Sunday, February 21, 2010

“Together Parenting”

The goal of “Together Parenting” is to develop personal relationships that cross social boundaries. Parents must have a network of of people who can and will come to help when needed. The key is too create a network in which the parent feels comfortable enough to ask for help when needed.

While each group is informal and there are no real rules for how this might work. It is important to remember that this is about more than a weekly barbeque, the meetings at each others houses are about more than just socialising. They are intended to assist in the breaking down of social boundaries. When you have helped clean your friend’s toilet it is not so hard to call them at six o’clock in the evening to ask for help.

An element of formality is required in order to meet this goal. This is very much like the formality of rounds at the pub. The drinkers don’t buy their own drinks, they take turns buying them for each other. There are rules to the system, but they rarely need repeating.

Creating a group is not quite as simple as grabbing four other willing mothers (though it might be for you). The goal is a long term commitment to each other, so it is important that you all suit each other. Things to consider include age, parenting styles, social attitudes, educational backgrounds, gender, life history, other commitments. In short, it is important that you believe this is the type of parent you could form a long term friendship with.

The other consideration is time. A stay-at-home mother may have the time to commit four or five days a fortnight to togetherness, a mother working part-time, might find herself with less. Your group needs to discuss how to arrange this, considering also the time needs of the mothers. A stay-at-home mother may need togetherness for four to five days a week, while a mother working part-time may feel socialised from her job.

Raising the comfort levels
The term team building summons up memories of dressing as an American Indian and running around Toowoomba completing a scavenger hunt with a bunch of accountants, but it is a lot like what needs to happen. The type of help that mothers, especially new ones, often need is the type of help that we feel most uncomfortable asking for. In order to cross these social boundaries the group members need to feel comfortable with each other, the team needs to be built. Having morning tea together once a week is just not going to cut it as far as bonding this type of group together is concerned. The group really needs to feel comfortable in each other’s houses and each other’s lives. Remember we are looking for our isolated mothers to have a network of three or four friends who will have a good idea when help is needed and will not hesitate to give it.

There are many ways a group could build their team, this is my suggestion. Do your housework together. Set up a schedule, go to each house every fortnight and clean together. I am talking about doing the dishes, cleaning the floors, scrubbing the bathroom, changing bed sheets, doing laundry, dusting, ironing and definitely cleaning the toilet. In short, getting their hands very dirty. Once you have cleaned someone else’s toilet, asking them for help just doesn’t seem quite so hard.

But not just housework
The group needs to develop friendship with each other, over and above the feeling of being a team. Cleaning together represents a way to build the team and break down social boundaries. However the group needs to be friends as well. Socialising should be the easiest part of the group. Take the time to sit and chat, have barbeques in the park, go for a walk around the town, go shopping, or even watch a movie.

Your children are an incredibly important part of your lives, however they will benefit from seeing adults behave, as much as adults will benefit from not always engaging in child-focused activities.

Extend your activities and your friends
While my suggestion of cleaning together is what I consider to be the foundational activity of the group, there are lots of other more social activities that can be engaged in.

  • Set aside a day to cook bulk meals together.
  • Use cooking days (and the like) to invite a new person along. This will give you a chance to see how well they fit in with the group, without having to fully commit.
  • Get the entire families together for a game of cricket at the local park.
  • Get the husbands together to teach the kids how to create a vegetable garden (yes, I am being increasingly stereotypical).
  • Plan a day without any children (save some pennies and head to a day spa together!)

What about the children?
The children have not been mentioned so far in this blog. It is undeniable that for every group of parents at least as many children are present. It is important in these settings that, mostly, children are not the centre of attention. These are not play groups that see a bunch of mothers sitting in a circle watching their children play together. These groups are about the coming together of mothers. The children are there, and the mothers will work together to look after them, sometimes this might consume all of a mother’s time, other times it may require little more than checking up on them occasionally. It takes a village to raise a child, but this is something for another blog post.

But I am not a stay-at-home mother…
The beauty of this concept is that it is flexible. It can be adapted and applied to all types of parents, mothers, father, full-time workers, part-time workers and parents working at home. It is also independent of parent style. Whether you are an avid attachment parent-er, or believe the Wiggles DVDs are the best parenting tool since the pram, this concept will work, especially if you take the time to find parents who are well-suited to you. I have referred to the stay-at-home mother because I believe her to be the most common and the most isolated.


  1. This is such a great concept Cassie and hopefully more and more mums will start to organise things like this. I agree that some degree of formality is required, its not just a social get together but a commitment to each other. It could make a huge difference in so many parents' lives...

  2. Continuum Concept! You have read it, right? or did you come to this point by a different road? x

  3. Yes I am very much inspired by the book "The Continuum Concept". I have been trying to find a solution to the problem of implementing some of the great stuff into our western world. I am particularly interested in doing it in such a way that it does not exclude non-AP parents.