By Natasha Brown
I’ve heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” my entire life — we all have. As children we may not have understood exactly what that meant, but as a parent I can say for sure that a village or support system is important for every family. The village isn’t just about being able to call someone to babysit for a night out with your significant other; it’s about having people — family or friends — to help support you through motherhood and life. And when you don’t have those things it can be very isolating.
When the communities that our grandparents, parents and many of us grew up in started to disappear, it took away an outlet (both physically and emotionally) that few of us anticipated. These villages weren’t just made up of friends to hang out with or have block parties with, they were people who knew one another well; they shared the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life together. When there was a need the community rallied together and nurtured that need as only a group of people who knew one another well enough could. When children came along, the village watched out for the well being of all of the neighborhood kids. Hosting lemonade stands, cutting grass, and playing alone in the front yard weren’t police-worthy offenses. Kids were allowed to be kids and when the elderly needed a helping hand, the village was there to be those hands whenever it was necessary.
Having five children and living in a neighborhood where our kids probably make up most of the children present, our village is pretty nonexistent. The truth is you can’t always rely on family, and employers don’t make it easy to have a healthy work/home life balance so when there are emergencies I’m normally the one scrambling because my husband is unable to help. While I have a wonderful family, my network of mom friends is just about nonexistent. There are no playdates or birthday parties, and at times I feel like I should give up trying to fill that void.
Raising a child with special needs has made the lack of a village even more isolating. My son has therapy every week, not mention a host of other appointments required for him and his four sisters. There are days where I just break down because I can’t do it all. My husband tries his best, but even he admits that sometimes his best isn’t good enough. Not being in an area where we can form an adequate village has left us feeling frazzled at times and even depressed. We all need someone to lean on; even as spouses, we can only lean on each other so much.
What we lose when the village disappears
There are several ramifications that we haven’t thought through with the removal of the village. Parents lack support in so many areas already, and the following examples are just a few of the added stressors parents and families who don’t have a village to lean on face:
- They feel less safe due to having more unknown boundaries, expectations and lack of support from a well-known group of people with whom to grow.
- Priorities of the family start to become distorted and unclear due to having to meet so many needs at one time.
- Parents now have to create their own tribes and villages in a time where they are overburdened and don’t have adequate home/work life balance.
- Children are no longer able to act up upon their natural instincts. More and more, parents no longer feel safe letting their kids roam their neighbors or even play outside due to overzealous neighbors. This takes away their opportunity to explore, create and nurture their curiosity.
- We forget what “normal” looks and feels like, which leaves us feeling as if we’re not doing enough, or enough of the “right” things.
- Depression and anxiety become a signature part of many of our lives, particularly during seasons when we instinctively know we need more support than ever but don’t have the energy to find it.
- We feel guilty for just about everything: not wanting or having time to be our children’s primary playmates, not working enough, working too much, allowing too much screen time in order to keep up with our million perceived responsibilities, etc.
I will caution that at times we can turn ourselves into martyrs as well. We have people who want to be a part of our village, but we turn them away. This isn’t to say you have to welcome any and everyone into your circle, but we have to know that it’s okay to ask for and even receive help sometimes. If you aren’t able to find a village where you are, there are a lot of online groups that can offer comfort and support, even if those mothers can’t physically be there with you. If you have people who want to offer assistance, don’t be afraid to accept it. It’s okay to say “yes I need help.” We weren’t designed to parent alone and we don’t have to.