"Everybody's got a hungry heart." - Bruce Springsteen
"We don't talk enough about how not having a tribe affects us as parents...I have the fervent hope that we start talking about the exhaustion, need for community and help that we parents need." - Jennifer
Parents carry the heavy burden for society of raising the next generation of human beings. The problem is, in our modern culture they carry it with very little social support. I know you feel a fountain of love for your child, but you can't keep all that love flowing if you don't get some love yourself. We all need connection and affection from other adults, and without that supply of love, we end up with hungry hearts.
That's not good for you. It's not what you want to model for your child. And you having a hungry heart just makes you resentful or needy toward your child. Guess if that makes him behave better.
Kids can't, and shouldn't, meet all our needs for connection. Every parent needs to find ways to connect in mutually nurturing adult relationships. Maybe that’s your partner. Maybe it’s your BFF, your mother’s group, or your own mother.
While it’s true that meeting the needs of our children can take all of our time, there is always a way to savor adult connection, even with kids in tow. How?
1. Take a walk with your partner or friend, carrying your little one in a sling, pushing the stroller, or letting the little ones kick a ball or play tag along the way. How about every evening at sunset? Agree in advance to make this quality time by setting aside ten minutes for each of you to really listen to each other without taking anything that's said personally, or trying to solve anything. Just keep breathing deeply to "be" with your loved one, whatever he or she is saying, and say "I hear you."
2. Join or start a regular playgroup with like-minded parents so you can connect while little ones play. You don't have to agree about everything to find this helpful.
3. Start a parents’ support group at your workplace. Bring brown-bag lunches, invite local speakers, trade stories and ideas. It helps so much to realize you aren't alone.
4. Hire a young mother’s helper to play with your child every Friday evening so you and your partner can have a picnic dinner in the bedroom. Lock the door.
5. Trade babysitting with a friend so each of you gets time off each week. (Okay, this is not with kids in tow, but it's how you find that time for your own rejuvenation.) Use that time to have a festive lunch with your spouse, get a manicure with your BFF, or find intellectual connection by enrolling in a class at the local community college. Or—here's a radical idea—just take a nap!
6. Connect with other like-minded folks in an online community. Choose one that's supportive and in sync with your parenting style, or with whatever else you're discussing.
7. Find a "listening partner." This idea, originally pioneered by the folks at HandinHandParenting.org, is that you make a standing date to connect, usually by phone, with another parent. This gives you a safe place and a nonjudgmental, non-problem-solving partner so you can take turns exploring your issues with your child and releasing your own emotions. It's fine to "vent" but make sure to pause and welcome the tears and fears that are lurking behind the anger. Once you feel those more vulnerable emotions, they evaporate—and so does the anger.
8. Let more love in. Life is too short for you to be stressing over a bad relationship. If you’re feeling stressed about your relationship with your partner, make working things out a priority. While it's true that some relationships have no future, it's also true that we take our baggage with us to the next partner. Why not schedule an appointment for couples counseling, or get your hands on my audio "I've Got Your Back"?
9. Connect. Every day, make sure you have a juicy connection with another adult. Call your BFF or your sister. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who mentored you. Be sure your romantic partner knows how much love and appreciation you feel for him or her.
Anything that nurtures you and keeps your heart open gives you more love to share. As four wise men once said, "The love you take is equal to the love you make...All you (really) need is love."