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Support network for parenting — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

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Dear Dr. Debbie,

I recently moved with my husband and son, “Macario.” We’re expecting our second baby in a few weeks. Our extended family lives about an hour away and my mom is on call to watch the 3-year-old when I go into labor. She may stay over for a few days since I don’t know any neighbors yet and Macario will certainly expect things like meals to go on as usual. Lucky for us she does freelance work and has kept her workload light around the due date.

I have a sister-in-law who says she can take some half days off to help out since my husband needs to be back at work after only a day or two. Beyond that, I’m getting very anxious about coping with a newborn and our busy little boy at the same time. I can barely remember anything except unending fatigue for his first year. Even now, he sometimes wakes us up at night and I find I need to keep close tabs on him at all times.

Macario has made a couple of friends at his preschool which has prompted a few play dates. There’s no problem reciprocating at the present, but I worry that once the baby comes, I’ll be severely limited in my ability to 1. drive much beyond the basic school run (hopefully with my husband pitching in occasionally for the morning drop off) and 2. be able to fix lunches for and supervise two active 3-year-olds at play.

On the Edge

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Dear On the Edge,

A wise woman once told a young mother in your situation to look for her “mother” and her “sister” when she arrived at her new community. Parenting is not soloist performance. It takes a supporting troupe of players to pull it off successfully. Beyond those first couple of days, you barely have a cast to speak of. Time to audition some “stand ins” for the extended family roles this production requires.

You can start with the parents of Macario’s friends. One without a younger child might be a good choice as a sister candidate. A sister is someone who is happy to have your child over without worrying about tidying up first. By the same token, the state of order of your house is no deterrent to you having her and her child come over for a visit. When the friends are happily engaged with toys and each other, she just might go ahead and wash the dishes as she chats with you in the kitchen — your arms full of new baby. Your attitudes about what to feed the children, what they should or shouldn’t be playing with, and how they treat the family dog should be similar enough that both children feel at home in either house.

Reciprocating can take many forms. She may be delighted to tend to your baby for a spell because she is past having any more herself. She may be “paying forward” for a sister-friend who helped her when she was encumbered with a little one. A true sister doesn’t have to keep score. If your first candidate doesn’t measure up, try another. Just remember, you don’t have to like everything about her, but you do have to feel comfortable enough to trust her judgment and to feel that she can trust yours regarding the children.

For the role of mother (not to replace your own, but to be a little more accessible), look for a candidate in your congregation, on your block, or even next door. The best “mother” will be someone you and your children will see fairly often. She has raised her family and has wisdom and compassion to share. Her role could include that of doting on your son with attention, story reading, snacks, forays into her garden, etc. She may help you laugh at yourself and entertain you with her trials and triumphs when she was a new at being a parent.

If you come up empty from your casting search, sign up for a more formal relationship. Look for a babysitting co-op to join. This is a members-only arrangement for sharing each other’s children. Typically the 20 or so member families all have children up to school-age, which gives you a shared vision of safety, age-appropriate toys and foods, and such standard equipment as a high chair or swing for a visiting baby. You earn time (as points or “chits”) when you sit for other children which you spend having your children looked after by the other members. The age-range is wide enough that, at least in my experience, some extra 4- and 5-year-olds make great company for a preschooler, affording you some time off on another day to take a much needed nap. Win-win for everyone all around.

A moms’ club or formal playgroup is another way to get automatic introductions to other potential sisters. Look for a group to join in your area on childavenue.com or in Chesapeake Family’s parent resources
If you don’t line up your support network before the baby comes, take heart, you’ll find a way to get by until they make their appearance. As they say in show biz, “the show must go on.” And when you realize that the carpool driver or the neighbor is sincere about offering to keep an eye on your precious children so you can run an errand or catch some z’s, you’ll recognize their true billing as genuine “family” and applaud with gratitude.

Dr. Debbie

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