I can’t help but wonder, is some of the day to day stuff with kids harder because there’s no let up? The relentless is palpable for many families who don’t have a village. And in this day in age, how many people really do?
We assume automatically, or at least I did, that our village would consist mostly of family, especially in those early days/months/years. And it did to a degree, and coffee group – who, although none of us thought we had anything in common before we had babies, all got along well once they had arrived and we lived through the early days together. Every milestone, every tooth, literally every step of the way for that first year. And beyond. Though it’s been a while between drinks we’ve caught up many times over the years since we met almost 7 years ago.
But family being your village is not necessarily the case these days. Our kids have two sets of grandparents in NZ which is great. I know so many people who have family overseas or quite far away (geographically mobile you could say). One set of GP’s is a couple of hours away, and the other is local but we’re estranged. It probably goes without saying that we don’t have help at the drop of the hat. Although…to be fair when my car broke down and I had all the kids, the dog, and a loaded trailer recently my Dad DID come at the drop of the hat to rescue us from the side of the state highway…and then put us up for three nights so…that’s definitely drop of the hat on the more extreme end of the scale.
The GP’s two hours away are busy working and doing their own thing a lot. My kids are grandkids #5,6, and 7 for them. We see them every few weeks as we pass through on our way to National Park which is great and they’re always at the ready with a cuppa and lunch for us all (and we are most grateful). Though it’s a fleeting visit I do get to sit down and recharge for a short time. It’s great that we do this because it’s probably taken the pressure off them coming to Auckland because let’s face it, for non aucklanders the traffic can be daunting. Prior to us heading down the line a lot visits were reserved more for birthdays and special occasions rather than something regular, and it’s not quite the same as having someone just down the road.
My hubby and I are both the youngest children in our families, and unlike our parents generation, ours tends to have children a little later on in life. I had my first baby at 28 and my Mum had five by the time she was 33. I think in general grandparents are a bit older than they were when our parents were having children and with that comes other factors – later retirement, energy levels and possibly tolerance levels..! They’re now further away from their own parenting years and lots of things have changed since then. Nurturing babies can be seen by some as ‘spoiling’ them when research certainly suggests it’s actually crucial for development particularly in the formative years. Also, the age difference between GP’s then and now, say a 60 and a 70 year old is significant (in some cases more than others). I know many people who have GP’s in their world who even say that they don’t do little kids and prefer to get involved later on in the Mokopuna’s childhood. That’s 100% their prerogative, but it doesn’t make for a solid village early on.
An observation that has come up from not only my own experience but with many friends with family issues is that (and obvs this is a generalisation buuuuut) baby boomers tend to take things negatively and if you don’t do things the way they did them they take it as a personal insult. They can also be quite disrespectful for your wants for your child because they know better in their opinion. – many people have major issues with food and their babies for example with GP’s not listening or respecting or even believing the intolerances and shoving these kinds of foods down kids throats. Don’t get me started on the issues saying our child is lactose intolerant created. I’ve been lactose intolerant my entire life. I also had an egg allergy as a baby so and I don’t do well on wheat so of course I’m going to be mindful of these things. I like a bit of cheese but never drink milk despite growing up on a dairy farm. But the older generation seem to think it’s all nonsense and ply them with whatever they think is best behind your back. There’s nothing nice about giving a kid a sore gut and diarrhoea just because you think lactose intolerance is not a thing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not opposed to GP’s giving the odd thing here and there when age appropriate but spooning icecream into a 9 month old is not exactly appreciated. It was a huge deal and I was an ‘extremist’ when I didn’t eat meat for awhile and ‘You’d better watch what she’s feeding those children’ was literally said in a very concerned way. I have vegetarian and vegan friends who’s GP’s fear for the children missing out on vital nutrients and feed them meat which is totally against their belief system and nutrient devoid packaged junk when the parents backs are turned, because that’s somehow better?! In one case the mother is a wholefoods nutritionist and makes sure her daughter is getting everything she needs from plant based sources. Read the China study already!
It's not just GP’s though to be honest. Other family members haven’t shown up in the way we thought they would. One sibling hasn’t even met 2 out of 3 their nephews, and one sibling never used to engage with the kids at all even used to refer to our oldest son as ‘it’ when he was younger and wouldn’t even engage with him. Acknowledgement of births didn’t happen for almost a week with one child and not at all with another. While living in the same city.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we don’t necessarily have a village in the way we thought we would. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing! The positive of course is that we have the opportunity to raise our children the way that we want to. Not the way that other people think we should. We only get one chance at it too right?
