I’ve always believed that it takes a village to raise a child. I grew up surrounded by extended family, in a culture which sees new parents strongly supported by their relatives.
When I became a mother, on the other side of the world to this close-knit network I’d always had around me, I learnt of a different village. The mothers-to-be at ante-natal classes – also unaware of how our lives were about to change – they became my new family. They, and the new mothers at play groups and coffee mornings and local mothers’ meetings. Together, we cried about our lack of sleep, we shared good and bad experiences, we walked for hours trying to get unsettled babies to finally close their eyes, and we talked about it all.
Those women I’d only just come to know, became my sounding boards, my advisors, my confidantes, my friends – my village. I listened, I didn’t always agree, but I was comforted at least by their care. We watched our babies turn one together and in that year, we’d shared the best and worst of times. We’d done it together and as our babies had grown, so had we.
When I became a mother for a second time I was back home. The traditional village was my safety net. My mother held my baby when I and my husband were exhausted, my father entertained my toddler, my aunt made me nourishing traditional foods especially for breastfeeding women, my cousins shared their experiences of swaddling, weaning – and always, of course, sleeping.
My first child is now four. It has been some time since I have called on the village and its wisdom and comforting warmth. It has been some time, I suppose, since I have needed to reach out into it. I rely on the village every day – but for the very ordinary bits of life. My mother and father look after my children three days a week. My best friend, whose children are the same age as mine, always knows when to pour a wine on a bad afternoon and is forever there to share stories about our darlings.
But reaching out is what I did this week. I did it without really knowing I was doing it.
I worry less these days, I’ve accepted our weaknesses and our problems, I don’t worry that my daughter comes into our bed most nights, that she is still in nappies, that my son doesn’t care much for learning to write, that I don’t wash their hair enough, that they watch a lot of TV… Perhaps I’m finally comfortable in my role as mother and I’m confident now that my decisions are made with only their interests in mind – I no longer worry about judgement. However, recently, I had a wobble. I wrote about my worries in a post, I opened up my soul, I typed my failure (or the failure I perceived) into the keyboard. I shared it all.
And there was the village. Even though I’d not realised I needed it – I was surrounded.
Old friends and new, family, acquaintances, readers, strangers – thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories, for telling me about your own children, your own experiences, your own troubles. Thank you for your kind advice and your wisdom. I didn’t really know I was asking for it or that I needed it, but I’m so grateful that I was given it. You offered your help, I listened, and the wobble eased. I found my strength, somehow, in your words and encouragement and remembered the years it had taken to build this confidence – bolstered by the village but founded in my own refusal to justify or be judged.
The village is more than my family and my old friends and my new ones too. It’s every reader, every parent and non-parent who has ever reached out or listened, or just been there and let me know. And the power of the village isn’t just that it will raise a child – it will also be there to help, support and nourish a parent who couldn’t do it any other way.
It takes a village to raise a child. Yes, it does. But it also takes a village to make and raise a mother.