Welcome to the Mother'Hood: Social Support and New Mothers
STUDIES SHOW THAT SOCIAL SUPPORT IS CRITICAL FOR A NEW MOTHER'S HEALTH, AND A HAPPY THRIVING BABY
Brought to you by Melanie Smith, Well Lit Life
Isn’t it interesting that when moving into a new neighborhood or community, we are smart enough to seek out people who have previously traveled the terrain ahead, and know their way around? We have no trouble asking if a neighborhood is safe. One of the first things we do is find out about the school districts, and hospitals. We investigate who the great doctors are, where to get the best pizza, which is the most reasonable dry cleaner, and where the closest Whole Foods can be found.
Unfortunately for a lot of new mothers, however, the idea of exposing our needs, fears, wants and lack of knowledge is intimidating. We don’t want to define ourselves as novices in this new world, so we avoid seeking out our “neighbors in the motherhood”.
I can remember when I was a new mother how scary it was to talk about the unfamiliar, challenging feelings I was having: deep fatigue, or even sadness, and confusion. I wasn’t certain whom to trust; would other mothers see me as a failure? Would they misinterpret my innocence as ignorance or lack of research and preparation — or worse, bad parenting?
Of course, the fact is that these are common experiences and feelings for nearly all new mothers, and one of the most critical factors of a successful early mothering experience is friendship and honesty in a loving community of like-minded women. So, I became determined to find and develop healthy and steadfast relationships, ones I believe will last long after my son has a child of his own.
Once I found a social collective where I felt comfortable being myself, everything changed. My neighbors in my “motherhood” helped me learn, and grow. They quieted my feelings of aloneness as well as contributed to some of the happiest moments in my life with my young son. To know that I supported them in a similar way was gratifying and cemented our bonds.
Social support is critical for dealing with stress in every area of our lives, not just motherhood. A research group at the University of North Texas compiled information and found this fact to be inarguably true.* Social support gives us a feeling of belonging and lets us know we have a place to turn when times get tough. When we know we are not alone, we don’t waste valuable emotional resources on fear of what lies ahead.
We are seeing the same trend in research that focuses specifically on mothers and parents.** Support from community, friends, family, and services contribute greatly to good parenting and child development. A warm and vibrant support network has been proven to help mothers see their children and motherhood from a more positive perspective. These mothers tend to have more access to necessary information, and as a result struggle less to problem-solve on critical issues for their new babies and their families’ well being. Studies have shown that mothers who have people they trust involved in their lives feel greater self-esteem and confidence as parents.
Ironically, however, the University of Chicago found that stressful events tend to diminish the amount of social support someone receives, because most people’s natural tendency is to isolate and withdraw in reaction to stress.*** In other words, in our hardest times we are less likely to prioritize positive relationships, even though they are EXACTLY what we need! This is why new mothers are encouraged to put aside feelings of self-doubt or even shame and find a close circle of trust.
These studies alert us to the fact that one of the most important action steps in the preparation for parenthood is not simply to read the books, get the stroller, or pick a paint color. It is to find the places we want our hearts to land and our families to thrive. When you have a baby, think of your network — whether it’s family, friends, your breastfeeding group, or your actual neighbors — as holding the roadmap through a new area of life, a place where the most precious and encouraging directions are crucial to your health and well-being. Your support system is your compass, it reminds you of your True North, and helps you find the way home when you are lost.
So find the people, community, services -- and, of course, pizza -- you feel the most soothed, inspired, and supported by, and make your move into the best motherhood ever! I promise…you will not only have an easier time in the earliest and hardest stage of mothering but, you will end up with best friends for life!
*Stressors, social support, and stress reactions: A meta-analysis. ~ Piper
**The relationship between social support and maternal behaviors and attitudes: A meta-analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 20(6), 753-774. ~ Corter
***Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development From Research to Practice and Policy. ~ Edited by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., Allan N. Schore, Ph.D., and Tracy R. Gleason, Ph.D.
Photos: Laura Kudritzki Photography
Hair & Makeup: Pretty Parlor
Melanie Smith began her journey into the fields of grief recovery and wellness following the death of her mother. A 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry, having starred in As the World Turns, and appeared in Seinfeld and Melrose Place, she commenced years of study, apprenticeship, and travel to prepare for a new path. Today, she works as an expert in positive psychology, focusing her practice on loss, grief, holistic wellness, meditation, and yoga. Click here to learn more about Melanie's practice and the services at Well Lit Life.