So with the village, it has undoubtedly changed. Let’s a look a little at;
- What is used to look like when we were kids
- What it looked like for our parents
- What it looks like now
Thinking back to my own childhood – we lived in a small rural community with lots of cousins and aunties/uncles/cousins/grandparents nearby. We saw them regularly, well, some more than others I guess. We moved when I was five out of the district to the Waikato and went to a small country school with a roll of 80 kids (my son has more than that just in his classroom alone now). I used to ride my bmx around to my best friends house which took me ten minutes against the wind or five minutes with the wind (though probably longer it was actually a decent distance), friends came over to our place after school before jazz ballet and we’d play outside climbing trees or do prank calls on the phone. There were lots of community get togethers. Guy Fawkes nights at our friends place playing ghost in the graveyard, go home stay home etc (which. because we were on farms with a massive gardens around the house these were amazing games).
In the summer we had a key to the school pool and pretty much spent all day every day there hanging out with other district kids while our parents were busy on the farm. Then we moved to a town and still had no family around but made good friends and was often at kids houses or working trying to make some money for things like cd’s, hot chips, Mississippi moonshine. You know, typical teenager stuff.
The village for my parents when they were kids was very, very different. They were always doing things with their cousins because they all lived very close to each other. Lots were on farms so there’d often be working bees to help everyone get things done, before the introduction of lots of machinery etc. Get togethers also involved picnics, dances, time spent around Aunty Gladys on the piano singing songs, and of course birthdays and Christmases etc. Cousins were everyones first best mates. And there was always someone on hand to help guide the kids in the right direction be that through telling them off for inappropriate behaviour or encouraging them to do things and cheer them on with sports etc. My Mum and Dad still catch up with their cousins and second cousins these days in their late 60’s.
What it looks like now? Well, it’s not ready built, we need to build it ourselves. But there are some great benefits to building a strong village around you don’t get me wrong. A question though I suppose we need to ask – do we even need one? And who is it for exactly? A few things to consider;
When the village doesn’t exist – Mums and Dads are exhausted, confused, burnt out, and just lack connection with others who can relate. Is this where social media becomes helpful or a hindrance? It’s easy to fall into the comparison conundrum but it’s also easy to find someone who can relate.
When the village doesn’t exist – it’s easy to point out the flaws and failures in other mothers rather than lift them up because there’s an expectation that mothers (and fathers) can do it all on their own and if they can’t, well, they’re seen as inadequate. What we really need is the opportunity to support people through things and share our learning and trials/tribulations too. When the parenting village doesn’t exist, maintaining that connection in marriage/partnership is more difficult because you don’t have a baby sitter on stand by.
When the village doesn’t exist, mothers (I’m really meaning parents here) are left in a world of judgement, and little idea of how to navigate these unchartered waters of parenthood.
When the village doesn’t exist, we don’t have an extra pair of hands or another voice of reason or wisdom for our children to learn what other people consider right and wrong.
When the village doesn’t exist, we’re a society of individuals, not of communities who keep an eye out and care for each other.
When the village doesn’t exist we’re forced to create one when we have the least amount of energy to do so.
But I think having a village is key! Sometimes it feels like our village is just us.
Our rare nights out usually don’t include each other, one of us will stay at home with the kids while the other does their own thing because to do something together becomes unaffordable when you have to pay someone to babysit (it’s not $5 an hour like when I used to do it!). And to be honest this works well for us the most part, but it adds another dimension to the marriage/relationship/parenting sitch because we’re not getting just ‘us’ time outside of the house.
When the village doesn’t exist are we lacking the opportunity to even really recover from having kids? In Traditional Chinese Medicine they say it takes two years to recover from having a baby, are we even recovering fully with more women heading back to the workforce, some very quickly?
Some food for thought...when my Mum had her babies (I’m the youngest of five) she was in post natal care for two weeks. TWO WEEKS! When she had me there were obviously four other children to care for and a farm to run. How would anyone manage this without a village to help?
Comparatively, with my third child I went home after two nights (btw C sections are considered ‘major surgery’ and it was my choice but only because my parents had my older boys so I could actually rest). Right from the get go mothers today are not getting the care and support that they used to. Maybe this makes us closer with our kids on the other hand though, I don’t know. Maybe it adds to the pressure and contributes to the amount of chronic illness due to more stress and pressure, I don’t know. But I feel like the care that mothers used to get has goneburger. Because we’re too busy. And for what? Shouldn’t this time in our lives be amongst the most sacred and celebrated? In some cultures they have a 40 day quarantine period where they are basically on lock down with their babe and do not go out and about and just rest and recoup. I think this is amazing! I loved staying home with my newborn babes and was quite happy not doing too much. All those newborn snugs that you can never get back are so special and amazing for bonding.
