I have been a parent for nearly 16 years and I’m more convinced than ever that the single most important thing that moms—all parents, really—need isn’t the best stroller or more sleep or copious amounts of coffee. (Though all those things are much needed.) What moms need most is a parenting safety net—those people who will help us be the parent we want to be.

This isn’t your Mom Squad, nor is it the proverbial “village” that everyone talks about. Though those things are very important too.

What I’m talking about are those people who will set you up for parenting success. The people who will ask the difficult questions and tell you the hard truths. The people who will help you be the parent you want to be even if this looks different than the parent they want to be.

This web of support looks different at different stages of parenting. When we have babies and toddlers, this might look like watching our little ones so we can get a break. Or if they know that we have a hard time leaving our babies, it might look like meal trains and grocery store deliveries so we don’t need to leave the house. 

If we work outside the home, it looks like managers who advocate for pay increases or child care stipends on our behalf because they know just how hard—and important—it is to find good child care. If we’re a stay-at-home mom, it might look like people who connect us with other stay-at-home parents they now or pass on information about playgroups.

This is the kind of person I need as a mom. This is the kind of person we all need. 

As our kids get older, this safety net includes people who look out for our kids without putting their parenting values on us. For instance, when my son was about four years old, he was playing alone in our front yard—something he often did. Although I was keeping a loose eye on him through the window, to passersby it looked like a young child was alone and unsupervised. 

After a few minutes, a mom I didn’t know knocked on my door and when I answered, she said she’d seen a young child playing alone in the yard and wanted to make sure I knew he was out there. I assured her that I knew and that all was fine. She laughed, a bit embarrassed, and said that she just wanted to be sure. There was no judgment about letting my child play alone. There was no side-eye or tsk-tsking about the dangers. There was just a mom who was looking out for a child and helping me be the mom I want to be (which is one who lets her kids play independently).

This is the kind of person I need as a mom. This is the kind of person we all need. 

When our kids are in middle school, it’s the parents who tell us that our child is kind and a good friend so we know that it isn’t all tween sass and attitude. It’s the teachers who take the time to talk with us when we’re worried about our child’s anxiety. It’s the sports coaches and music teachers who pull us aside to tell us that they’ve noticed that our child seems a little different lately. 

These are the people who know that there are often no clear answers when it comes to parenting.

When we’re raising teens, it’s the parents who will make sure we know if our child has been drinking so that we can handle it in the way we think is best. These are the people who will tell our kid to stop doing something dangerous or just stupid, sparing them from consequences. They will tell us about these things, not with judgment or an air of superiority, but with kindness, compassion and a heaping dose of empathy. 

Parenting is hard enough as it is. What moms need most are people in our corner. We need people who will look out for our kids, and help us be the kind of parents we want to be – not the kind of parents they think we should be. We need people who won’t tell us what we want to hear, but will pull us out of the rabbit hole when we’re fretting and push us to step out of our comfort zone when things get hard. We need people who don’t use their own fears to spout absolutes and “I would never”s. 

These are the people who know that there are often no clear answers when it comes to parenting. That parenting isn’t black and white, but a million shades of grey. These are the people who are allies, supporters, and cheerleaders. 

And I am so grateful to have them. Because they are what moms need most.