Intentionally expanding your circle of family can assist you in parenting efforts

Broaden your web of family support.

Parenting is not easy!  Raising a child is probably the most important job you may ever have and you should not have to do it alone.  The U.S. Census Bureau (2010) reported that nearly one-third of Michigan families have only one parent in the home. Kids Count in Michigan says that 42 percent of children born in Michigan are born to unmarried mothers.  Michigan State University Extension emphasizes the importance of parents and caregivers having people in their lives that they can go to for support, assistance and reliable information when they are raising children.                                     

Think about all of the people in your life who can offer support and assistance when you need it.  Different people will be able to provide different types of support.  The first group of people who probably come to mind is “family.” Your mother may offer advice on how to feed your baby.  Grandma calls regularly with advice on discipline.  Your uncle down the street has lots of advice on car seats. 

The word “family” generally includes those to whom we are related biologically or through marriage.  Family can also include people that we choose, including close friends, partners, neighbors and those from our place of worship. This is a family that you make for yourself and this type of family is sometimes referred to as an “intentional family;” people you are not related to whom you care about and who care for you in return.  No matter who you include in your definition of family, it is important to choose people for your intentional family who provide positive support, encouragement and assistance as you raise your child.  You should be intentional about choosing role models who exhibit behaviors that you admire and would like your child to copy.  We cannot always choose our relatives but we can choose others that we allow in our lives.

Think of your family circle of support as a web made of yarn. Picture the people in your family network and imagine them standing in a circle throwing a ball of yarn back and forth to each other as they name a way that they can assist you in raising your child.  If each person can only name one way to assist you, the web may be thin or sparse; you and your child may not be supported fully and might fall through the spaces.  By adding additional people to your web who can assist with information and parenting needs you will strengthen your web of support.  Teachers, human services providers, your physician, your child-care provider, your church family, your local school district and organizations in your community can be part of the support you need when you experience the common worries of raising children.

Think outside the box when you need to expand your support network.  Is a trusted neighbor at home each day when your child arrives home from preschool?  Could/would that person agree to be on call to assist if you were delayed in your return from work one day?  Do you trust that she would be reliable in an emergency?  If the answers are yes, and yes, you may have just added some strength to your support network.  Do you have a friend with whom you could trade off baby-sitting on days when you just need some time to yourself?  Could you arrange a plan for one day a month where you watch her child and she agrees to do the same for you?  You might just stay home on your day to catch up on housework, reading or “me” time. 

Do not limit yourself to only those you already know.  Seek out professionals who have expertise in areas of child development and nutrition.  Your local health department, community mental health agency, MSU Extension service and school district will be able to assist you with the information you need or direct you to a source you can trust.  Do not try to do this alone.  Add strength to your network by expanding it to include people, agencies and organizations who can become a partner in parenting your child to prepare them to enter school healthy, safe and ready to learn.

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