Creating a Parent Network

Parenting groups can offer support for schools, as well as moms and dads

Stressed? A parent network will put you in touch with folks who have the same concerns and worries.
Stressed? A parent network will put you in touch with folks who have the same concerns and worries as you.. Photodisc

When Jennifer Henry*, a mom to three, moved from the midwest to the northeast five years ago, she felt a little lost. The young family had moved across the country for her husband's new job, leaving behind a whole support system of friends and family as well as a parent network filled with like-minded moms and dads that the Henrys counted on for babysitting, advice, support and a lot more. While their new home was in a good neighborhood, in a wonderful school district, with lots of parks and stores and other forms of recreation, when the family arrived one cold winter, they knew no one.

"It was very lonely," she said. "We moved in the middle of the school year which was tough because I felt like everyone had already made their friends." Henry said while her older child, a first grader, was able to make friends really quickly and her younger two children had each other as playmates, she was lacking companionship. "My husband was working long hours, trying to acclimate to his new job. My son Bryan was making friends in school and the 2-year-old and the 4-year-old played with one another. But I didn't have anyone for me."

Eventually, Henry decided to take action.

"I figured I couldn't be the only person in the neighborhood who needed a friend, plus I had a lot of time on my hands," she said. So one morning while dropping her 4-year-old daughter off at preschool, she cornered the teacher for a minute and asked if the school needed any extra help. As it turns out, the school was looking for a way to raise money for a new playground but was having trouble mobilizing parents.

Within a few days, class lists in hand, Henry had a whole network of parents at her fingertips -- writers, fundraisers, builders and more who couldn't be more happy to help. Within a few months, the playground was built, the school had a parent organization they could count on in the future and Henry once again had a support system in place."

"I didn't realize how much I had come to count on other parents for just about everything," Henry said. "When were were living in Minnesota I had a whole bunch of friends and acquaintances who depended on one another for a whole host of things. We helped the school, we helped each other, it was really wonderful. Once I became part of another parent network in New Jersey, I realized how much I needed and loved it."

A parent network can be an invaluable tool for any mom or dad or caregiver. As a group a parent network can offer support to a school, the community as well as each other. On a local level, a parent network can set up a babysitting pool, form a playgroup, organize block parties and barbecues and even act as a lobbying group of sorts to bring about change. On a personal level, parenting networks can act as a support group or sounding boards for any parenting issues or concerns you might have. Don't have one in your area? Here's how to start one.

Go back to school. When trying to start a parenting network, a good place to start is the preschool that your child attends.

You chose that preschool for a reason, and it is likely that you'll find like-minded parents there. If no group exists, approach one of the teachers or the director about what you are trying to do. What will the purpose of the group be? Will you be offering support to the school? What type? Are you just looking to get a group of parents together for a variety of purposes? Have a plan in mind so you can present it to the director. With a little luck she'll forward on names and contact information, or you can ask to hang signs listing a meeting date and time.

No school? No problem. Find a common interest. While a parent group can revolve around a school, it certainly doesn't need to. Think about what type of parents you'd like to get to know better. Maybe you'd like to socialize with parents of preschoolers or single parents. Whatever your interest, come up with a plan of what you hope to accomplish. Pick a meeting date and time and hang flyers in places where parents congregate -- the library, the local pool, the playground, etc.

Consider an online group. Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, many parent networks exist solely online. Whether it is a group of people from the same town or area or parents coming together for a common interest, online groups do a fine job of letting parents talk to one another while exchanging ideas and advice.

"When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I started talking to a group of moms on a popular parenting message board," said mom Raechel North. "None of us live near one another. Still, five years later we are still helping each other. We've moved on from the message board on to a Facebook group and we now talk about getting ready for preschool and easy dinner recipes instead of breastfeeding a newborn, but the support is still there." The group is planning an in-person meet-up soon.

If you can't form one, join one. If you aren't comfortable starting your own parent network, seek one out. Try asking at your child's preschool, daycare center, local library or even your pediatrician's office to see if there are any in your area. You can also look online. A quick google search of the words "parent network" yielded over a million results. If you want to join a national organization, add some qualifying words like "preschool parenting network" or "christian parenting network." You can also narrow it down by your location. If the group you are looking into charges dues, find out if it is possible to do a trial run to make sure it is a good fit for you.

*Names have been changed.

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