Comment from reader: I would love to have meetings in my community where parents can gather together to support each other in their consciously parenting efforts and even to offer information and guidance to parents who feel that things just aren't going the way they had hoped. Maybe you could offer some advice on how to start something like that, some discussion topics to consider, and some suggested reading materials. I do not have any support for the way I parent and I never have. (My youngest is 11). It has been difficult at times to stand strong and stick with what I feel is right, rather than what everyone else thinks I should do. I have a feeling that there are others in my community that feel the same way, it's just a matter of finding each other.
Response: So how do we find other parents who are also consciously parenting? How do we create a group of parents-- moms and dads-- who can support one another in a way that no one feels judged or “less-than” because they breastfed or didn’t breastfeed, because they send their children to school or they unschool, because they work or they stay home with their kids? There just seems to be a constant measuring stick that parents use and that we all use on ourselves. How do we get out of that trap? How can we connect authentically with each other? After all, we’re all parents. We all have similar struggles learning how to parent in this day and age. We all get frustrated and tired, yet we all make the choice to keep going and keep trying to make things better for ourselves and for our families.
I’ve been reading and researching how to create a positive, supportive group of parents for my upcoming cruise and for my own local school community. You may also find it helpful, so I’ll share some of my research with you in hopes that those of you who are looking for a community and are willing to do the work to create it can start moving that forward.
When we start to realize that parents have more in common than not, we can open the door to finding parents with whom we can connect. When I first began seeking a community, I was looking for other moms who were just like me-- moms who were making the same decisions I was, had children the same age as me, etc. After lots of time passed and I had many experiences with parents I perceived as different, I learned that I would have missed some real gems if I had applied my parenting filter. Now, I’m not opposed to connecting with someone who has made a lot of the same decisions as I have, but I realized that I’m first looking for someone who at least thinks about these things. Many parents don’t.
Each and every parent needs to make the decisions that they can live with. And that’s not about me. Yes, I need to be with parents who are making decisions that are at least somewhat congruent with my core values (i.e. I have a very hard time hanging out with parents who are spanking, for example, as their primary method of discipline and who aren’t questioning why they’re doing it or seeking a better way if that’s what they grew up with.) So, the first thing you may want to do is to figure out your own core values. Where is your tolerance for other parents? It will be given back to you.
I remember a conversation with my midwife when my first son was about 5 months old. We had met for lunch and I was lamenting how difficult it was to find others to spend time with that I could deeply connect with. She said something at the time that I remember hit me like a ton of bricks. “Find other mothers who are staying at home.” What?! Lots of mothers stay home and that doesn’t mean that I would like to hang out with them. But she was right-- at the time, it was a great place to start, and it opened up my idea of where I could find other parents.
In time, I did connect with some other moms who also worked. In fact, one of my best friends had to return to work just 4 weeks after her daughter was born. But the way that my friend approached meeting her daughter’s needs while working really warmed my heart. She always put her daughter first and approached this new challenge with an open heart and mind very consciously, respecting her daughter’s need (and her own need) to be close to her as much as possible. Consciously was the key.
That’s when I realized that parenting from a conscious place was what needed to be the priority for me. That’s why I think www.mothering.com is such a great resource for finding like-minded parents and professionals. They do not always agree with one another. In fact, they are a very spirited group with lots of opinions. But the ability to question and to see a different point of view sets them apart. (Check out Find Your Tribe in their forums. They have a space for people to connect around the world.)
As my children grew older and we moved several times, I found myself starting over looking for a community. Many times, I just started a group and people seemed to come out of the woodwork to join me. Over the years, I ran groups for Attachment Parenting International, La Leche League, Families for Natural Living (now Families for Conscious Living), as well as a few of my own groups.
When starting a group, come together to find your common ground. Avoid polarizing topics like vaccinations. If you know some other parents who seem even somewhat open, invite them to come and talk about what matters most to them as parents. If you don’t know anyone, consider putting up signs at your local health food store. A simple flyer might say, for example, “Small group of parents gathering to share their joys and challenges of parenting consciously. Call ______ .”? How would you feel if you read something like that? Since we’re all so connected via the internet, consider starting a Facebook page for your local conscious community and see what happens. But I would suggest starting with a gathering in the park when the weather is nice or meet up at a local indoor playground, or other public place where parents and young children might like to be. Invite parents to your home, if that feels right to you. Informal is good.
Short of providing training directly in how to lead a parenting group, the best advice I can offer is to listen, listen, listen. When we are truly there to hold the space and we know that each person in the room is doing the best that they can AND that they are striving to do better, we can be the listener we want to have with our own parenting struggles. What we all want, more than anything else, is to be seen and to be heard. When other parents catch wind that there is a place where they can go and not be judged, they will come in droves.
Consider this: If we’re all in our own homes feeling isolated and alone, that means that there are a lot of people feeling the same way. And that means that there are a lot of us to find out there in the world to connect with. Indeed, there is a world of possibilities because so many parents are indeed feeling like they’re the only one. We need to find our similarities. We need to realize that we are only alone if we believe that we are. Reach out. Put it out there and you will find others who are looking for the same thing.
Honestly, it never ceases to amaze me how many parents I speak with say the same thing. From urban areas like Boston or Chicago to rural farm communities, and around the world from Australia and New Zealand to Germany, moms and dads are saying the same thing: I’m the only one. Nobody gets it. That tells me that there is a whole world of people who get it. We just need to find one another. We just need to know that we really aren’t alone and open up to the limitless possibilities out there.
If you’ve started groups in your community, I’d love for you to share your experience. What was it like? Where did you find other parents? What would you say to someone who is just starting to look for others or maybe has been looking and hasn’t found anyone yet? Together, we can support one another. Your voice matters.
Let me know if you have any questions after reading this blog. How else can I support you? Thanks for being there!