Published on December 4th, 2013 | by Asha French0
ASHA FRENCH On Things You Can Do To Support Parents In Your Community
If you do even one of things, you may be almost as awesome as my friends.
Ask questions. Parenting can be amazing, and it can also be hard work. Difficult. Taxing. Tiring. Frustrating. Still, assumptions about the loads that people carry can be more harmful than helpful. The first thing you can do for your parent friend is ask what they need. It might be a freeing experience. Imagine that you received a text from your parent friend: “Please call. I need a big favor.” Perhaps you assumed that your sometimes-broke friend most needed help paying for childcare– help you can’t give because you’re just trying to make a life for yourself, you know? Wouldn’t that make you less likely to respond to the text? Your friend may just need a bottle of orange juice that she forgot to pick up when her child was throwing candy off of the shelf.
Spend time with their kids. After you have developed enough rapport with the children, it would be really cool if you asked to hang out with them solo from time to time. Nothing major. A couple hours here or there. Something free, like a trip to the park or a local basketball game. Maybe ice cream after school? This is not the same as saying, “Just ask if you need anything.” If your parent friends are at all like me, too many requests may make them feel too needy for a symbiotic relationship. See #4.
Sleep-sit. Do you have plans this weekend? Want to sit at somebody else’s house, watch their cable, and use their internet late at night? You more than likely don’t want to do these things, but wouldn’t it be really cool if you volunteered anyway? It’s not like babysitting; you wouldn’t have to turn into a horse or read rhyming books or anything. It would be after bedtime. Maybe your friend could have a special night out on the town or a few hours to see a movie. Possibilities are limitless to a parent with a few hours to spend.
Visit. I know it is hard to do things like this when there are so many things you could be doing in your virtual communities. But visiting was a pastime of Americans in the early twentieth century. There are precious few hours between the end of a work day and bedtime. These times are usually spent doing things that make people feel closer, like they are more than just hamsters keeping the wheels of capitalism spinning. These hours also help children to feel like they are a part of a family unit (even when they spend more time in schools than at home). Wouldn’t you like to be part of this special time? You might even get dinner, though it would also be cool if you brought dinner. And hell, if you see a pile of laundry, you may as well start folding.
Ask for stuff. Though seemingly pulled from various angles, parents are people with resources too. One of the struggles of a parent with non-parent friends is feeling like a leech on the sucking end of a parasitic relationship. The longed-for symbiosis may begin with a request from you.
Ask about the children. Imagine doing some highly-specified work that few people understand. Imagine loving this work and wanting to talk about it. Imagine also needing to sometimes complain about the work you do. Imagine people dismissing your complaints and reminding you that you love your job, or worse, asking you why you applied for the job in the first place. Didn’t you see these difficulties looming? That’s what it sometimes feels like to raise a toddler in a childless community.
Don’t always ask about the children. Imagine doing some highly specified work that few people understand. Imagine people associating you only with that work even though you also love to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and talk about sex a lot. That’s what it sometimes feels like to raise a toddler in a childless community.
Ask for more stuff. See #5. Being a parent can make you feel really, really needy. Remind your parent friends about their place in an accountable community.
Avoid reminding your friends how hard they have it. Acknowledgment of hardship can be therapeutic and helpful, but being reminded that you have the most difficult life in your small community (whether you be the only single parent in a community of partnered parents or the only parent in a community of friends) is a drag. Also, see #1. Sometimes, these declarations are based on a set of assumptions about the parents’ values or practices. Partnered parents may think that single parents handle stress, child rearing and finances in ways that are identical to their own. The assumption is that they do twice the work with half the money. This isn’t always true. Stress and money management are infinitely variable. You may be surprised at the ways your friend is thriving (not just coping) with both. Single friends may project their reservations about child rearing onto their parenting friends. “Don’t you ever miss (insert activity that does not involve baby wipes)?” is not a cool question on a hot day. Or any day, for that matter.
Be your whole self. You and your friends have relationships for a reason. If your friends invite you to spend time with their children, they want you—not some version of yourself that you think is kid-appropriate. If we want our children to learn the value of difference, we have to expose them to a range of personalities. Your goofiness, cynicism, or conversational curse words (which are NOT the same thing as cursing at someone) are actually educational tools. Imagine that.
If you are interested in other ways to be in community with your parenting friends, you should check out the book Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities