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Village Misconceptions...

We often here, "It takes a village to raise a child", and with this in mind, many mothers today try to work together to support one another through the trials and tribulations of parenting in this modern world.

The thing is, in villages, it wasn't peers supporting one another with parenting, so much as an intergenerational support system, and I feel - I've witnessed a fair bit of this - that many women in peer community groups end up feeling let down by the concept of it taking a village to raise a child.

The problem with peers trying to be support to one another is that everyone has the same needs, and when you have a particular need, it's very hard to give of yourself to another person who has exactly the same need, because you have little to give.

When you're emotionally spent, and all touched out and the kids are demanding you constant attention, do you feel able to give someone else's children - as well as your own children - the attention they need in order to help out another mum to who is also emotionally spent, all touched out and has kids demanding her constant attention? Somehow, I doubt it. And so, community peer support often extends only to brief encounters with the dispersing of much anxious energy. Quite often women come away from these brief social encounters feeling less isolated, but not less tired.

There is no doubt it's great to laugh and cry with other women, but to what extent can this alleviate the symptoms of severe anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation or loneliness, particularly if it's a once a week, or once a month event?

Village life was all about the previous generation helping out the next generation, and the subsequent generation helping out with the one before it. It was about meeting complimentary needs, not competing needs. When everyone has the same need, it means they are under-resourced in the same way and are not going to be able to be a resource for the same need in one another.

As a mum of young children, it breaks my heart to see other mums of young children struggling, and yet, I am not able to meet their needs because I'm barely meeting my own need; two drowning people cannot keep one another afloat no matter how much they would like to!

For women to make the most of a village support mechanism, they need to be able to accept support from "aunties, uncles and grandparents" - I put this in double quotes because for some of us those "aunties, uncles and grandparents" are not going to be able to be blood or marital relatives, they're going to be the other wise elders. Just as with village life, we have to accept that we may not always see eye to eye with their perspective on parenting (Do we really think villages were Think Tanks? Of course they weren't, the next generation is always going to want to show their independance by reinventing the wheel). Mostly, we need to acknowledge that doing it all ourselves, or EXPECTING our friends (who also have children) to keep us afloat is not going to serve our children in the long run when every resource is beyond exhausted and we fall in a heap...


carol said…
well written
Tracy said…
I gave up going to playgroup around baby number 3. I came away even more social isolated and dispirited. I've found craft groups with women of many ages more supportive.
Being an older mum I felt like I was expected to know it all! But like any mum of any age I too still need to learn and be supported to be a mum. Every new addition to our family has required me to re-learn birthing, caring and breastfeeding with another totally unique child.

I get so cross with people who make comments like..oh you've done it 6 times before you'll be ok! Because I have done it 6 times before I know I won't necessarily be ok and that I may not have an 'easy' labor and breastfeeding may or may not be hard to establish.
Joy Johnston said…
This post is full of insight - thanks Sif. Our society tends to pigeon-hole everyone into their group, when we do need to learn from and connect with people who are different from whoever we are at the moment.
I think mothers who belong to groups that span the age groups can get perspective on any matter that concerns them.
From my perspective as the grey-haired village midwife, it's always a delight for me to interact with young mothers within the community. It keeps me focused on the real issues for the women I seek to serve at the time of birth and nurture of their little ones.

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