Whether we know it or not, we all rely on support systems to get through the trials and tribulations of life. But how do we define a support system, and how do we go about creating one? According to the Family & Consumer Science Center at Michigan State University's Extension School, we each have three different types of support in our lives:
An Emotional Support System comprises the people in our lives who help us sort through our problems, vent, and really listen to us. These are the people who help you feel good about yourself and provide "tough love" when you need it—pointing out ways you could change to be happier and patting you on the back when you've accomplished something.
An Instrumental Support System comprises the friends, family members, neighbors, community members, and caregivers who provide concrete help in our day-to-day lives: babysitting, dog walking, training, watching our house, picking up our mail, etc.
An Informational Support System comprises the network of resources you turn to for advice, education, and answers—organizations, agencies, and media that help you make more informed decisions about parenting, caretaking, employment, medical help, and more.
By creating and relying on these three types of support, we allow ourselves to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives and can reach our personal and family goals on a daily basis. This new year, think about the roles that each of these support systems plays in your own life and how you can help fill the gaps to create a better, more balanced life for yourself and your loved ones—and maybe even stick to those resolutions!
Here are some easy ways to get started:
- Plan a master calendar—think through your needs for the entire year ahead.
What is it that you, your partner, or your kids need and want to do this year? How are you going to get it all done without going crazy? Where does it overlap? By creating a master calendar and looking at the big picture, it's easier to see clusters and spot potential problem areas where you may need helping hands. Once you have identified the types of help you need, it's easier to use the three types of support systems to put solutions in place.
- Anticipate emergencies—have a Plan B and a Plan C.
Next week, I'm going to be going into more detail about how to find and manage emergency care solutions. One easy way to get started is to do some house cleaning on your emergency contact list: is everyone on your list still available in an emergency? Is their contact information current? If there are names of people on there who you haven't reached out to in a while, give them a call and catch up, and find out how you can be there for each other in 2008 (or find a replacement).
- Begin lining up providers before you need them.
Once you've assessed your master calendar and your emergency contacts, fill holes by taking inventory of your caregivers: Is there a babysitter, relative, or neighbor you could call in a pinch? If not, use a service like Care.com to interview and select a few people you can rely on in an emergency for child care, pet care, elder care, and other needs.
- Reach out to friends, family members, and neighbors for respite help.
We all drag our feet when it comes to asking family and friends for favors. But when it comes down to it, who do we trust more with our loved ones, valuables, and personal lives? Your friends and family members and community are the fabric of your daily life, and it's OK to reach out to them and ask them to help you out—on a regular basis, as an emergency contact, or as an occasional respite care provider when you're on the brink of sanity and just need a little breather. See my previous blog post on family members as caregivers for more advice.
- Create coops, ride shares, and care swaps.
As a supplement to your network of caregivers, create swaps and joint events with other parents from school, dog owners from the park, or families and organizations in your neighborhood. This is a fabulously budget-friendly way to combine your needs with those of your fellow community members and grow all of your three support networks—not to mention, a great way to make new friends!
Have some tips to share on creating, growing, or maintaining a support system? Share them with the entire Care.com community by posting a comment!