Parenting: you need a village to raise a child and what it really means

Before I had my babies, I heard the term 'it takes a village to raise a child' and thought I knew what they meant. I also heard, 'find your tribe' and figured it meant having someone to go for coffee with once your baby was born.

I just thought my old friends who I'd known my whole life would be that village but we were not all at the same point at the same time and the dynamic did not work out that way.

I soon learnt that there are fundamental reasons why you need a village to help raise babies and that is because the physical, mental and emotional load is huge and we were not designed to do it in isolation.

Particularly with our modern life, we are expected to raise perfect children who are learning French at 3 and have a healthy social life, as well as working hard to earn money, looking glamorous whilst we are doing it and simultaneously making it look easy, as god forbid we might admit that it is hard. 

When I had my first baby, I learned that it was a very lonely life being at home with a little one that because of reflux hardly slept and cried a lot. I didn't experience the coffee dates with a docile baby asleep in her pram, instead I rocked, jigged, sang and power walked for her rest and my sanity.

I did go to baby groups and met a few mums who for that one hour a week, were a fantastic source of support but they failed to materialise into friendships as presumably, we were were all struggling with the same things and different schedules.

I also experienced the cliques that people talk about, at a breastfeeding support network, where groups were already bonded and I was looked at like an interloper. 

I did meet various mum's through mush and at playgroups but what I learned is that we were all in the fog together. It was great to share stories of how I babies slept or if leaky boobs were normal, but not so helpful when you really wanted someone to hold your baby while you took a shower or even slept after being up every 45 minutes at night.

Having a second baby so soon after put me in a different place to those mothers I met and it became harder again to meet mums in the same position. Going too far in the car was traumatic with two babies crying and feeding/napping schedules etc so I became even further isolated.

This led me to think that if you don't have family nearby, or a multi-generational family with dads, mums, aunts, uncles, grans and grandads, to help hold the baby, provide sage advice from those that have been and gone before, provide for you, nourish you and care for you while you care for fragile babies, you are missing out and will be suffering.

Many women are starting families later in life and moving further away from home to follow careers, theirs or their partners, or perhaps they were only children, which means that we don't always have those figures in our lives to help. Parents may be elderly and unable to help or live to far away, or perhaps are still working until much later in life out of necessity, such as divorce or hardship.

I think as a new mum, there are several things you need to feel heard, empowered and supported, including:

-  Understanding from those in the same situation and moral support. 
-  Empathy and (useful) advice from those who have gone before. What new mums don't need is competition, belittling the hardships or the comparison trap of whether they consider your baby to be good.
-  There is a practical element of someone to hold the baby while you fill your cup, get some rest, take a shower, exercise and get some mind space.
- Help with childcare while you invest in your other relationships. 
- Care for you as a new mum and to make sure she is in a good place to nourish and care for her children
- To help socialise and raise children with good morals and behaviour
- The practical stuff like sharing the financial pressures and making sure food and shelter are stable and readily available

I've met mums from all different cultures and some come from cultures where mums are supposed to stay in bed for a month and do nothing other than feed baby. It shows how valued new mums are, even if it would drive most people mad to have to stay in bed for a month. I don't think mum's should be rendered infantile - I mean, after giving childbirth women are superheros in my book, but I don't think it should be seen as weak to accept help, or take some time off household duties.

I was lucky enough to be be able to get up and about straight after having mine but I also would have liked to have been looked after a little more. Plus did I feel some subconscious pressure to be out and about looking as though I'd never even given birth?! I certainly feel Western culture does not support new mothers particularly well.

Children of the 80's have been sold a pipe dream of being able to have it all; the high powered career, a gorgeous body, made up face, and beautiful well dressed cherubs at her feet. That pressure to be it all and do it all is so damaging to new mums. In reality, noone can run as fast when they've got young, dependents to take care of, so women either damage themselves trying or feel like failures for being authentic. That's not to say I don't think women can have it all, but maybe not at the same time, or not without it coming at a high personal cost.

I really hope that women can start to be more authentic about the mothering experience, just as they once would have at the lake when washing their clothes with other mothers. That we can cut the paternalistic, individualistic bullshit that sells us a vision of having more stuff being the only way you are achieving. To stop tearing each other down and instead build each other up. Get back to supporting our own. 

There is a whole generation suffering right now with anxiety, depression and complete burnout and to ensure a happy, healthy future generation, children need to have happy, nourished and healthy caregivers. Yes I think mums can do it all alone, but the question is why should we and is that the healthiest approach?

What support do you wish you'd had when you became a mum? 

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