Use Your Village

Photography:Opal Imagery

By Adrienne Wood

We expect more from ourselves as parents nowadays than in days gone by, yet we do it with less support than ever before. We expect to raise children who are both free-spirited yet polite, sporty yet academic, tech savvy yet with healthy social skills and we expect ourselves to do this whilst working, keeping an orderly household and living isolated from wider family support. But is this healthy?

Tribal African society got it right when they said, “it takes a village to raise a child”, yet in modern western society we are pushed into independence from our earliest days. To prove we’ve “made it” as healthy, functioning adults, we feel we must show we can manage on our own. Highly competent professionals, successful in the cut-throat worlds of law and finance, have told me that parenting is by far and away the most challenging thing they’ve ever had to do.

But rather than share this burden, the struggles of family and parenting have become a private affair that we are reluctant to admit to. We might share our bright and shiny parenting moments on Facebook and Instagram but when things aren’t going so well, we’re quick to hide our “failures” behind closed doors. Instead of living in villages, surrounding our children with an entire community of adults to help raise them, we’re living on islands that we drive out from daily, bravely trying to look in control all by ourselves.

To prove we’ve “made it” as healthy, functioning adults, we feel we must show we can manage on our own.

Parenting was never meant to be done on an island. In days gone by we were raised by school teachers, shop-keepers, pastors and parents alike. The adults in our world knew each other and would catch up and compare notes at the village fair, marae, sports field, fund-raiser or at church on Sundays. We learned to take care of younger siblings and cousins under the watchful eyes of our mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandparents and kindly neighbours. One woman admits, “Once I became a Mom, the saying it takes a village to raise a child sounded less like a nice little proverb about the value of community and more like a warning to parents: Seriously, you can’t do this alone.”

HOW DID WE LOSE OUR VILLAGE?

One reason we’ve lost our village is that many of us move around for work-related reasons. In doing this we cut our ties with the community in which we were raised and with the people that once surrounded us.

Another reason we may have lost our village is that other ‘villagers’ can be flawed. Unsolicited advice from mothers, mothers-in-law or plunket nurses and clashing ideologies with other parents leave us wary of getting others involved. It sometimes feels easier to try to manage on our own than wade into this minefield. But that would be a mistake.

Share the load

We all can be the kind, funny, insightful and caring parents we want to be… some of the time. But none of us can be that amazing all of the time. We get tired. We get sick. We get pressing work or family commitments. It’s vital that we share the load. Give others around you a chance to be amazing too. One writer warns, You have a baby and that baby is yours to love and care for forever, but you can’t, and shouldn’t, do it alone…You have a responsibility to introduce new people to share their gifts and talents and nurture something different in your child.”

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