HOPE at a Glance
The Currency of Wellness is Connection
Struggling families, and those professionals supporting them, can hold onto hope with the knowledge that the MPAS epidemic can be healed by creating or restoring secure connections with significant family members. For families to thrive, we need many people involved with each child, and more support surrounding families.
With proper support, a couple can stay connected, individuals can tend to their personal growth work and heal any childhood trauma that surfaces with parenthood. It is vital that parents and children be strongly attached.
See the resources section for more information about how to support families to thrive.
Living into a New Possibility
When contending with a problem to resolve, the first steps are to:
▸ See it
▸ Name it
▸ Understand it
We are then better able to do something about it.
We’re calling this collective challenge the MPAS Epidemic. You can read more about this issue here.
As soon as we can see it and name it, we can then begin to examine why it’s happening and brainstorm ideas for what to do differently. We begin by asking questions like, “What’s missing that could make a difference here?”
A family challenged by disconnection suffers. When a family has only two or three people, or some other configuration of a nuclear family, there is a high likelihood that its members’ basic needs will not be met. We’re not talking about food or shelter necessarily, but human connection, including touch and appreciation.
Nearly all parents will strive to meet the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. However, other needs, like affection and appreciation, require vulnerability and an extension of themselves toward another person – partner or child. Weary parents are less likely to be able to be vulnerable, so connection-based needs can go unmet.
When needs for connection go unmet, stress can cause disease and other symptoms of compromised health in the physical, emotional, mental and social realms. Nuclear family life can be unhealthy and not very sustainable.
Relief lies in forming deeper connections:
❤️ Connection with self (which can get lost as one becomes a parent).
❤️ Connection with a partner.
❤️ Connection with the child(ren).
❤️ Connection with family and close friends.
❤️ Connection with extended family and friends.
❤️ Connection with social circle, a larger community–ideally one with a fulfilling purpose and joy.
Parents need a tribe to create a healthy family.
To be able to tend to their connection needs of all kinds, parents need support from outside the nuclear family.
Because the majority of us don’t live in tribes, we need to create a new reality. The MPAS epidemic is at a point where we’re not likely going to fix it. We can’t go backward and do it differently—we need to move forward, living into something that represents a shift in our fundamental ways of life, especially for families who are just having their first baby.
So we inquire, “What’s missing that could generate more connection within the family, especially between parents, and then more connection with a greater community?”
As helping professionals who are supporting parents during this critical time, you can help parents understand what is happening, and often avoid upcoming pitfalls—or point them toward opportunities and solutions that heal.
Let’s explore a different kind of family living. Let’s look beyond the nuclear family structure, where the couple is trying to figure it all out on their own. And let’s work together to help parents find their way to thriving.
The Many Layers of Thriving
A thriving, growing family has layers. It makes a big difference when a child is wanted, and a couple is prepared. The family starts with a full cup.
If a community is strong and is prepared to welcome the child and care for the family, it has another healthy layer.
Once the baby comes, the parents go through phases of growth—each of which must be tended. Here are a few of the main layers:
- Preparing the relationship, preparing the home, preparing a community.
- Transitioning to becoming a parent—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially—is intense for both parents.
- Doing personal healing and growth work, as each parent grows into being a mother or father.
- Tending to the growing and changing relationship.
- Discovering what a new balance might be between self, partner, child, work, family, friends, and other interests.
Each layer requires time and attention. All layers can benefit from a supportive tribe.
A New Kind of Tribe
Historically, humans have always lived in clusters—extended families, tribes, and close-knit small villages and towns. Since the industrial revolution, our tribes have been splintered across the country or even across the globe.
Today’s healthy tribe may look different from the way it did when families lived together more effectively. It’s time we consider some new possibilities for what a tribe can be:
- Some families have an active neighborhood community where families get together for meals and play and activities.
- Some find community within a church.
- Some have a group of friends that stay connected as one or more partnerships in the group of friends shifts into parenthood.
- Some families find community within a favorite recreation or activity.
If none of these apply, and parents feel isolated and without community, they’re actually not alone. Many parents find themselves feeling disoriented, alone, isolated and painfully without community at this most critical juncture. This is where the breakdown can happen and when support is needed most.
