It takes a village… but where’s mine?!
As mothers, I find people love to give us advice. And it piles up. All these ideas and “should’s” and “should nots” can get very noisy. Especially when it all seems to contradict itself after a while.
Contrary to how it sounds, I’m actually not one to automatically dismiss a parent’s or grandparent’s advice. I’ve learned that there sometimes is actually a hidden piece of wisdom in it, or it is deeply rooted in their own traditions that were passed down to them, even if maybe it got muddled a bit with some Western mentality along the way.
But, I’ve found that there is so often a key piece missing within these bits of advice that makes them so hard to digest… and nearly impossible to actually carry out. This missing piece is the village that used to surround mothers. Without this village, the advice seems close to impossible to achieve.
“Nap when the baby naps,” they say…. and will dinner just appear for the family when we wake up?
It’s actually a solid piece of advice. But how can you follow it when you’re the only one home with the baby, your husband is back at work, you’re expected to run the home, while still physically, emotionally, and mentally recovering from the act of birth itself, trying to balance learning how to care for this new baby, bonding with her, and fitting in a shower once in a while… and to top it all off, your hormones are completely out of whack with the fluctuation from pregnancy to birth and all the stress that comes along with it. And of course, you are being told to “make sure you take care of yourself” – “a happy mom makes a happy baby”!
Here we go again – but wait. Take care of yourself? Here’s where the advice got muddled. A new mother should absolutely be cared for! But by her self?
Surprisingly, this idea of self-care, which is all the rage lately, is actually quite new in the timeline of modern history. It’s just another example of independence being the core value pushed in our society, whereas traditionally, a new mother was cared for very closely by others in her community. (btw- more on this topic soon!!)
I already know I don’t have to explain how necessary this is – before having a baby, I’m sure many of us felt we could do this ourselves, and maybe even turned down offers of help, proud to “prove” that we could handle this and would be “just fine.” Besides, we’d read all the articles and books and listened to podcasts, well equipped to do things “our way.” But at some point after giving birth, it becomes abundantly clear that a husband and wife alone in their home were not ever meant to do this themselves.
In fact, this is the first time in history that parents have been the sole caretakers of their babies. What we think of as a typical household (a “nuclear family” with a mother, father, and a couple of children) is radical and a completely new concept. Dr. Michaleen Doucleff, in her book Hunt Gather Parent, explains, “for 99 percent of the time humans have been on earth, the nuclear family simply didn’t exist.”
Multi-generational homes were the norm, and still are the norm in many indigenous and traditional cultures. There are parents and grandparents in the home, and an aunt next door, and families down the street for built-in playtime for your kids without ever having to drive them to a playdate.
In fact, in many cultures, there are several other caretakers, also known as “alloparents” who mother the baby. And not only do they help out here and there…in some cultures, like the like the indigenous Agta families in the Philippines, the mother provides about 20% of the care for their children aged 2-6, while alloparents and mini-alloparents together provide 80%!
So – ok, we get it – we’re supposed to have help! But if we’re living in Modern America instead of this built in traditional lifestyle, what are we to do??!
The truth is, there are pretty simple ways to recreate and find and shape our own villages without time traveling back to the “olden days” or moving to a remote area of the world.
Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful:
- Meet your neighbors: The people surrounding you physically, your neighbors, can end up being a huge help. Maybe there is a family with teenagers down the street who would love to play outside with your toddler for an hour a few afternoons a week, either for fun, volunteer hours or paid babysitting. Mixed age play with kids of all different ages on the block can also be very successful, and takes the “entertainment” burden off of you for a bit.
- Get involved in your community (synagogue, church, groups): This is a great opportunity to also meet other families who are not in your immediate radius, but who may have shared interests with you. Plus, often times these communities incorporate traditional ways of looking after each other – for example, organizing meal trains for a family with a new baby, or providing support after a significant life event.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Not everybody has family that lives closeby, but even those who do, sometimes are not accustomed to asking for help from them. Think of your family and extended family-parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts & uncles who may be in the area. Even without asking for specific help, just fostering a stronger connection with them can lower the isolation that comes from these “nuclear family homes” we have nowadays. Getting together for meals, or just hanging out, can help ease the burden more than we realize. If no family is around, find your own community by meeting people with shared interests, or people from your children’s schools, etc., and make regular meet ups or hangouts – ex. meeting up at the park – parents get a chance to talk and be adults, relax and enjoy some fresh air, while the mixed age group of kids entertain each other and play together.
- Paid help- ideas for all budgets: I hope by the end of this article, you will no longer feel the guilt that has been so programmed into us in Western society, when we realize we can’t be this mythical Supermom that has literally never before existed in all of human history. Luckily, no matter your budget, there are often hacks to help you get the help you need. Here are some ideas:
-Live-in or live-out nanny
-Nanny/babysitter share with other families chipping in
-Cleaning help (once a week, multiple times per week, every other week, once a month)
-Babysitter or teenager who can play/supervise the kids/take the baby for a walk/be an extra helping hand after school/before dinnertime
-High school student who needs volunteer hours, can find through community groups (synagogue, church)
-Healthy meal service delivery, to take the burden off of cooking.
- Instead of the remote village, create your village remotely: Find your community online. One of my favorite tools to use is Facebook groups – you can join a group of likeminded people to ask questions, find advice, and even just feel the sense of camaraderie that comes from “finding your people.” I have created a private Facebook group specifically for this purpose, which you can find and join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/naturalholisticfamilies
I hope this has helped you breathe a little sigh of relief… both in the comfort that you don’t have to do this alone, and in finding some ways to help get through this a bit more easily. If you have more ideas, or can share what has worked for you, please COMMENT here :) Would love to hear from you!