There is a lot of discussion about a decline in mental health. The bushfires and COVID 19 have shown the importance of family and community connectedness as a buffer against depression and despair.
Humans are hardwired to connect from birth. Unlike other animals our newborns can't walk, feed themselves, hold their head up or focus their eyes. The time it takes to reach maturity is the longest of any mammal and we have evolved a crucial survival strategy: the care of extended family and friends! The quality of care provided by this network of relationships throughout life is what shapes our mental health.
Recently Home-Start Family Services celebrated the retirement of two long serving volunteers. Sue Robinson and Brenda Writer have offered companionship to isolated mothers with young children in the Goulburn region for many years.
"Getting alongside" is what makes Home-Start special. In addition to professional family work, volunteers act as 'extra grandmothers' to families, helping them move from overwhelm to enjoyment of family and community life.
Sue and Brenda's commitment to the social fabric continues. Sue regularly visits one daughter in Gunnedah and the other in Sydney to be that extra pair of hands and loving presence for the next generation.
"My own experience and work with Home-Start has convinced me that family and community connection for young families is critical to happiness. I am still friends with some Home-Start mums, which I love," she said.
After 17 years of service, Brenda continues to pick up her grandchildren from school and connect to friends and family.
"It gives me a purpose," she said.
"As a Home-Start volunteer I've seen families through the tough times by being reliable and understanding. I can also fold socks and chat at the same time!" Brenda said.
Our society is under strain due in part to increasing fragmentation of relationships. Zoom connections, social media and emojis do not replace belonging to a family, a supportive workplace, the loving arms of a grandmother or a close friend who is happy just to be there. We all need to be part of cycles of care that are mutual and inter-generational.
Home-Start Family Services offers deepest thanks to our volunteers, past and present. Your contribution to the happiness and resilience of so many families is priceless.
- Mhairi Fraser is a family worker with Home-Start Southern Tablelands.