parenting is an ongoing journey that requires us to keep learning and growing.
- There are no bad parents, only wounded parents or parents who need a lot more support.
You might like to add some more core values of your own. Not enough stated values and group cohesion will be loose and vague, with an elevated potential for mismatch and discord. Too many values and the group risks becoming legalistic, rule-bound, exclusive and alienating. Try to strike a balance that feels most supportive and remember that you are supposed to have fun together.
2. Share parenting resources with each other, discuss together the books, DVDs, websites and parenting courses that support your approach. You’ll need to be discerning in making sure that your resources reflect up-to-date research. Child health practitioners increasingly understand the implications of the new attachment science, and new developments in brain science, but although this knowledge is now mainstream, it is yet to be adopted by all practitioners.
3. Avoid fundamentalism. Remember that most parents do their best to give more than they received as children. Don’t ostracise or judge a group member who struggles to meet your parenting criteria, and give them all your support to be as nurturing and emotionally available as they can be. The fact is that, at times, every parent falls short of their own aspirations and we don’t help by shunning someone for breastfeeding less than two years, for occasionally being too lax or too oppressive with boundaries, for not managing to co-sleep with their toddler, or whatever. We are all limited beings. The main thing is that we agree with the objectives we are all trying to grow towards, while respecting our own limits.
4. Acknowledge that each of you has parenting difficulties, even if you follow the best guidelines. All parents are learners. Be open with each other about your personal difficulties and ask for support.
Some things you could do together:
- Give each other practical help. Cook and clean together, do shopping for each other. Hold each other’s babies and help each other to catch up on sleep. Get to know each other and allow your babies and toddlers to develop attachments to others.
- Share baby massage sessions on the floor. Massage each other, too.
- Swap children’s clothes, toys and books.
- Be sensitive to each other when making parenting suggestions. Remember, many parents are very delicate about receiving advice. Do it in the form of I statements, and own your own needs.
- Share your own childhood memories with each other. You might like to do some of the exercises in Heart to Heart Parenting together, or simply discuss with each other some of what you discover when you do the exercises at home. Share your feelings with each other: your joys, your sorrows and your frustrations. Listen to each other, offer empathy and emotional support.
- Indulge yourselves in stimulating adult conversation, while your children play around you or near you. Have fun together, laugh, and don’t make it all about your children—remember you are there for yourselves too. Sing songs together, dance, play music, do art or craft, go on picnics—make it up as you go along!
- When there are people around whom you can trust to connect with your baby and child, this can give you and your partner more opportunities to be alone together, to enjoy each other and fulfil your need for intimacy. When your own relationship needs are met, you have more energy and warmth to offer your children.