Monday, March 18, 2013

Building Mom Connections: Guest Post by Amy Suardi

We're enjoying some family in from out of town right now but happy to share the blog today with my friend Amy Suardi of Frugal Mama.  I met Amy through an e-mail loop of bloggers, started reading her blog and was instantly inspired by the way she genuinely presented ways for living more frugally.  On her blog, Frugal Mama, Amy seamlessly weaves together the experiences we share in raising our families with tips for living more simply and purposefully--easy adaptations we all can make and ideas that go beyond "cutting coupons."

Today, Amy shares ways to connect with other moms and ideas for building a supportive community--a necessity when we're in the trenches of this complexly challenging yet ever so rewarding job of raising our families.


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(photo credit: TLC/Discovery)

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Banish Mom Isolation and Find the Warmth and Connection You Need
by Amy Suardi

Raising young children can get a little lonely sometimes. Just getting out of the house can feel like an acrobatic feat. And with all of the naps, feedings, diaper changes, and gear, it's enough to make anyone just surrender and just stay home.

Yet mothers are very much in need of communing with others. I find nurturing children extremely yummy and satisfying, but there is also a yucky side. Cleaning up messes, trying to reason with obstinate toddlers, and spending a little too much time alone at the playground can make the days long and the weeks draggy. And if we're not getting enough sleep (who is?) or struggling with parenting issues (who isn't?), then our need for a long chat and a good laugh becomes even more urgent.

Neither my husband nor I live in our home town with family and long-time friends. And since we have moved so much as we were raising our kids (five times in the past ten years), I have to be very proactive about finding friends and creating community. I learned that it's just as important for me to form relationships as it is to get my kids out and about. Because let's face it: if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

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Here are my favorite ways to jumpstart the process of finding kindred spirits and fellow mamas, and start feeling good.


Don't Be Shy -- Sign Up

Over the years, I've realized that it's not necessary to find a best friend or someone whose interests reflect mine. It's just as important -- and easier -- to find someone who is in the same situation.

Because even if we have plenty of friends, our friends are not always in the same life stage as us. Maybe they've gone back to work, maybe their kids are older and busy with lots of activities, maybe they have moved across town.

And really, who else is more willing to listen to dramas about how your baby is waking up every hour or how your toddler pulls everything off the grocery store shelves than someone in the same canoe?

The best way to find people like you is to join groups that focus on your stage of mothering and that will give you a reason to get out of the house on a regular basis. Here are the kinds of groups where I have met people and gotten out of my little micro-world:


* Child birthing classes
* Prenatal or family yoga classes
* Informal playgroups that emerge from these groups (where moms take turns hosting)
* Mother's groups (national organizations have thousands of small group chapters where you live, such as the MOM's Club, Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), Holistic Moms, and Parents of Multiples)
* Church- or temple-based parent groups
* Babysitting co-ops
* Parent-teacher associations
* Co-operative preschools or playgroups


The groups I have joined over the years have been like a lifeboat to me. It's not always easy for me to jump in. But once I get over my shyness and my silly embarrassment, I feel so grateful. Besides having met some of the most warm and interesting women, being part of a community is just good for the soul.

I think it helps to remember too that these friends didn't have to be my buddies for life. They may just be my friend in this or that intense period, and that's OK too.


Give and Ye Shall Receive
Whether you're joining a group or hanging out at the baby pool, sometimes it can be hard to get beyond the small talk. But I have found that when I offer to help organize a book sale or a spring party, I interact with people in a deeper way. Working together on something gives me a shared sense of purpose, and the bonds that are formed as a result are stronger.

I know what you're thinking, because I've thought the same thing myself: "How can I help someone else when I'm barely keeping up with my own house and life and kids?" An amazing paradox that I have discovered to be to true, time and time again, is that: when I give my love and energy, I always get more back.

So when I'm feeling overwhelmed and a little down, sometimes the solution is reaching and getting involved. Besides getting to know people, having a project to work on (beyond the relentlessness of cleaning house) really gives me an emotional boost. And the great thing about volunteering for family-centered organizations is that you can always fit it into your life as a mom.

Volunteering has also been a great way to develop my professional skills while staying home with my kids. Before having children I had flitted from job to job, unsure of myself and my strengths. But when my children inspired me to offer to run a cooperative preschool and rally support for our struggling elementary school, I gained confidence and ideas about what I could do later in life.


Feed Yourself by Feeding Others

Perhaps the surest way to deepen relationships is to invite someone over. I find that a relationship always shifts into a more solid place when I invite someone to come in for a snack, a coffee, or a simple dinner. Is it the vulnerability inherent in this act that makes the relationship more real, more serious? I say vulnerable because no one (that I know anyway) has a show house or is a gourmet cook. So bringing someone into your personal space requires a certain courage. It means showing who you really are, with all your imperfections and quirks.

When I was a young mother, I would invite moms and kids over for playdates, and they would invite us over. Sometimes I would invite them to stay for a basic lunch -- grilled cheese sandwiches or pasta with tomato sauce. Since I much preferred to eat in company, the little bit of extra work involved in prep and clean-up was way worth it for me.

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Over the years, my husband Enrico and I have grown to really love having other families over for dinner. Going out to restaurants is expensive and, with young kids, it's the opposite of relaxing. However, inviting people over for a meal can often mean a luxurious amount of talking and laughing while the kids are playing or watching a movie.

I started inviting people over when I had very little experience in the kitchen, and I had my share of 'oops' moments. Like the times when I served raw meat, wincingly salty eggplant parmesan, cold casserole, or gloppy quiche. But hey, we learn from living life and making mistakes, and the more I cook for others, the more I get comfortable and better at it.

But wait: you don't have to like cooking. As a guest, I can say that it doesn't matter what people serve me. I am just touched by the kindness of the invitation, and whether it's store-bought, homemade, or heated up, food prepared by someone else just tastes better. If you're feeling insecure, I say it's always safe to make a family favorite. Even though it may not seem exciting to you, it's still new to your guests, and making something familiar allows you to enjoy your friends, instead of stressing over the food.

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And don't wait until your house is fixed up, organized, or squeaky clean. Inviting someone over is about being friendly, not perfect, and people will love you for it. By welcoming someone into your personal space, you are committing one of the greatest acts of generosity.

Whether we are raising newborns or ninth-graders, getting beyond the demands of our daily lives to connect with others can require a little effort. But it's about taking care of ourselves, really. Just as I am always thankful and even euphoric after making myself get some exercise, I have found that the effort in reaching out to other people always, always pays off.

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Amy Suardi is a writer, community-builder, and mother of four. At her blog Frugal Mama, she shares about her journey in finding the fun in saving money while keeping life simple so she has time for what matters.