Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bigger Picture: I want my freakin' village

It takes a village to raise a child. I've never been so sure about this idea in my entire life as I have been recently.
Seriously. Have you ever thought about this concept?
We mamas simply just do not have enough hands at multiple times during the day to care for, say, a two year old and a baby (and maybe more) and run the household. We just *need* an extra set of arms at a few key points during the day -- for me, I need thos hands during nap time, dinner preparation time and crabby time in the late afternoon, which happens to coincide with dinner prepping time. I need someone to simply open her arms to my baby, rock him and coo to him while I help the toddler settle into his nap and while I cook dinner. There are not enough times I need extra hands during the day to nesceistate a nanny or a maid or a cook or hired help -- there are just enough to need a grandmotherly type who can take an hour here or there to help a mama out by rocking her sweet baby so she can help the rest of the family function. As SarahBeth, one of my Attachment Parenting friends, has pointed out before in the comments of a blog posting-- a woman in a village long ago would have had her mother, mother-in-law, sister or grandmother nearby to help with childcare and with household chores. If not in the same neighborhood, one of these female relatives was likely in the same town.
But we've lost that way of life.
In the over abundance of our lives and additions of items like dishwashers, cars, cell phones, battery-operated swings and microwaves, we have seemingly eliminated the need for a village in order to run our households and raise our children well.
It's sad, but I'm guilty of being tricked by this replacement of the village by modern technologies.
I willingly moved 100 miles away from her mother, grandmother and relatives. Why? Because I could. Let me explain -- I wasn't rebelliously trying to live somewhere far just because I could; I willingly moved somewhere far because hubby's job was here, and the modern technologies we've added to our lives allowed me to live so far while still maintaining a relational closeness with my family. I have a car that affords me the luxary of traveling 100 miles in 1.45 hours to visit; I have a cell phone that connects us instantly. I honestly thought that I would be able to function just fine with my family hours away. And I can function just fine.
But I cannot do it well. I find myself relying heavily on my father-in-law, who owns his own company and, thus, has flexible hours to help me through times during the day when I need someone to give me an extra set of child-rearing hands. I call for his help probably about once per week, and he graciously gives his time because he wants to help and, well, because he likes taking the two year old on special Buba and Gabe dates to Steak and Shake.
But I can't just call him up and ask him to come over and rock the baby while I cook dinner -- that time when I really just need that extra set of hands; our lives and committments don't allow for such calls. And I cannot dominate the off-work hours of a close-by mother-in-law and sister-in-law who work full-time jobs because that's not how our modern lives function.
What I, and what I suspect many of you other mamas need, is not only that ever-so-useful extra set of hands once or twice during the week, but also that extra set of hands once or twice during the day. Mrs. Maytag might be able to efficiently wash our clothes, but Mr. Graco swing is not always a smooth replacement for warm, loving, human arms. If we want to raise our children in the connected, attached fashion, what we're really missing is the village.
We're missing the older, wiser women who are not working out of the home and can coach an overwhelmed mother through a toddler tantrum because the older wise woman is simply close in proximity and can offer that help. We're missing the grandmothers who can take 20 minutes, run next door or down the street and rock a crying baby so a weary mom can snuggle her toddler to sleep for his nap instead of plopping him in a swing. We're missing the experienced aunts who can open their arms to an older sibling and read for a half hour while mom and baby take a nap or nurse or simply rest. We're missing the women who can cheerlead young mother through the early days of rearing small child while also nurturing themselves. These women who were part of a village were not pinned to the young mother's quarters or service all day; they had lives and responsibilities of their own, but the simple proximity of their village lives allowed them to help during those critical periods when a mama just needed an extra set of hands! I often ponder if instances of post-partum depression were less when young mothers had a village of women around to help them through those tough early days with multiple young children.
Simply, we've technologied ourselves to almost a fault here. Because we've got a machine for seemingly everything, we've been fooled into thinking we mamas with young families can do it all by ourselves with just a little help here or there.
I no longer believe this; I've set a crying baby in a swing far too many times so I can tend to a toddler to think that we've really gained more from technological advances than we actually have. What we lost when we lost the village is priceless and irreplaceable, and I bet far more reaching than we ever could imagine.


  1. I could not agree more with you. My mother moved to FL shortly before I became pregnant, and the inlaws are about two hours away. Which is great for once a week (like you said with your father in law) but not really enough to help with my sanity around the crazy hours of the day.
    I think some are lucky enough to be able to make a village with friends, but I have yet to do that here.

  2. I long for the same.

    Look out Jesus People (JPUSA).

    I dream about turning our townhome community into a family community where the clubhouse is a family kitchen.

    I was designed for something else than my isolated home.

  3. OH, I completely agree and resonated with every part of your post! How well you expressed it, and a mama of two with a baby just weeks old at that!
    I totally want my freakin' village too. Too bad we're 20 minutes away by car... even that's too far for a daily assist!
    I never thought of all the technology (from dishwashers up) as being a replacement for the village, but that's exactly their intention. Boy do they fail. My second and third babies definitely cried more than my first, which is so sad at times. And I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in the dinner hour/naptime's over part of the day. What a doozy that is, and almost daily!

  4. Wow. I have the same feelings, now, HFW. I had a bit of a village in the form of a dear Nanny for the first 2.5 years of the little guy's life but now we are completely alone with no extended family love or help and it sucks. But now that the little guy is older (and we only have 1 little guy), the day-to-day is obviously much easier. Even so, one can never replace the love and support you get from family. And we're an ocean away...I really admire you stay-at-homers with more than one little one, a home and everything else to look after. I honestly don't know that I could do it. Stay strong xoxo

  5. It's amazing that you wrote this because just last night I nearly had a meltdown talking (almost begging) to an older friend about how hard it is without in-laws and with my parents 5 hours away. My husb helps so much, but it just isn't the same. If you would like some free time, I am always home on Thursdays and would love to give you a hand or have a playdate so that you can have some time. Keep it in mind... I think that we could all use some more village people. PS- Can I copy your blog to mine? Cuz you said it perfectly. LOL!

  6. Hy- it will get better! I promise. Remember me right after K was born?

    That's the thing I miss about my hometown, everyone lives there, and my parents, grandparents, and brother all live in the same house that's been converted into 4 small apts. My other grandpa lived there too before his altzheimers was too bad.

    Side note, we're all healthy now (finally), playdate next week?


  7. Wow- so very well said! And I love the title of your post. It's perfect!

  8. I so agree. It does feel like we're alone out here as mommies with all the ups and downs, battles and triumphs. I think that's why there is so much mommy burnout. We don't get the relief pitchers that we need in this crazy parenting game.

    Love the post!

  9. My parents lives two streets away and my sister lives 8 houses down my street. I am thankful everyday for that. I was most thankful for the exact reason you crave it...they were there for me when I needed a 5 minute shower.


  10. Oh, hon. I wanted to stand up and shout "Amen!" as I read this. It wasn't until I became a mother that it hit me. It's hard - and lonely - to try and do it all by ourselves.


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