Food For Thought Friday: What is Support?

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What is support? That sounds like a silly question, but have you ever really given thought to what is supportive to you. Or how you give support? Support is a funny thing. We know when our friends need ours, and we know when we need it from our friends, but the trouble starts when we don't know how to give or get it.

I struggle with this frequently, having been the needer of support on more than one occasion, through death and loss, and through the gift of abundant life, I have needed support. I have never clearly asked for it (okay, maybe once), and certainly never defined how I wanted it. I have been the giver of support when other friends have experienced loss, or birth, or even have looked toward making significant changes in their lives, and have rarely asked them the question, "what does support look like to you?"

I recently read a tweet written by a breastfeeding advocate that said, " breastfeeding myth: many mothers give up too easily. Not true! Most moms give up due to lack of support..."(Nevermind that I have issues with the use of the term "give up" as it pertains to breastfeeding, but that's another blog for another day.) In any case, I started thinking of how I've been supportive to friends who have come to me for breastfeeding support. I, who never even tried to breastfeed my first two children for various (some very personal) reasons, and gave it an okay shot with the twinstroms. Inevitably, when I have been asked for support, my support is colored by my experience, which (for the record) is that while I am a firm believer that breastmilk is the most nutritious choice for newborns and infants, if you are concerned about bonding with your child, I assure you that it is still possible to bond and bottle feed, and additionally, your child can and will still turn out to be a remarkable young person if you choose to explore other methods of feeding. In fact, at age 4, the conversation about what and how my child ate when he was three months old never happens, which is in direct disproportion to the conversations that we had when he was three months old when every conversation (it seemed) was about what or how he was eating. So, when asked for support, I come from that place when it is not always what the person who asked for the support needs.

What it should look like is this:
  1. Friend indicates that they are having a difficult experience.
  2. Friend reaches out for support.
  3. I say, "how would you like me to be supportive right now? What would be helpful? Do you want me to listen, offer advice, share my opinion, explore alternative options, cheer you on through what you're already doing, give you tough love?
  4. Friend tells me what they are looking for from me.
  5. I do my best to act accordingly, ignoring my desire or instincts to do anything but what they've asked.
You see, support is not one size fits all, and it changes from moment to moment. Sometimes when you are asked for support, you may think it means advice, and your friend may just want someone to listen, and if you are not communicating in the same language, you can both end up feeling like something failed in the process. What you think that you would need in the situation, is not always what a person who asks for your support needs. Alternatively, when you ask a friend for support, if you are able to guide them in what kind of support you need, you give them the gift of insight to your true needs. Win win!

I honestly learned this from Welcome Baby Care. When I hired them to come in and help me with my newborn twins, I was looking for support in the form of cheerleaders (who would encourage me and remind me that I was going to make it through this chaotic early time), and frankly knowledgeable experts, who could tell me/show me different techniques to breastfeed successfully without making me feel like I had abused my other children by not breastfeeding them. The post partum-doulas at Welcome Baby Care are trained to communicate with you regarding how you respond to the offer of support, and what support looks like to you. They asked me, not just once, but often! What a novel idea! I would like to say that I have mastered the art of communicating with friends about what support looks like in any given situation, I haven't quite yet, but I see the value in it because I think all too often feelings get hurt when one party doesn't feel like they have gotten the support they need, and the other feels like their support hasn't been valued.

Have you ever found yourself hurt when someone didn't give you the support you were looking for? Thinking back, did you indicate your needs to them? Do you check in when you are asked for support to find out what your friend really needs from you?


  1. Great post. I saw that tweet and had to let it slide because f the "give up" comment myself. The women I know who don't succeed are trying everything they can think of to make it work and DO have support, it's just not working. I think the last thing i'd say is that they "gave up" for whatever reason.

    As for the support issue, you are right. It's tough to say what you need in the moment sometimes and although you are getting support, and you *know* the person it trying to be supportive because they are probably doing or saying something you'd do or say in the same situation, it's not exactly what you need.

    My Mom and I have this dance when it comes to breastfeeding actually. She's an OB nurse and is very helpful, but I need her to step back and just tell me I'm doing a great job instead of noticing a less than perfect latch and trying to correct it.

    And bravo for you giving breastfeeding a go with the twins- that's a tough road!

  2. What a great post! I honestly wish you had written this 10 months ago when my baby was a newborn. However, I am really excited that going forward I can offer my friends better support by asking them what they need from me! Such a simple concept, but people rarely think to do it.

  3. Love this post- You are right. Support is something everyone needs but it is not always easy to define. Thank you for all of your support.


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