To quote the sage Dowager Countess of Grantham, “one forgets about parenting; the on and on-ness of it.” Downton Abbey, people. Sometimes parenting can feel like an endless string of days tied together by one lonely soul who lives to see her children eat their veggies and share their toys. She is in control when all her plates are spinning firmly on their rods. Even when one teeters, she will manage to nurture it back to top speed. And when the day comes, and it does come, that the plates fall all at once as if in cahoots, she cries like it was her fault and gets out the broom. The next day, with a vow or a prayer, she takes up again the most precious burden of Guide, and she knows that someone should teach that beautiful boy to share.
You’ve heard it before, you know, how in America we have taken what has been instinctual and natural in parenting and repackaged it for our sanitized nurseries. Babies sleep alone in their rooms, not with the family. Breastfeeding is optional, not necessary. We choose epidurals and sometimes c-sections over painful deliveries. We teach our babies to soothe themselves instead of being the soother. We push our babies around in strollers instead of wearing them close to us (I will hurt whoever touches my BOB double stroller without asking).
These hot button topics are just some of the choices we make as parents that form our motherly identities, for better or worse. No matter what choices we make for our children, the desire to wholly give is at the root. We feel the very awesome responsibility of planting. After all, that’s the role we play, isn’t it? Mother Sower. The hard truth is that mother does not have what it takes to give everything. The happy truth is that maybe she doesn’t have to.
Recently there has been a renewal of some those primal parenting practices thanks to Attachment Parenting advocates like Dr. Sears. I would dare add one more Old World idea to the movement. Let’s call it Village Parenting (Dr. Sears, you may use this if you please). There is an old African Proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” No, Hillary Clinton didn’t come up with that. Sorry. It was probably some old African woman who, when one of her grandchildren got the opportunity to be educated in the U.S., moved with the family to Queens. She probably took one look at the madness and shouted from her 8th floor window to the masses below, “IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD! WHERE IS THAT CHILD’S GRANDMOTHER?” That’s probably what happened. Now, I don’t have the credentials to make broad sweeping statements about America, but I think it can be agreed upon that independence is a value that most of us wear in an Ergo carrier and wouldn’t be caught dead pushing around in a stroller. We hold it close and dear. Unless you are a Native American (let’s be real, they were here first), your ancestors very likely became the first in their families to leave and start the hard and lonely work of homesteading. The struggle for independence came at a costly price and has been passed down through generations. You have little choice but to value it.
With every step forward, Progress keeps something for herself. In this case, the independence that we enjoy in America has left us lacking community. Even Starbucks has noticed. A major part of their marketing strategy is establishing their stores as a “third place” between work and home by providing a sense of community. Where once this “third place” was a church or even a barber shop, now this community is missing for many Americans. We may see our neighbors while doing yard work, but we no longer depend on them as part of a larger family. In an age where many of us live away from extended family, the void of community can leave us feeling the weight of the world, without the shoulder strength to support it.
What if you had a trusted group of people who you intentionally allowed into your family to be a part of your daily struggles and triumphs? These people have permission to speak into your life and to be examples to your children of what sort of men and women they could become. As your children grow, these individuals become sounding boards for them, advisors when mom doesn’t understand, and loving caregivers when a little help is needed in your household. Your guitar obsessed son now has someone to look up to with musical ability while all you’ve got is a rockin’ Elton John CD collection.
Your daughter won’t only have your neurotic and sort of dysfunctional relationship history to go on. She may get to hear “do as I did” for a change. And it’s not all about the kids, oh no. This is a soft landing place for you too. It means you and your partner are no longer living on an island, waving to boats speeding by. You are part of something bigger than your personal space. Sometimes it gets messy, but the cleanup is worth it. While it is good to receive, it’s great to give. You may find yourself giving more, but the load is shared and there is something renewing when we spend ourselves for others and with others.
Maybe this sounds good to you but you are not sure where to start. A friend once pointed out that we eat 3 meals a day, 21 meals a week. How many of those occasions are spent with someone other than a family member at your table? Start by inviting people into your home. Don’t clean up. Heat up the leftovers from the night before. Seriously. This is about being open to others sharing your actual life, not your Pinterest life. What about shopping? I probably go to the grocery store two or three times a week (I’m an organizational nightmare). How many people do you know without cars that could use a ride to the store? Talk to those closest to you about real issues in their lives and challenge them to think of decisions they make through the lens of community. Recently a good friend was talking to my husband about a bad habit he was starting to develop. He wondered if it was really that big a deal since he didn’t have kids yet and would stop before that happened. When hubby pointed out that he actually already did have kids that looked up to him, and with whom he spent a good deal of time, a lightbulb went off for him. The village is important.
You are a conscientious and loving parent, I know you are. You would never put your child in harms way or intentionally allow them to be subject to unhealthy influences. You want to live simply and enjoy the fleeting moments with your children. Allowing others into your life frees up a lot of space that currently may be crowded with things like unrealistic expectations, self-pressure, and endless striving. Not to mention opening up a world of positive influence for you and your kids. Don’t underestimate what you have to give; there are no villages without mothers. Your neighbors need you, just as you need them. Maybe you have an extra chair at your table.
[…] actually put in there was a baby onesie that said “It took a village”. And it did. It took the love and support of my village –my husband, my family, my friends and my doctors to help get me pregnant. I wanted to quit so […]
Well done. Nicely put. What time is dinner? 🙂
Being a Grandmom is a special time looking into little one’s faces and being a part of their lives —
loving and giving from the heart with each grandparent’s very personal and caring input.
Being a Nanny gives me an opportunity to influence young mothers and their little children —
very rewarding — and making the most of each day. Always love your writings!
Thought provoking post. Andy Stanley (this last Sunday) told those of us who are over 40 that we needed to be mentoring the youngsters around us, sharing the wisdom of our age. Two separate nudges to me this week. Thanks!
Loved this Christin