One of the things that can take you by surprise when you become a parent is the unexpected feelings of isolation that can come with your change in role from a part of a work team to being a parent at home. Even returning to work full-time or part-time may not help with this as social networks change when you're rushing from work to collecting kids from childcare and not necessarily engaging fully in all the human contact around work hours.
Many of us now don't have a home town as such, with relatives and lifelong friends popping round to shore us up when we need it, and it can quickly become apparent that, as adorable as that amazing little creature we have produced is, a baby is not enough of a conversationalist to satisfy the deep seated needs of the social animals that we are.
The solution takes a bit of courage and a level of organisation that can make it seem like an unachievable goal in the first weeks and months with a newborn. Here in the UK we are lucky enough to currently have Children's Centers. A number of years ago the government of the time recognised that in order to tackle the problems in our society, it was important to provide support from birth for parents and families. Children's Centers were opened, providing baby weigh-in clinics, organised play groups and classes for parents.
I first accessed the Children's Center through the weigh-in and a baby massage course. Unfortunately due to funding cuts this year, many of the services provided by the Centers are being disbanded, and baby massage is now only available to 'at risk' parents and babies referred by social workers. This is really sad because a number of parents I have talked to were like me in experiencing baby massage as a first point of contact that put them into the routine of going to the Centers and accessing other services. After the baby massage came an invitation to go to a playgroup for babies who were not yet walking. As well as being a fantastic opportunity for Ollie to socialise with other babies, it was also a lifeline to me. There where other mums and dads there to share experiences with and work out what I was supposed to be doing. Ollie and I also met a lovely mum and son there who we're both still great friends with.
Going back to work I lost contact with the groups for a while, until Toby came along and I decided to stay off work this time. We started going to playgroups organised by the Children's Centers a couple of times a week, then I signed up for a cookery class they were running which had a creche. I spent most of my time out of the lesson consoling a screaming Toby, but it was a start. Gaining the confidence to go to these classes meant I signed up for a Face Painting course, thinking it might be useful for Ollie's nursery and school summer fairs. The class was fantastic, and it lead to two further networks.
The first was a group of community mums who invited us along on a tour they had organised of the local police station, complete with dressing up and sitting in a police car. The second was a training course for people who wanted to become volunteers. This is an accredited course covering aspects such as first aid and child safeguarding, and wanting to give something back in return for the free courses I had been on, I signed up.
This course connected me with a group of the most welcoming, strong, funny women you could wish for. Through this I met the volunteers who have set up a speech and language support playgroup, which I now take the boys to in order to help Toby who's struggling with speech acquisition. Toby is making leaps with a new word each week or so, Ollie is getting bitten a lot less by him, and this week the Fire Brigade were there for a demonstration and let the kids play with the hose pipes and sit in the Fire Engine, which was completely awesome.
Walking into a room of strangers with children and being expected to strike up a conversation with them, maybe feeling like you're intruding on an existing clique's conversation, is really daunting. With courage and persistence making this effort to go outside your own comfort zone can pay dividends to your mental wellbeing and your enjoyment of the parenting journey. I felt like an idiot asking for people's contact details at the Face Painting class, but I have as a result maintained contact with some lovely people and had opportunities for myself and my kids that would not have happened if I had kept my mouth shut and worried that people would think I was pushy. We don't need to be lonely just because we're afraid of what others might think of us. Join groups, talk to parents in the park, invite people you've only just met to hang out again. Serendipity is a 'happy accident' and the more we get ourselves out there, the more of these happy accidents occur.