Isn’t it strange how hard it can be to admit when you’re struggling? On one level, we all know that life can be very difficult, and everyone faces problems and challenges at times. And yet, when it’s us who is facing a problem, it can feel so embarrassing and shameful. We’re often so forgiving and caring for others who are facing problems, and then we turn around and are really hard on ourselves when we’re facing hard times in our lives.
In today’s social media-infused society, the pressure to appear like you’ve got it all together can be intense. It’s hard to admit you’re struggling when everyone else seems to have the perfect life. People often post on social media about their positive experiences, so we can easily forget that they’ve probably got some challenges they’re facing, too.
As hard as it can be to admit when you’re struggling, it can be even more difficult to admit that you need help. This can lead people to delay reaching out for help, if they ever do so at all. According to noted marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, the typical couple waits six years from the time they start experiencing problems to reach out for couple counseling. Six years! Can you imagine how much more difficult it is to solve a problem after it’s grown for six years, compared to when couples reach out for help earlier?
Access to support and resources serves as an important protective factor against child abuse because it allows parents and families to have support before problems can spiral out of control. Although some parenting and family problems do go away on their own, problems often become worse if they’re not addressed, especially when secondary problems arise as persistent problems take their toll on the family.
To increase the access that parents, caregivers, and families have to supportive resources in our community, consider the following steps at the family, organizational, and community levels:
In the family:
- Overcome your fears about admitting when you’re struggling or when you need help. You don’t have to broadcast your problems to everyone you know, but consider reaching out for help to a few trusted friends and/or professionals in the community. Find people who will respond to you without judgment. If you’re met with an unhelpful response, don’t be afraid to look for support elsewhere.
- Remind yourself that it’s normal to face problems in families and relationships. Challenge any beliefs you hold that lead you to believe that other people have it all figured out and that you’re strange or different because you’re facing problems.
- Learn about the organizations in our community that are available to offer help and support to parents, caregivers, and families. Even if you don’t need those resources now, it’s a good idea to be prepared with knowledge about where to reach out if you or someone you know needs help.
In organizations that serve children:
- Take time to consider the accessibility of the services provided by your organization and other organizations with whom you work in the community. Is it easy for families to learn about the resources and services you provide? Is it clear how families can contact you to access those resources? Consider ways to increase your visibility in the community to make it easier for parents and caregivers to find and access your resources.
- Remember how hard it can be for parents and families to reach out for help. Greet everyone who calls or enters your doors with a friendly, reassuring response, keeping in mind that it may have been very difficult for them to reach out to your organization. Congratulate people who are reaching out for help on taking an important step toward a better life for them and their children.
In the broader community:
- Challenge social messages that suggest it’s weak or embarrassing to reach out for help. If someone you know is struggling, let them know how much courage it’s taken for them to reach out for help. Offer to help them connect with helpful resources in the community to address their situation.
- Advocate to remove barriers to local parents, caregivers, and families that make it more difficult for them to access services and resources they need. We have a wealth of resources for supporting relationships and families in Guilford County, but many people face barriers to accessing those services. Let’s all continue to work together to make it easier for everyone in our community to access the helpful services and resources they need.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It makes good sense to think that we need all adults in a community to work together to foster a positive environment in which children can thrive. But, in reality, many parents and caregivers today feel very alone in raising children. Isolation can lead families to feel stressed, disconnected, and pressured.
It’s no surprise, then, that isolation has been identified as a key risk factor for child abuse. Of course, all families that are isolated are not abusive. However, a supportive social network surrounding a family offers a protective buffer against an abusive home environment. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified “caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors” as a potential protective factor against child abuse. Therefore, positive relationships with caring adults outside of the family can not only provide support to parents, but also help foster a nurturing and safe environment in which children can thrive.
There are many reasons why so many families today feel alone, including how busy everyone is, greater geographic distance between extended family members, and reliance on technology, rather than face-to-face interactions, for many social interactions. Families today have so many demands on their time, and friendships and other social relationships are often left by the wayside so that parents and caregivers can attend to more immediate needs of their children and jobs.
Children can experience many benefits by forming positive relationships with caring adults outside the family, such as teachers, coaches, leaders in religious communities, neighbors, and family friends. These types of relationships help children have other trusted adults for seeking guidance when they face challenges in life, as well as adults who can offer encouragement and mentoring for different areas of life.
Of course, as parents and caregivers, we need to be careful about the people we bring into our children’s lives. And, it’s important to teach children to speak up if anyone does anything that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. We need to carefully get to know other adults in our children’s lives, especially if there are any times when our children will be left in their care.
To help children get the most out of their relationships with other caring adults, parents and caregivers, child-serving organizations, and community members can take the following steps:
In the family:
- Get to know the adults in your children’s lives! Parent involvement in school settings can vary widely based on the age of the child, but parents and caregivers can reach out to their children’ teachers and other school personnel to learn how they can best get involved and support teachers in their work.
- Seek out trusted adults who you think could have a positive influence on your child. If you think your child could benefit from a mentor outside of your family, considering asking one of these people to serve in that capacity, and/or seek out a formal mentoring program in your community.
- Be intentional about building a “village” around your family. Foster positive social connections. If you feel isolated or alone, consider positive sources of support in the community that are aligned with your values and beliefs, especially as they relate to parenting.
In organizations that serve children:
- Consider ways to facilitate connections among family members with children involved in your programs. Often, parents just drop in and out of organizations to drop off and pick up their children, leading them to miss opportunities to connect with other parents. Consider one-time or regular events to bring whole families together, such as educational programs for parents or a family picnic.
- Be on the lookout for families who seem especially isolated or disconnected from other families. Reach out to these families to see if you can help them get plugged into other possible sources of social support.
In the broader community:
- Any adult who interacts with children can consider ways to build more positive encouragement and mentoring into those interactions. For example, youth sports coaches could add mentoring about important life lessons to their skill development plans in practices. Any adults who have opportunities to connect with children can take time to really listen to children and offer them positive encouragement and support.
- All members of our community can look for opportunities to support organizations and resources that support children. This could be financial support, fundraising efforts, or volunteer activities.
The physical, emotional, and social well-being of the next generation will have a major impact on the future of our community. Therefore, all adults in our community can consider ways to offer care and support to children and their families. Let’s all work together to help children in Guilford County see a community full of kind, caring people!