Support networks are hugely important for everyone and especially, in my opinion, for parents raising small children. We are the ones living chaotic lives on broken sleep and chronic sleep deprivation is a major contributor to post-natal depression. There seems to be a collective cry from us parents “It takes a village to raise a child, where is my village?” It’s a good question. Where is it? I have to wonder, did we perhaps forget to build it and are now confused about where it is?

The community support village of the days of old are gone because we no longer spend our whole lives in the same place. We move. We follow jobs, study and opportunities. It really is a great thing to be more mobilised but the downside is that we can find ourselves displaced from our family, school/uni friends and familiar environments. We can’t stop this new way of functioning in the world so we have to adapt to it. I had one friend in Dunedin when I moved here, I had no village, I had to build it and I’m sorry to say that it took time and effort.

But we’re so short on time and energy, we’re parents! I know but seriously, a support network is not only made of people who support you but of people who you also support. That means you need to spend some time getting to know people and genuinely caring about how they’re doing in their lives. Not just so they’ll care about you but because these people are now your village. They’re your safety and you’re theirs.

It seems to me that some people think that if they just pile up a whole lot of money in the bank that they’ll be safe in life but I’ve seen from personal experience that this is not the case. For one, life happens. Jobs get lost, businesses go bankrupt, people get sick, people die. Sorry, it’s true. You can line up as many ducks as you like and life can just come along and knock each one down like dominoes. And even if life doesn’t take your money, it still might not keep you safe. Money will not save you from depression, relationship breakups or grief. In my opinion, relationships, and I mean the kind with a deep, authentic connection are what truly keep us safe.

I always say that relationships are the true currency of life. It’s the vehicle through which we make meaningful exchanges such as warm hugs, uplifting words and acts of kindness. I’ve had friends crying on my shoulder telling me about their financial hardship and their fears of being homeless. I’ve been able to cup their face in my hands and say deeply into their eyes “you will never be homeless”, and in that moment they understand. Not just because they know I would never see them on the streets but also because I’m not the only one. Sometimes we forget our friends in those dark moments. We can fall into a place thinking that we have to deal with everything by ourselves and everything is on our shoulders, we forget about our village. Most of us have some sort of friend network and we tell ourselves that we don’t want to burden them. But for me, when a friend has opened up, I feel safe because this person is trusting me with their most painful wounds. Trust is the foundation of a relationship and I find it more stable than a flimsy pile of money.

It can be hard to take the time to build deep friendships because we’re all so damn busy. We’re often up in the night, on school runs, kindy runs, cooking, cleaning, working, studying, then it’s pickups, baths, dinners and bed, phew! Who has time for friends? I’m so sorry to burden you with this but we have to make time and I encourage you to not waste your time dancing around on the surface with people. Move on from the small talk quick smart and get onto finding out how your friend is doing, I mean really doing. Not so you can get a turn to vomit your life dramas to them but because you really care and you want them to feel supported. If they’re a good friend (and no doubt you’ve got great taste in friends) they will ask you in return and that’ll be your chance to share. If they never do then carry on in your search for a deep connection with another friend because you’re busy here, you’ve got a little bit of time during a chaotic playdate to make a deep connection. This is you taking off your damsel in distress hat pining for your village and putting on your construction hat. A village is not going to fall into your lap, you need to build it. And build it even when things are going great, actually, especially when things are going great. This is when you’ll have the most energy to connect with others because you won’t be so focused on your own problems.

Some people think mums are just sitting around drinking coffee and to be fair we are often sitting and drinking coffee but we’re also doing important, invisible work. We’re building a village. It means when hubby’s car won’t start and he can’t drop off the kids to school, your friend down the road offers to carpool and your husband says “phew” and walks out the door never realising the time, love and energy it took to build that kind of community-based relationship. Because when she was losing it with the kids you offered to take them to the park and she was so grateful she could have kissed you. And you didn’t do it because you wanted to bank a favour for the future, you care about her and the kids. And you know that when you were in the same spot and didn’t have a friend to call you ended up screaming at your kids in a way that scared both you and them and you promptly cried in the bathroom while they whimpered on the other side of the door.

I encourage you to make more playdates and turn down playdate offers less. Read between the lines of your friend’s online posts. Maybe that funny post about how sick everyone in their house is a chance for you to send a quick message to see if she needs anything or better yet, just turn up with soup or leave it on the step. Invite people round, answer honestly when you’re asked how you’re doing. We’re in a loneliness epidemic people, the time of pretending has got to stop. Put the kettle on and open a bag of truth. Because despite being sometimes intensely uncomfortable, vulnerability is the fast track to building deep and meaningful relationships.

Just one word of caution before I leave you. Pace your vulnerability with new friends, test the waters. Go one layer at a time because the last thing I want anyone to do is to open their heart to someone who doesn’t treat the experience of hearing your pain as the true honour it is. In turn, remember hearing someone else’s heart is an honour and sometimes just listening and responding with “I don’t know what to say, thank you for telling me” is all you need to say.

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