Most of the time, when we talk about the importance of networking, we're referring to our professional networks -- coworkers, mentors, people in "the business" -- and we pour time, money, and energy into figuring out ways to build and maintain those valuable contacts. But there's another network, one that we tend to take for granted, one that is just as important -- or perhaps more so when it comes to our sanity, at least: Other working parents.
I don't know how I'd get by without my working mom friends, the ones whom I've met through my kids and their friends from school and daycare. They know what I'm up against because they're up against it, too. I spent years as a working stepmom without a network like that, and let me tell you, a network of people who are in the same boat as you makes your work-life juggle much, much easier. Or, at least, more manageable.
Calling your friends your "network" seems cold and impersonal, but that's not how I mean it at all. These are women whom I feel comfortable reaching out to for help -- a rarity for me, as I am really, really bad at asking for help -- because they understand why I need it, sometimes even before I do. We're all stressed and juggling work and life but, especially now that we've spent a couple of years on the same birthday-party circuit (ye gods, our kids are social), none of us hesitate when it comes to offering help or support, no matter how full our own plates are. They're willing to swoop in and pick up my kids along with theirs if I look like I'm about to lose the beat-the-daycare-clock game -- and I keep a spare booster seat in my car in case they need me to do the same for them.
It's not fair to call this most-important network a "working mom" network, really. There are a lot of dads in the mix, too, wiping icing off of little faces at birthday parties and waiting in the preschool parking lot. They rock. One recent weekend, one of those dads took his daughter and my youngest daughter to the ballet while our 4-year-old sons played at my house. Everyone had a blast, and I was grateful to have friends who introduce my kids to new experiences.
My most-important network is full of people who get it. Yes, experience is important; you can learn a lot from those who have been there before you. But the ones who are going through it all at the same time? Those people are priceless.
Do you pay attention to your non-career networks? What do you do to build and maintain them?