As I work with families and their new babies, two things often strike me:
New parents don’t know how to ask for help, and
Friends, family and community members of new families don’t know how to offer help that is actually needed.
In the past, and in many indigenous societies, there were social agreements that allowed people to impose order on their world, thereby feeling safe in it. The two things listed above leave everyone feeling like they are in limbo, not sure what to do or expect.
Knowing what to expect, and what is expected of me helps me feel happy and content. Too many new parents don’t feel comfortable asking for help, or don’t know whom to ask. Gone are the days when your family, neighbors, or religious community KNEW what was expected of them and fulfilled their roles without being asked. Sometimes I think about the paradox that my job exists because society is failing to give new families the household help, meals, social interaction, education, and information that they need.
We live in an age of choice, and that freedom should not be underestimated. I am so grateful for the power of choice that I have exercised over who I marry, when to have children and how many, where I live, what I eat, and how I make money. However, I see that the vast amount of choice for the individual is decaying the fabric of a community that knows how to support its members. Amongst the many options, you can choose your gender, your belief system, your diet, your parenting techniques, your vocations, let alone which of the 50 soaps at Whole Foods is best for your unique skin. Decision fatigue is real. Furthermore, the decisions we each make are not necessarily the choices that anyone else would make. We have become a culture bound together by our determination to not participate in community.
We suffer from not having set roles to fill in society, from lack of set ceremony to mark life’s transitions, from knowing what to expect from each other and ourselves. As I prepare to move abroad for a year, I feel unsure of how to mark the occasion, how to process it with the community I have built, who to ask for what. I wish there was a script for this so that all that needs attending to gets its moment. The transition that families go through when they welcome a new baby is much more common, and yet, we don’t have a set way to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
What do you expect of yourself? What do others expect of you? Are these expectations explicit or implicit? How might we let others know when and for what they can count on us? How might we get better at articulating the roles we’d like others to fill, and then asking people to fill them?
By not being conscious of the need for mutual support, we are implying that we don’t care about the way in which our youngest members are nurtured. When we connect and support each other, we are stronger.