This Study Of New Mothers Reveals The Importance of Community
When I was just out of college, two friends had babies around the same time. As new parents, they were busy and exhausted almost constantly, but I was able to catch up with them from time to time.
One of the new mothers lived close by and had friends and family to help with baby sitting, errands, and other trials of parenthood. She also joined an exercise group for new moms. A few times each week, they’d meet up in the park with their strollers to get some much-needed exercise and adult socializing in.
When I’d see her, she’d admit being a new mom was incredibly difficult, but she’d also never been happier or as excited about the life ahead of her.
The other new mom lived far away, out in the woods with her husband and new daughter. They had few neighbors and little free time to get out. I didn’t see them often but, when I would, the mother (and father, to be fair) was far less positive. She had a loving husband and, from what I could tell, was happy to be a mother. But she carried more stress about her motherly duties and wasn’t as optimistic when we’d talk about the future.
It turns out, there may be one key difference between these two moms that affected not only their happiness and outlook on life, but the way their children will grow up and experience the world.
The Tale Of Two Mothers And The Importance Of Community Support
For much of the 20th century, scholars, scientists, and researchers studied the effects of parents relationships with their children. And the connection is pretty simple: If you spend time with your kids, mentor them, and support their interests, they’ll probably turn out to be happy, well-adjusted adults.
In 1983—just a year before I was born—5 researchers from The University of Washington set out to take things a step further: How does support from a community affect the way a parent relates to their own children and their ability to raise them?
They studied new mothers with varying degrees of stress and support from the communities around them. And they found a pretty clear answer: Mothers without strong support from a community had higher levels of stress, and mothers with higher levels of stress were more worn down and pessimistic about parenting.
They also found the opposite true: mothers with strong support from their communities had lower levels of stress and were optimistic about parenting.
If this were a math equation, it would perfectly demonstrate the transitive property:
In other words, if you want your children to turn into healthy, well-adjusted adults, you need to take an optimistic approach to raising them. And if you want the best shot at having an optimistic approach to parenting, you need to build a network of support to help you through the difficulties of being a parent.
The saying is true: It really does take a village to raise a child.
Having the support of a community unlocks numerous skills and resources to make your life easier as you navigate the hurdles of parenthood. That, in turn, relieves some of your stress and allows you to look at your duty with more optimism and a sense of connectedness with others that gives your effort even more purpose.
Could this have been the difference between my two friends—the one with strong community support and the one without? It seems likely.
I’m guessing only a small percentage of people who read this article are new mothers (about 1% by my estimate). If this only applied to them, the lesson would have a pretty narrow audience.
But community—and how vital it is to success—applies far beyond just new mothers.
Why You Need Support To Accomplish Your Goals
As you read this, I imagine there’s something else going on in your head. A project, a relationship, a dream of some sort—something big you think about regularly. It may be a bit overwhelming, but you’re committed, and you’re going to see it through.
Maybe you’re starting a business or writing a book. Maybe you’re planning a big adventure, building a career, or developing a relationship. Whatever it is, it might feel like your baby.
I recently completed a marathon on every continent. It took nearly four years. While I could have done it on my own, the adventure was more fun and meaningful because I had a community of people (that’s you!) to share it with and help with pieces along the way.
I would never equate running marathons to the trials of motherhood, but the lesson above applies just the same:
If you want your dream to flourish and reach its maximum potential, then you need to pursue it with optimism and give it the nurturing it needs to grow while keeping unhelpful stress at bay. And to do that, you need the support of a community to help you take it there.
If A = B and B = C, then A = C.
Your Homework Today (And An Announcement)
Don’t let this important lesson fly past you during your busy day today. Take a moment to leave a comment and let us all know what you’re working on, and what community you can tap into help make it a success. Your answer will help others find their own (that’s how a community works).
Then, share this article with a few other folks you think would benefit from building community.
We’ll uncover some more important factors about building a strong community soon because, in the coming weeks, I’ll be announcing the launch of a community forum right here at Riskology.co—a think tank—aimed at helping you take your own important goals for work, adventure, and life to their greatest potential.
More details on that soon. I’ll be opening the doors first to our most active members on the Smart Riskologist Newsletter. Get on the list if bringing your big plans to life sounds like fun and you want to help us pioneer this new frontier.