As a family expands to include children, it’s critical to include more people in the family. To define their tribe, a family needs to know what support they would like—to be open to support and then to find or create the support with loving, willing people around them. The community, in turn, needs to be ready to answer the call and nurture the growing families. This transformation needs all of us. As a helping professional, you can act as a guide to help families who are open up to support and then also direct families to resources.
Since we’re presently far from a tribal structure, a good place for couples to start is to be willing to notice where support could be helpful, and find guidance toward support. Keeping in mind that dads’ needs are critical, too. Connecting with dad, and supporting dad, can be another way to support and nurture mom/babe. Any community built around the parents makes a difference.
If members of a community are aware of a new family, ideally they will ask regularly what they can do to support them. They may have to ask more than once before the family will accept their support. They may also need to be reassured that they won’t be judged for a messy house, messy hair, or for being not such great hosts or company. A growing family needs to be taken care of, not to be hosting guests. This can take longer than the entire first year.
The second step is the need for a couple to stay connected. In order to tend their relationship, a couple needs to have support with their child(ren) so they can have time together. To get healthy support, additional caregivers need to be close to the children. The solutions are also layered.
The parents need to spend time:
- taking care of themselves,
- tending one another and their relationship,
- each, independently with their child(ren) to establish and maintain closely attached bonds.
- together as a family,
- building community ties they can trust.
For most families, this is a shifting time where the social web needs to be actively grown, nurtured, and sometimes even reconfigured. Going from life as a couple into life as a family often means new rhythms, new constraints on time, and a lot of uncertainty.
To complicate matters, as soon as the couple establishes a rhythm and routine, the baby grows and changes—along with everything else about life. The first few years can be full of constant change. The couple may not even know what they need—they may not know what kind of help to request.
Societies that were most successful generally revolved around the mother/baby unit, or the growing family if there was more than one child. The whole tribe or clan considered themselves a growing family when a new baby was born into the community.
All families took care of the kids, even if they weren’t born into one particular pair of arms.
There’s no such thing as “other people’s children.”—Hillary Clinton
All kids belong to all of us. If this is the case, how does a community participate with a growing family? How can it better support a growing family? How can it form a tribe around a growing family, or how can a growing family generate a community around themselves?
Sometimes families are so private that it takes quite an effort to build trust with another family in order to watch the child for tired parents, or to even know what to do to support them.
It’s important for growing families to know that it’s ok to ask for help. Families can begin by making a list of needs that would make life easier and more enjoyable, and a list of people they know. This is the start of asking for help. Then, either on their own or with support, they can begin making connections with people who can meet some of their identified needs.
How do we build community?
This is a huge question in our culture today. How do we create relationships that feel safe when we are vulnerable and need support?
Members of a tribe all need to:
- spend time together,
- ask for help and say yes to helping/supporting each other,
- share “authentic” selves—responsibly and with ownership of the “good” and the “bad,” the easy and the tough, the light and the dark sides of self.
- do their personal work,
- grow together.
When we take these steps to build connections with ourselves and one another, each member of the “tribe” is more resourced and able to offer their unique contributions. Without enough support, suffering is inevitable.
Here are some of the many Benefits of Community for each of the various layers of community surrounding a family.
For Individuals (Everyone):
- Learning. Being connected means a greater opportunity to learn from each other, mine each other’s wisdom and help each other thrive.
- Connections. By being more closely interconnected, each member of the community is able to enjoy a wider, richer network of resources, wisdom, connections, and support.
- Creativity and inspiration. Connections with different people of varying ages, backgrounds, careers, etc., exposes individuals to new ideas and new ways of looking at old ideas. This cross-pollination of ideas can be a great source for ongoing creativity and inspiration.
- Practical help. An extended community surrounding parents can help with daily tasks like running errands, cooking, shopping, homework, transport to sports, etc. Two or four hands are not enough to meet the needs of an entire family. When many hands work together, the load becomes easier to manage and the days become more joyful.