I think what I’m trying to say is that yes it takes a village to raise a child…but it also takes a village to raise a Mother. And if we’re not connecting with and helping other Mothers and giving them the chance to recharge when they need it, it can’t be great for our kids – our future generation, you know, the ones that are going to be looking after us when we can no longer do so.
Villages are important in raising healthy confident and emotionally stable children, particularly in an age where distractions are at an all-time high. Take a look around your community, who can you be a village to? Consider new parents, young parents, an ailing parent, single parents, people new to the area, immigrants, they don’t need to be a parent to be part of the village. Let’s recreate the sense of the village that we need today. There are so many people that live away from their families now, I personally have two overseas siblings. With technology the way it is it’s easy to stay in touch, skyping and texting and sending photos is a piece of cake, and makes you feel connected but that message through your phone can’t pick up your crying babe or babysit your kids or pick them up from school when one kid has knocked their teeth out and needs to go to a & e (for example!).
Sometimes things will happen that will remind us we actually do have a village, but it might not have been one we thought of. And that’s okay too! As you already know I think this parenting gig requires a lot of letting go of what you thought it would be and embracing what it actually is.
For example – on Friday my son who catches the bus to and from school decided that he was going to walk home. It’s probably 2 km and it requires crossing roads and walking along a very main, two lanes each side road. Thankfully, his friends mother spotted him. She didn’t see me or the other boys and asked him what he was doing. He confidently informed her that he didn’t want to catch the bus because it was boring and he was going to walk home (He’s 6). She called me and took him home, returning him later on in the afternoon. She also had a good chat to him and explained how it was not okay to do that, talking about how I would’ve been worried when he didn’t get off the bus and would then have to go in search of him and would be really upset. And of course the danger aspect of it as well.
What would have happened if she didn’t happen to see him? There’s over 600 kids at the school they could have easily not seen him! So thank you to Tania, for watching out for my little dude!
Recently at the markets I had my 2 & 6 year olds and one was losing his shit because he wanted another sample of tart cherry juice, my bags were full, and heavy and I was trying to wrangle him and get my older son to carry some bags that were way too heavy for a 6 year old. A mum saw me struggling and came and scooped up the bags and helped me get everyone to the car. At first I said I was fine but she also had kids and just helped out, leaving my protests futile. I was so grateful.
The day I did this talk my husband had a stag do the night before for his close mate. I was nervous he might not make it home in time for me to leave on time to get there on time (it was out of town and he was staying the night). So my friend came over with her son and stayed the night so that I could leave on time in case he didn’t make the deadline.
When I found out my niece was in hospital awaiting open heart surgery and my passport had expired I put out an sos to my olders boys friends mothers to see if they could pick them up from kindy/school so that I could get an urgent passport in the middle of the city with just the one kid in tow. Trekking down Queen street with three little boys in tow on a mad dash would have been terrible! It was hard enough with one, arguably the hardest one to do that with because I had to carry him the entire way from shortland street to albert st and back, twice – who needs a gym?).
So while it can feel like we don’t have a village, sometimes we do but you don’t really realise it until you’re in a crisis. Sometimes all you need to do is ask and the village is right there, waiting to open the door and invite you in for a cuppa. I think perhaps our generation thinks we have to have it all together and all sussed out and not look like we need help. But really, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help – most people are obliging and actually want to help out! It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help, it doesn’t make you look like a failure, it makes you look like a human and if you ask for help, there’s a likelihood that you’ll get the opportunity to reciprocate at some point, and here comes the ripple effect. There really is a community out there, it’s just about finding ways to tap into it. I have a few ideas and it kind of depends on the age of your kids so some may or may not be applicable – and they all require putting yourself out there a little. But it’s worth it. Totally!
- Join a coffee group in your local area
- Join a playcentre
- Go to a Mum’s and bubs exercise class (lots of yoga or bootcamp style places around)
- Head along to toddler music, you’ll find a community there and get yourself a cuppa while you’re at it
- Get chatty with the parents at kindy or school
- Chat to parents at the playgrounds or park
- Find an online forum for Mum’s in your area – create a picnic date and put it on the page!
- Use social media to your advantage. Go on Mum dates with your baby! (I’ve made lots of likeminded mates through the gram in my city!)
- Join a sports team if you can (although I totally understand not wanting an injury with a little kid)
- Check your local events, start going to them and actually chat to people
The village is out there Scully, but it requires a little more effort these days. The benefits though of course is that you’re building it with like minded people. It’s perhaps a little less about the traditional village and more about finding your tribe (thanks Frosty). So crank up that good vibe of yours and radiate it like a lighthouse beacon so the other mums on your wavelength can find you too.
Thanks so much for reading! What I’ve learnt through this village malarkey is that the importance of self care is at an all time high! Stay tuned for the third and final instalment in the series…