In February 2018 I asked Hamilton-area parents of children aged 0-12yrs these questions:
- How would you describe the kind of social and emotional support you have for being a parent / caregiver? What’s going well? What’s missing?
- If there were 3 things you could have that would make being a mother or father easier what would they be? Why are these important?
5 major themes of need: 18 people responded, all women. 17 respondents fit the description of living in/around Hamilton and having children age 0-12yrs. (I have only reported the answers from these 17 respondents). The most prevalent needs mentioned were the need for practical help and deeper interpersonal connection. The other needs mentioned by many were more time to self, better indoor options for parents and small children, and partner-related wishes including more time together.
Most respondents wanted more practical help. Specifically many wished for more people they could ask for help irregularly or at the last minute (e.g. to watch the kids, to take kids to activities), as opposed to regular babysitting/child care time.
Many wanted more help with household tasks like cleaning and cooking. It seemed that this was due to different situations, such as partners being a) not present (i.e. at work a lot) b) not helpful c) not existing.
One respondent wished for affordable grocery delivery. One wished for better access to helpers skilled with newborns. One asked for better access to other adult childcare (vs teenagers).
Some respondents referred to a difficulty asking for help and a guilt about asking for help.
Deeper Connections / Emotional Support
Equally referred to was a need for greater connectedness with others, specifically other mothers. Respondents refer to lacking deeper connections where they can talk openly, and feel bonded to other women who are there for each other. A range of respondents mention wanting connections with those with similar interests, someone to talk to with unbiased responses, support for a slower lifestyle, social/emotional support for SAHM.
In a similar vein a respondent wished for a “potluck and play” monthly. Another wanted “more spontaneous interactions”, and more “low prep hangouts”. One suggested creating a searchable database (or app) of parenting advice based on behaviours.
Partner and wider family-related concerns
Many people said they had very helpful partners but it was the wider family that was lacking (either by distance or by lack of interest/connection). Others were very grateful for wider family help and said it made a world of difference.
Some wanted more balance of responsibility in the home, that is wanting partners to share the load rather than just “help”, for example participating in the organising and planning of social/emotional/practical/activity levels of home and family life. One woman named she’d like her husband to have an equal interest in improving their parenting.
Several respondents wanted more couple time and felt they was letting the relationship go in order to focus on the kids. Several single moms wanted a decent partner.
Several respondents wished for more or better indoor places that they could go in bad weather. One respondent named a gap in programming for children between 12 and 24 months.
Several moms of younger children wanted more options for things to do that were not schedule-dependent (i.e. to allow for unpredictable and changing nap schedules). One respondent mentioned that whilst she valued programming, she didn’t make deeper connections there and missed this.
Time to self
Last but not least many respondents want more time to themselves.
Other needs mentioned:
- better quality education in public schools
- better quality and more spaces for after-school care
- more options for well-paying, part-time, flexible work
The outliers: One respondent’s main point was that they didn’t think anything much would make it better or different. One respondant named that she was much older and had finished with the active parenting years and didn’t live near Hamilton.
It was notable that so many respondents named the “small asks” kind of help. The kind of help provided by core friends you know you can rely on. The kind of friendship whereby the existence of the relationship, with offer of help close by, reduces ones stress and sense of doing this alone.
Another theme of note was how many respondents wished for deeper relationships outside the nuclear family. And those who had satisfying family and social connections put their well-being as a parent down to this. With the prevalence of loneliness in our society this is not surprising, just alarming.
As strong social relationships seem to be eroding more and more with the reliance on social media and the reality of busy disparate lives, I can only see this problem getting worse. So to me the need for practical support and the need for deeper connections and relationships seem to go hand in hand.
I wonder as I read the surveys regarding the need for practical support if this a question of:
- having the willingness to ask for help from friends?
- actually having friends one can ask for it from?
- the financial ability, or the willingness to prioritise paying for paid help?
Limitations of survey: The number of respondents was small (18) and very likely a narrow demographic. I didn’t ask for a “distress measure” of the pain created by these needs. That is something I could have included.
If I did this survey again I would want to include questions around race identity and enquire how being a person of colour alters a young parents’ experience and needs in Hamilton.
Out of these responses, I have been reflecting what can I as a Psychotherapist provide to meet a need, either alone or in conjunction with other facilitators. If you have thoughts and requests to share, please get in touch.