It takes a village to raise a child.
This catch-cry for families became popular after Hilary Clinton used it in her 1996 book titled, It Takes a Village. The phrase is often credited as an African proverb, however this interesting article questions that assumption. What remains true, the resonance of such a phrase is a reflection of the experiences of families in cosmopolitan societies. There is incredible pressure on parents (and especially mothers) to perform perfectly, however often without a lot of societal and community support. I have felt this too, but over the years, I have learned to see the concept of a village a little differently. Mainly because I believe strongly in adapting and making the best of wherever you are.
A bit of background. When I first became a parent, I had recently moved to another state and knew no one. It was a tough time for me. Since then, my husband’s professional training has required our family to move many, many times, sometimes yearly. This has made establishing a robust support network challenging. For significant periods of parenting, I have raised my family largely without hands-on support. However, I have learned to both trust myself as a parent and the importance of building my own village, depending on where I am. This is not always easy to be honest. Re-establishing a family in a new place and forming new connections takes time, and sometimes it’s not even doable.
In my early years of parenting (of constant moving), I learned just how challenging it can be sometimes. For example, when I had two young children at the time, I met another mother, and we got on famously well immediately. It was so lovely. However, after she found out that I would be moving in six months or so, she said along the lines of: “I really like you…but because you’re moving, I can’t handle investing in this relationship only to have you move away”. It actually shocked me, I guess more-so because I had learned to live in the moment and make the most of present situations. It’s something I noticed over the years of moving, people would draw back after hearing we were only were going to be around a year or so. This had an impact on my own mindset…When we would move to a new place/country, I would have this assumption that people don’t want to invest in others unless it’s going to be a long term thing. Plus, I find that people who have not moved a lot have very deep connections and are (unintentionally) not open to investing in new connections. I really understand this perspective too.
It’s strange thing, but in retrospect, I would say this mindset served me well for three main reason. Firstly, it helped me to see my own family — my husband and four children — as my people, and in this way, we have become a very close self-sufficient unit. Secondly, it forced me to be in control of forming my own village (and accepting that this actually means looking for ways to fund or proactively find my own village, which I will go into further below). Thirdly, it made me even more determined to be willing to invest in relationships ‘without strings’, I guess you could say. I tend to meet people, and just be open to whatever happens — and I just dive in on a deep level (which either people like, or don’t). The thing is, by doing this, I have, in fact, made incredible connections with various people over the years, and we stay in contact, even if we don’t live in the same area. But they are the sort of people that we pick up where we left off because they often have a similar mindset.
Still, I think we all need a village when it comes to raising children. And we have to find ways to make our own village, even if it is challenging because, like in my situation, we moved a lot, or for others, it may be lack of emotional family support, or whatever. Over the years I have learned to form, and importantly see, my village in four main layers:
- My tribe (my husband and children) is my core support
- (Invested) Emotional support from family and very close friends
- Practical support (often from professionals)
- Support from those family and friends in my outer circle who I know care, but are not invested in the day-to-day going ons in our family
1. My Tribe
I often say I take my tribe with me: my husband, and my four children. This has become very true for me; first and foremost, they are my village, because so often it’s just been the six of us, doing the best we can to make our family work where we are. While I think wider support is vital, this mindset allows me to rest in knowing we will be okay regardless, because we have each other.
2. Invested Emotional Support
Even though practical support is SO helpful, I put emotional support second because I see it as incredibly valuable. This second layer of my support network would be my sisters/closest friends/selected other family members. I have three amazing sisters who are parenting alongside me, and even though we don’t live in the same neighbourhood, we support each other in any way we possibly can, even if it’s from afar. That sort of emotional support is incredible and I feel so blessed. My own mother died when I was a young mum of 23, so the relationship I have with my sisters is really important to me. I think what makes this sort of support significant, it is from people that are invested in the intricate going-ons of your life, and that includes the life of your children.
3. Practical Support
Thirdly, I’ve learned to tap into resources like health professionals, baby sitters, coaches, and teachers — and consider them as my village too. I think the concept of ‘a village’ is largely considered a practical support network from family/friends who can come and babysit and that sort of thing. You know, a sense of community — where people might drop in with a meal or pop over to help on those really rough days. The reality is, many people just don’t have this kind of physical support because of the constraints of modern societies.
It took me a while to embrace and form the practical level of my village, because I didn’t see this part of my village. However, we all need support from different levels when it comes to raising children. I do think what makes it challenging though, is being able to afford it, because unless you do have people (like parents) who are available to babysit, for example, it can be expensive to get this kind of support. I know there have been different periods over the years when we couldn’t afford a babysitter, or even a (private) medical specialist for tailored support.
However, in saying that, once I really understood the need to form my own support network in the practical area, I started to see how vast my practical support network could be, and to treat it as such. So when I went to see a teacher about my daughter, my attitude would be that of gratefulness…this person was on my team (even if they were just doing their job). This mindset changed things for me. The point is, that while I am realistic that it’s not always possible to fund practical support, there is a lot of support to tap into that is there waiting. So tap into it! Invest in your local pharmacy (I have found them to be so supportive), don’t be afraid to talk to your GP, thank teachers and coaches. They are your village too. If you need a housecleaner and can afford it, do it! Sometimes people feel guilt about this sort of thing, but don’t. In recent years, our situation has become more stable, and we have added things like Hello Fresh (meal ingredients delivered for 4 meals a week), and I consider this as part of forming my village too.
Significantly, if you look for your practical village, this frames the way you interact with people. For example, my 17-year-old recently opened up a bank account, and I asked the banker to take her through the basics (and she was just wonderful!). Because I saw the banker as someone with valuable knowledge to add to my village, I did not just treat it like a ‘just open up the account’ interaction, but as an investment. Does that make sense? This level is about being confident about tapping into what you need to support your family life, depending on two main factors: where you are and your resources. The factors can change, so what is important is being open to a new mindset about being in control about forming your own practical village.
4. Outer Support
I also appreciate the contribution of many other wonderful influences in my family life. I consider these as family members, friends and even online groups — like Facebook parenting groups or suburb groups. This is the type of support that isn’t necessarily invested in the day-to-day going ons in family life (like level 2) but still offer a good outer layer of support. There are so many wonderful way to connect these days. This layer can even evolve into an inner level of support.
In many ways, our world is more connected than ever. However, at the same time, many modern societies have lost a sense of community. This can make it tough on families. It’s easy to focus on the loss of community (as I used to), however I have learned from my own journey, the importance of changing the mindset about what your village is. This can significantly shape the way you interact in this a-million-mile-wide-but-an-inch-deep world. Your village is still there, you just have to work a little harder to find it.