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Parenting is a team sport

by Vanessa Harnischmacher, Practice Manager Parent Line NSW

I have been working as a Parent Line counsellor for over 10 years now. It is work that I find deeply rewarding for many reasons. But one aspect of my work that I find particularly satisfying is having the privilege of being able to support parents and carers who perhaps feel they have no one else in their life that they can turn to for help. They might be someone in an isolated rural community, perhaps a parent whose extended family lives overseas, it could be a mum who feels abandoned by a partner, or someone who feels deeply ashamed of their situation and feel they cannot reach out and tell anyone for fear of being judged. Whoever it is, these parents need the kindness and love of us all.

For more than 25 years Parent Line counsellors have been supporting families across NSW. Proudly managed by CatholicCare Sydney, Parent Line is a telephone counselling, information and referral service for parents or carers of children aged 0 to 18 who live in New South Wales.

From my experience at the other end of the phone, it often seems that a parent’s happiness is directly related to the level of support that they feel they have in their life. Support from someone who understands them accepts them and is willing to lend a helping hand with the inevitable challenges of parenthood.

The truth is that parenting is meant to be a team sport. Families are at their best when they have the kind and understanding support of others on their side. Sadly, this kind of support is not readily available for many.

Parenting can be a very isolating experience. It can particularly impact women who often rely on communicating with others to think things through and problem solve. Many women I speak with are either juggling parenting with work or are the main carer for their children and feel pressure to present themselves as always coping and never struggling.

In some ways, the community we used to have has been replaced by the online world of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This world tends to create an illusion of connection. And while there may be many ‘friends’ there is often no one who can come to our aid if we need it. In this online world, any sharing that does occur often seems to be about creating and maintaining an image that things are not just ok, but they are wonderful and amazing. This online world is not always a safe place to share the things we are so worried about or deeply hurting from. In this rush to glamorise and gloss over our lives, we have lost the ability to share our suffering. It is hard to post online that you are really not enjoying parenting at the moment, because parenting on the internet tends to be presented as a series of photo opportunities, a highlight reel, where things are always at their very best.

After air, food and water, our most basic need is the warmth and love of human connection.

Our families do not thrive when we are isolated from the people we need in our lives – our extended family, our friends, our neighbours, and even the person we do not know who pauses for a moment to talk to us in a friendly and warm way. It is our collective responsibility to rebuild our human connections and in doing so enhance our society.

In our own small way, we can decide to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. We do this by taking the risk to reach out and connect and in doing so we can make a meaningful difference in the world. The beauty of making this effort is that not only does it help others, but it also inevitably and profoundly enhances our own well-being. Just as we crave connection, we also crave meaning and purpose in our lives. In helping others, we give our lives the gift of meaning.

But how does this look in the everyday world? It is the uncle who takes a teenager who is struggling to the footy on a Saturday with no other purpose than to have a good time together. It is the friend who drops in and insists on you letting her look after your baby for a few hours while you do whatever you want or need to do, and who afterwards intently listens to how you are going in your quest as a new parent. It is the other family in the park who invites your little one to join them in their game of catch, or chasings or whatever silly craziness 3-year-olds love to get up to. It is the neighbour who delivers an unexpected meal for us as an unspoken acknowledgement of our parental journey.

These small acts are the building blocks to better families and a better world. And I like to think that Parent Line has become part of the team for many parents by being at the other end of the phone when a parent reaches out for help.

About the author

Vanessa Harnischmacher CatholicCare SydneyVanessa Harnischmacherhas worked in the community sector for over 25 years, much of that across a range of CatholicCare programs including school counselling, children's contact services, the HOPE program, the ALIVE program and, most recently, more than 10 years in the Parent Line NSW program.

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