Having good social support when you are a mother is often something that is overlooked and not given the importance that it deserves.
Whether you are a new mum, or have been raising children for years, being able to seek out help and support when you need it, is truly a powerful way of caring for yourself.
Good social support means that you have a number of people in your life that you are able to approach and lean on in times of need.
This not only protects you from issues like postnatal depression and anxiety in the early days of motherhood, but also lowers your risk of burn out, stress and mental health problems later down the track.
Most importantly, feeling well supported, lets you enjoy life and motherhood more, knowing that you have a safety net for when things get tough.
It’s not easy to ask for help.
Unfortunately, asking for help and support is not easy for most of us, which is likely one of the reasons why so many mums don’t have a good, solid support network or the proverbial “village” to help them cope with the physical and emotional demands that come with motherhood.
We like to think of ourselves as independent and in control of our lives, and asking for help feels as if it is in direct conflict with this mental representation that we have of ourselves.
We don’t want to be viewed as weak or as someone who is not fully capable of meeting her responsibilities as a mother and woman. When we ask for help, it requires that we let others in on the fact that we find being a mother hard sometimes – something that requires us to be vulnerable.
We are also so used to being the caregivers – “giving” is what comes naturally for us. “Taking”, on the other hand, puts us firmly out of our comfort zones.
Asking for help does not mean that you’re weak.
Motherhood is not easy and it was never meant to be a solo job. There are times when it feels too big, too much, too overwhelming, too relentless. You are stretched and pulled in a 100 different directions, feeling like there is just not enough of you to do everything that needs to be done, and meet all the demands and responsibilities that needs to be met.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it just means that you are human and, like the rest of us, can do with a bit of support from time to time.
There will be times in your life when your need for support will be great. The postpartum period is such a time, but there will also be times where illness, work pressure, changes in circumstance etc will increase your need for support.
This will be followed by times where you need less support. That is just the way life goes. If you can acknowledge and accept that, then allowing others to help you during the more challenging times, becomes just a bit easier.
Building your support network
When we talk about good social support, having a network that consists of multiple people is what tends to be most helpful.
Different people in our lives have different strengths and weaknesses, which is why it is good to match our specific needs with what specific people can offer us.
You might have a friend who is wonderful for when you feel like a glass of wine and a good laugh, but babysitting is just not her thing. Or you have a neighbour who is a wonderful babysitter, but you won’t necessarily be calling her up for a deep and meaningful conversation.
Asking for help and support becomes easier when we know exactly who to ask, and what to ask for.
The following exercise will help you identify people in your life that you can turn to for specific support:
1. Draw three columns on a page. In the first column, write a list of the particular kinds of support that you need in your life right now. This can include things like intimacy (sharing vulnerabilities, fears, secrets), advice and mentoring, reassurance, fun and laughter, housework, childcare, cooking, grocery shopping.
2. In the second column, write down the name of one person who can meet each of these needs. Try to not write down the same name for each need.
3. After you have filled out the second column, go on to the third column and write another name of a person who can support each specific need.
4. CHALLENGE: Once a week, choose one person from the second column and actively seek out their support.
This is a great exercise that not only helps you to clearly identify your “support people”, but also helps you to build and strengthen your support network by challenging you to regularly seek out support from people who might not be your immediate go to’s.
Seeking out support can really challenge us at first, but once we have established a good social support network, we will be able to experience the many benefits and pleasures of being able to take as well as give.
If you do however find that you need additional emotional support to what your friends and family can offer, speaking to a therapist can be helpful. To find out more or book an appointment with me, click here.