Two Shining Examples of Social Engagement that Helps Parents

Self-Reg for parents, photo of man and son sitting on the grass together

In a past blog I suggested that the most important single factor in good parenting was not sensitivity, not parenting skills, but support—feeling well supported in your role as parent. Parents who feel well supported tend to parent better. That’s very Self-Reg isn’t it? Social support is an aspect of social engagement, which is one of the key antidotes to the excess stress than can interfere with good parenting (or good just about anything else, for that matter).

This time I’d like to send a shout out to two folks who have done an amazing job of creating very successful support networks for parents, one for moms and one for dads. They saw a need, and did something about it, very successfully.

In 2008, Claire Kerr-Zlobin was new mom in Richmond Hill, struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, and desperately needing to find a social network. She joined a structured support group at a local parent-child resource centre. She enjoyed it, but when the 8-week program was over, Claire found herself alone again. Unable to find the ongoing support network she was looking for, Claire invented it.

Life with a Baby, as her network is now called, started out as a sort of meet-up for new moms, who would get together for stroller walks and coffee and play dates. But the group tapped into such an unmet need that it went viral. Long story short, Life with a Baby now has an eye-popping 72 chapters across the country! Most of the activities are simply fun social stuff: stroller walks, play dates, coffee chats, even Bollywood dance lessons. They have educational events too like Infant CPR, First Aid, and Mom/Baby Yoga. But the biggest impact of Life with a Baby is reduced isolation, mutual support and friendship, or, looking at it through a Self-Reg lens, high quality social engagement for new moms. I can’t say enough about how much I admire Claire and the impact she and her friends have made. It’s definitely Self-Reg in action.

I could say much the same about Dad Club London (DCL). This group was launched in April 2013 by Jeremy McCall, a social services professional who wanted to connect with other guys with kids. When his wife was pregnant with their first child Jeremy assessed their social circles and realized that he had tons of friends but only one with kids. So he called up his buddy and said, “Why don’t we try to create a new social network for dads?”

The first meeting took place over chicken wings, beers and hockey on the big screen at a local tavern. Then they started a dad and kid meet-up. They’d go to parks to play games, or go skating or sledding in the winter. Sometimes they rented an indoor play gym together. DCL even holds these events called “Hair School for Dads,” where a local hairdresser comes in and shows guys how to do look after their daughters’ hair. Gotta love it! At times, DCL also functions a bit like a traditional service club. They have raised tons of money for various causes. They’ve also engaged in advocacy, going to bat to get blood donor practices changed when one of their members was denied the opportunity to donate blood simply because he was gay. Great stuff! But again, the big pay off for the guys in DCL is being together, having fun and feeling supported in the role as fathers.

I have no doubt that the dads in DCL and the moms in Life With a Baby are better parents as a result of the reduced stress that results from the support and social engagement they find in these groups. Traditionally, at the grass roots level, all societies and communities have understood the importance of supporting parents, particularly new parents. And they have devised informal ways to provide that support. But these days, while informal support for parents still exist in pockets, it’s much harder to find than in past generations. And parent self-regulation often suffers as a result.

That’s why I wish we could bottle Life With A Baby and Dad Club London and put them in every community. Both groups are great reminders of the vital importance of social support in optimal Self-Reg for parents and families.

John has had three distinct careers that have blended together at times: roots musician, stay-at-home father and freelance writer. A former long-time columnist and feature writer for Today’s Parent, John now specializes in knowledge translation, blogging and writing for non-profit organizations like The MEHRIT Centre, The Psychology Foundation of Canada and Dad Central Ontario.