This post is also available in: Svenska
A few weeks ago, I asked a counselor at the neighboring children’s hospital what she thought I should write about. “Write about the need for parents on parental leave to meet other parents,” she said. There are so many parents who do not meet other adults and are left feeling isolated. So, here is a post about meeting others on parental leave and what you can do while on parental leave.
I have been writing about what babies need. They need food, love and a little help with hygiene. In order to give a baby, child, or anyone love, the parent must have his or her own basic needs met and feel content in their own lives.
A basic need for all of us is friends. And particularly, friends of the same age. We, as adults, need adult friends and children from at least one year of age, need other children friends. An infant does not need friends of the same age. However they will need them later, so it may be wise to get to know nice parents of infants of the same age, as the children will eventually become peers and hopefully start liking each other.
How do you find friends on parental leave?
We all have children at different times in our lives. If you have children at about the same time as many of your former friends, you have a big advantage as you will be on parental leave at the same time. Take the initiative to meet your friends who are expecting children during your pregnancy period and plan to continue meeting when you go on parental leave.
Continue being friends with your old friends even when you have children. Parental leave can be a time where you have the opportunity to spend time together often and get to know each other in depth. My friend Mija is closely associated with my pregnancy and parental leave with Isak. Thank you Mija! And my two friends, both named Anna, were my great joys during the parental leave with Edvin. I miss all our fika (an important part of Swedish culture is to make time for coffee with friends or colleagues), but know that it will be nice when we meet again next time!
If you are first, or last, in your circle of friends to have children, there may be no one who is on parental leave at the same time as you. No old friends, at least. But on the bright side, there are lots of potential new friends to be made. It’s just a matter of finding the ones you like.
I have never been a person who enjoys hanging out with people who happen to be in the same situation as me. We should click in terms of personality as well. So I’ve had to look around a bit. Other friends of mine (I’m a little jealous) thrive in these situations. They have become friends with all the parents at both maternal medical center and children’s medical center.
So go to the parental groups at the maternal medical center and children’s medical center. Exchange phone numbers and become Facebook friends with the ones you like. Take antenatal courses together eg. childbirth and parenting preparation classes, breathing courses, maternity water gym etc. When you are on parental leave, visit open preschools. Go to baby sing and dance sessions at the local church. Several study groups in Stockholm have started to have courses for those on parental leave (with babies). And many gym chains provide maternity gym classes.
Check if your local library arranges something for parents on parental leave and their children. Baby singing and nursery rhymes are common. When I was on parental leave with Edvin, Stockholm City Library had book circles for parents and their children. It was super nice, even if I could not read as much as I wanted. My friend Bodil, librarian at Linnaeus City Library in Gothenburg, has arranged fantastic meetings called “baby + coffee” with invited lecturers. I hope she continues with this.
Feel free to share your tips in the comments below!
What about the internet forums?
I am divided about internet forums. On the one hand, you can find good friends over the internet and if you meet them in real life then everything is fine. On the other hand, you don’t know exactly who the person on the other end is. Is this person, behind the computer, the right person to be taking advice from while you’re vulnerable on parental leave? During that time, you could have spent inviting a friend home and eating cinnamon buns instead.
A good place to start can be Rulla Vagn (Sweden). It is an internet community where you can start parent groups and find others.
Be sensitive to each other’s children and views
Sometimes the first child can separates friends. Often when I hear about it, it’s about friends having different ideas about how to raise children and ending up in conflict about it. Here’s my advice, be sensitive and humble to one another. Remember that you are each in the midst of a life changing event. Not only are you entering a new milestone in life by becoming a parent but also with a lack of sleep, breast engorgement and formula or milk all over the kitchen, you are not always your best self.
Children are also different. If you have a child who is good at eating, it is easy to think you know the right way to feed a child. You should be proud of yourself and the child’s other parent, but keep quiet in front of other parents. If you have a child who does not like to eat, or is not so good at sucking, it is awful to hear self-righteous friends talk about how amazing it will be just to do as they do. It goes the same with sleep, and screaming.
On the other hand, offering one’s own insecurities, or one’s own failures, usually brings friends closer together. And if your friend asks you for advice, feel free to say what worked for you, but always add that it works for you and your baby, but you do not know if it works for other families.