Vivian Best on finding your tribe as a new parent
If you live in Honolulu and are the parent of a toddler, chances are you've already met and mingled with Vivian Best. She is a self-identified extrovert, a fixture at family-friendly public events, and a quintessential connector - one of those people who thrives on bringing friends and acquaintances with common passions together. By day, Vivian works as a Feldenkrais (bodily movement) therapist and educator, but that's only one of many hats she wears. Among her numerous community-building initiatives, Vivian co-founded Piko Pals, a new-parent support program, and Sparked in Honolulu, which brings women together via a conversational board game. Most recently, she's served as a Circle Leader for WomanSpeak, a female-centric public speaking training program.
New motherhood can be exhausting and isolating, but it also presents the opportunity to build new connections, especially if you don't already have a bunch of mom-friends or family members around. Here, Vivian opens up about going from being a clueless and overwhelmed new parent, to a member and leader of a vibrant community of moms.
Choosing to become a parent doesn't mean loving every aspect of it
I felt an extreme sense of isolation and anxiety at just about six weeks post-partum. My daughter, Hazel, was very colicky and very sensitive which made it very difficult to hand her off to anyone else, and so I was glued to her non-stop. And it was hard to envision an exit - I felt like, Oh my god, this is all my life is going to be like from now on. I can't leave the house, I can't make this child stop crying. And normally, as an adult, I'm very selective and conscious about curating positive environments and experiences for myself. So the idea that I would just have to sit there for hours, suffering...I felt like a total slave to this baby, and I didn't really know what to do with all the aspirations and the goals and excitement that I felt like my life used to hold. And it was absolutely a decision that I had made! My daughter had been planned, I was delighted to have a child with a man I adored...but even with everything lining up as it was supposed to, I was like, Why am I still so miserable? But having lacked a village and the exposure to parenting - the first time I changed a diaper was for my own baby! - I just realized I was wildly unprepared.
...but even with everything lining up as it was supposed to, I was like, Why am I still so miserable?
It takes a parent to understand one
It dawned on me that in my pre-child life, I had pushed away all the parents - like, anyone that had kids, I was like, " Oh, I can't relate to them anymore," so I just sort of isolated myself from them, which wasn't hard because they stopped showing up - they were at home with their kids! I had been a swing dancer, that had been a large part of my identity, and I had never made an effort to reach out to people from that social circle after they'd disappeared after having children. And suddenly the tables had turned - I felt like I couldn't really blame anyone from my non-parent community for sort of ignoring my existence because I'd been guilty of doing exactly the same thing. It was totally karmic! And I didn't really know what to do at that point. But fortunately, there were a few friends I'd made in the dance community, who were now moms, who did reach out. And it was great that they were there for some of the early questions.
Be proactive, be sociable, be persistent...but don't be too picky!
I managed the anxiety of early motherhood by collecting information - joining every possible relevant Facebook group, looking for any activity I could be a part of where there'd be parents of kids Hazel's age. But when it came down to it, I still felt that I hadn't found my people, my tribe. I didn't find anyone who had the set of values that I found important around the issues of motherhood. For example, I went to this mom-baby yoga class, and I looked around the room, and noticed that we were the only ones who had cloth-diapered - and I immediately said to myself, "Well I'm not going to find my mom-friends here!" And so I was looking for values-matches in that way, and consistently hitting roadblocks, because I was so picky! But I kept trying to meet as many people as I could so I could maybe find some resonance.
Social media can be your best ally and worst enemy
Networks like Facebook can be incredibly useful in helping you find and grow community as a new parent. But the flip side of social media is that often the true, whole story of parenthood doesn't get told. When we live out loud on little screens and through photographs and little snippets of stories, it's very easy to try and put forth a face that we don't risk feeling ashamed of. I do strive to be transparent in a way that allows myself to show emotions in both directions - you can't experience the highest highs without experiencing the lowest lows, right? I think it's important to speak out and say things that aren't being said. There is so much that I wish I'd heard about, that I wish people talked about regarding parenting so that I wouldn't have felt so bizarre in experiencing it myself.
When we live out loud on little screens and through photographs and little snippets of stories, it's very easy to try and put forth a face that we don't risk feeling ashamed of.
It took a lot of time to find that community that felt right to me, but the payoff was invaluable. It really helped to get together with other moms over time because it created a space where we could share all the different ways that our husbands drove us crazy, that our children made us laugh and drove us nuts...having the time and space to establish deeper relationships allowed for a level of vulnerability that's often absent from our lives these days.
If it doesn't exist, create it yourself!
Every woman who has had a child probably dreams of the village - the village that allows for a child to be passed around, to be cared for by someone else for stretches of time, allowing for the mother to actually rest and restore herself post-partum. I've heard so many women describe variations on this fantasy, of communes that would allow for the shared responsibility of raising children - and of course, this exists and has existed throughout human history, but not so much in contemporary, nuclear-family life.
I identified some new-parent support groups, but none that I felt really addressed the emotional needs of new parents in a way that was satisfying to me. And so a couple years into parenthood, I created Piko Pals, which brings together brand-new moms (and some dads) with children of nearly the same age and gives them a guided support space from those very first days of becoming parents, when they need it the most.
Community-building is a lifelong skill
When my daughter turned two and started preschool, it was a whole new phase - like, I rediscovered this freedom, but I didn't have a kid with me anymore to bring to parenting groups! I started working more, but realized there was something missing.
Around that time, one of my mom friends recommended a book called Friendships Don't Just Happen! where the author talks about how friendships deepen through increasing levels of vulnerability and contact. And it was also then that I discovered this women's conversational game, Sparked, through an ad that had popped up on my Facebook feed. I began to organize Sparked game-dates with groups of women, and in the beginning they happened to be other moms, since that's who I'd been spending time with...but eventually it evolved to include non-moms too, just women at all stages of life. And I just loved being a part of these conversations that spoke to some of the deeper aspirations that women have, and to aspects of identity beyond motherhood.
And I just loved being a part of these conversations that spoke to some of the deeper aspirations that women have, and to aspects of identity beyond motherhood.
Now that my daughter is a little older, I've been able to branch out from a new starting-point...I'm still sleep-deprived, and it's still hard to justify going out and dancing late at night, but I can hold the space to have meaningful conversations with other women a couple times a month. And that's been so helpful for me in figuring out the role I want to be living at this point.