Protective Factor 2: Strengthening Social Connections

A smiling neighbor, a ready babysitter, a local grandparent, a best friend at work; these are all connections that many of us take for granted. Having a friend or family member to call on when we have questions or need support is invaluable, and because those connections are so naturally occuring for some of us, we are almost blind to what they add to our lives in terms of stress reduction and feelings of happiness and safety.

I am acutely aware of the importance of my social network and family to my continued well-being and that of my children. Daily, I am reminded that I cannot raise my children on my own. I am not afraid to ask for help when I need it, and I almost always know exactly where to look or who to call. But this is a luxury that many parents don't have. Isolation is the most dangerous thing for parents, moreso than physical illness, depression, or financial struggles. A parent with material needs or physical ones can often overcome those obstacles if he or she has a network of people who provide relief and support or even just words of encouragement. But without that connection to friends, family, or community, material and physical needs become insurmountable.

Busy parents often don't have time for relationship building. Between work, parenting, meals, and daily tasks, time to connect with adults, make new friends, or even build a romantic relationship falls to the bottom of the list. Add to that a fear of rejection, a history of unstable relationships, or a weak family system, and the possibility of forming social networks becomes even more distant.

Ballard Community Services offers ways for parents to meet other parents via our monthly parent engagement events. We ask parents to stay for awhile at the end of the day, share a meal, talk about their children, or learn a new skill. We hope that at these events natural friendships will bloom. Carpooling, babysitting, sharing of stories, plans for a coffee date: these are all outcomes of making a space for parents to be in the same place at the same time. Those small connections make a tremendous difference in the world of some families who have little relief or support. An offer to pick up a child from daycare can be just as important to a stressed parent as a paycheck.

As a community, we should be vigilant. Are their single parents living in your neighborhood? Do you see the same dad walking with his toddler every evening? Do you say hello to the new mom at school and invite her to coffee or a PTA meeting? It is small connections that will make a difference for parents and kids on a daily basis. Making a little room for an extra friend or a small favor can change lives. Open your playgroup up to new members. Check in on the friend you haven't heard from for awhile. You'll be transforming your community, and it doesn't cost a thing.

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