- Wisdom. When many folks work together to parent (including older siblings), each “parent” will offer their own way of doing things—often introducing new ways to the primary parents. New perspectives, passed-down learning and shared wisdom are some of the ways community can make life easier for parents. For brand-new parents, this can be a wonderful way to avoid painful mistakes, though sometimes the only way to learn is by doing. The wisdom of others becomes a gift of choice for new parents—take the best and leave the rest.
- Social Connection (aka Love). Many parents run from home to school to work to school to home to bed to school again—and again. Having a community of people to see and connect with in the mix of otherwise routine days can make life feel more fulfilling and meaningful. We are social creatures who need love and connection.
For the Parent Couple-ship
- Time together. When a community surrounds parents, they have more time together (alone). For a couple to have regular date nights and also rest in the knowledge that community members are growing sustainable bonds with the child(ren), this two-fold support nourishes them and allows them to deepen their connection.
- Reflections. Community members can remind members of a couple-ship who they are. These reflections can be a source for ongoing nurturing of them, or a valuable contribution during times of conflict if/when a couple is struggling to remember the good.
- Support. Similar to reflections, others in a community can offer much-needed support and guidance as a couple grows. The joys and challenges of life often require support to move gracefully through life. Support can make all the difference.
- Witnessing. As children grow, they crave to be seen for who they are, what they are learning, what they do well, and what’s unique about them. When more people know a child, the child gets greater affirmation and reflection of themselves, which can result in increased self-esteem, more confidence and greater mental health. What a wonderful foundation and benefit arising out of community.
- Discovering gifts. Within community, there are many (and deep) needs and opportunities of expression and contribution. Children can explore meeting various needs of other in the community, and as they do, they can explore what their natural gifts are.
- Establishing values. Being raised in a community exposes children repeatedly and diversely to certain values. A community can actively cultivate a set of desired values as they nurture each other, create the community experience, and support each other in daily life.
For Community Members
- Belonging. We all crave belonging. When we have others around us who relate to us as important, and important basic need is met, allowing us to function at a higher level. Plus it’s just one of the best feelings to know we’re a part of something. To be-long is to live-long and happily.
- Authenticity/Acceptance. Within an environment of belonging, community members can experience a sense of safety, which can allow a more real version of themselves to show up for interactions. Within a safe community, members have may the space to truly be themselves and establish more intimate relationships with friends and loved ones because more of the real person is accessible.
- Growth. When many come together, it’s inevitable that conflict will arise. Healthy conflict is the life-blood of community and provides valuable opportunities to learn better forms of conflict resolution, communication, boundary setting, forgiveness, acceptance, unconditional love for self and others, and ultimately, personal growth.
For the Extended Community:
- Strength/Sustainability. Healthy and growing communities represent the very essence of sustainability. When community members can rely on each other and are working together with common goals, individuals become healthier and stronger—and more able to give their best. When many are working together to give their best and take care of each other, what comes out of the community as a whole is more stable and productive. If we work toward having many sustainable, strong communities, we will see a sustainable and stronger global community.
- Health. As described above, people caring for each other results in better cared-for or healthier people. Healthy people make a healthy community; healthy communities make a healthy planet. Health can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even social, within a tiny circle (like a family) or a larger one like a school, a church or even a town.
- Resources. Many people working together represent a wide network of resources. For example, one person may know about construction, while another may know about websites.
One of the resources offered through the CCTF network is the community-building work of Bill Kauth and Zoe Alowan. These two, in conjunction with their community, have created brilliant tools for groups, families and individuals wanting to create deeper ties. Beyond their book, We Need Each Other, they offer consulting and trainings to individuals and groups.
Other ideas are: shared meals with multiple families, finding local families or individuals to share housework or building projects together, each family receiving one day of the month (or quarter) from the whole group. Collaborating with three families, takes four days a month or quarter. While that may seem like a lot, dedicated time and attention is one of the essentials to deepening connection.
How it happens is up to you. Many hands make light work.
One important step is to recognize we have a collective problem. We are calling it disconnection, entwined with MPAS.
We need to revitalize our partnership/parent-couple relationships—and build community around them.
Let’s together take the first step and turn this epidemic on its head—let’s grow together toward a thriving future for families.