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Feeling frazzled? Look to neighbors, family, friends, the Web for support

September 17, 1998|By Jo Ellen Barnhart

It's 7:15 a.m. and the Slick household is in crisis. As this family of four prepares to exit the front door for school and work, Whiskers, the family dog, scoots out the back door to chase a rabbit and other interesting wildlife in the neighborhood. The dog disappears into a dense, muddy wooded area in the rear of their home.

Already 10 minutes behind the usual morning routine of packing school lunches, checking homework and last minute house chores, Brenda Slick, an elementary music teacher, and David Slick, a U.S. Postal employee, have less than five minutes to find Whiskers. It's impossible to locate the dog and keep the family on it's time-conscious morning schedule.

Brenda picks up her telephone and in quick succession calls me. She's in luck. Today, our family routine requires that my husband transport our children to school, so I am available to comb the fields for Whiskers. The Slicks (and the Barnharts) leave for our appointed destinations on time.

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That's exactly the type of network that every working mom needs to survive and thrive. We need dozens of friends and family members to swap favors with or our daily routines would not be feasible.

Studies conducted at Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College show that women who have an active circle of friends, relatives and neighbors who support them are less likely to be depressed and susceptible to sickness than those who do not.

Most working moms cultivate the support they need from day-to-day living. We strike up informal conversations with colleagues, our kids' friends' parents, day-care or PTA parents, other soccer moms, anyone who looks like they may have similar lifestyle demands.

Many working moms rely heavily on their own families for help. A special bond exists between my aunt Deannie and me as she provides hours and hours of baby-sitting as well as emotional support and direction for my family. My father, now retired, also provides occasional and emergency child care for my three sons. They are the core of my network, and I would virtually sink without them.

A sense of belonging to a larger community of working mothers and emotional affirmation is central to our well being. Many women say that nothing is more important than the feeling of being listened to and being understood.

Cyberspace now offers various opportunities to connect to other working mothers. Since the Internet is active 24 hours a day, you can log on when you find a spare moment. Here are some Web sites that may help you network:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> NetWorkingMoms: an e-mail service that enables working moms to comment on topics suggested by participants. The Web site is at www.networkingmoms.com or 1-888-492-6832.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> CyberMom Dot Com: written by real moms, the Web site is organized like a house with each room devoted to a specific topic such as child rearing, recipes, etc. The address is www.thecybermom.com.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Wmoms: another e-mail communications link for working mothers where members chat about various topics like telecommuting, toilet training, teen discipline, etc. For information, send e-mail to majordomo@world.std.com and include the words "subscribe Wmoms."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Working Mother Magazine: a new site launched this month that features articles, messages boards, interaction with editors and other moms, as well as links to other useful Web sites. The address is www.workingmother.com.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, older siblings, neighbors, and co-workers often are our lifesavers in the daily grind of negotiating both work and home schedules.

But these relationships need cultivation, too. No support network will last very long if you don't take care of it. It is important to convey caring for the people in your network.

In case you were wondering - I found Whiskers. His mom returned home relieved to find him safe, happy and bathed - a gift from one working mother to another.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three young boys. She teaches at Frostburg State University and Hagerstown Community College and consults in public relations and marketing. Write to her in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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