Sometimes my husband and I are AMAZING parents, we are just real great at it. Calm, fun, creative. On days like these you might see us, after each smoothly putting a child in their car seat with no stress or tears, give each other a little fist bump, with the exploding hand thing after. Like we are teenagers in an American basketball movie.
And then other times, we are really bad at this job. Good grief! We emanate stress, we are triggered by our children’s emotions, we start running on the “control mindset” that seems to be our default. There are no fist bumps on these days- these are the weeks we take it in turns to cower in the toilet.
When I look back over this rollercoaster of parenting, I feel VERY able to trace it to times that we were feeling really supported- or not.
Those darker, grumpier times have almost always been due to isolation, of being away from a supportive group of friends and family, because of big life changes or just getting out of rhythms that connect us to people we need and trust.
There is a powerful phrase about it taking a village to raise a child. It is so true that children thrive on the multi-generational, diverse, chaotic grounding of community. But perhaps it is mostly true because of the support a village gives the parents.
We are exhausted
Before I was a parent I thought I knew tired. Insomnia, exam stress, work trip, too much coffee, very late night, early morning train= EXHAUSTING! Oh how I can now laugh/ cry/ laugh-cry! I was only on Level 7 out of 30- now I’m on the bonus level and it’s not even a game I want to PLAY let alone WIN…
It’s not just the physicality of parenting, the putting new batteries in a broken toy with one hand, whilst doing up shoelaces with the other (and saving a falling bowl of coco pops with your foot) that happens all day.
It’s the mental and emotional strain just as much. The incredible privilege of watching out for other people’s needs, every minute of everyday, and the need to be so mindful of our own feelings and the impact of those on our children. Holding it together is well knackering!
We need people who aren’t quite as tired as us in our village.
When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself, and once for her child.
– Sophia Loren
We have things to do
I want to be the parent who plays, and joins in, and opens doors for my children’s curiosity to blossom. Not the one who is tidying and doing jobs all the time. This sort of means our house is a tip, and that loads of jobs, erm, don’t get done. I do feel like this isn’t meant to be the case.
I’m so inspired by a bunch of my friends (who live in a separate town to me dangnamit) who spend all day every Monday at one of their houses, tidying together. They do it on a rolling schedule so that once a month each one of their houses gets a full on seeing to while all the kids play. It is such a simple thing and a way that villages have done jobs forever. There is a saying on our farm:
If it feels like work, there’s not enough people doing it.
Rowan, from the farm
Life should be enjoyed; parenting and chores can be a pleasure when done together.
We have hopes and dreams
I am learning that I am the parent I want to be (kind, patient, creative) when I have chance to work. (I know! Me! Technically lazy but actually quite ambitious!) I neeeeed time to concentrate and bring to fruit the ideas that ping around my brain. My natural desire to learn and create didn’t die when I birthed my children, if anything it grew and grew. When I don’t get the opportunity to focus on my own shizzle for a bit I am frustrated and distracted with my children- perhaps also out working a little bit of deep down subconscious “motherhood has thwarted me” narrative.
Two of my friends in London do a sort of “child swap” where one morning a week one of them has all four kids while the free mum does some writing, a few days later the writer has all four kids so the other mum can have the morning off. Working, reading, relaxing, fun, whatever- one delicious morning every week to yourself can be a sanity restorer. (Quick, write a list of mates to ring up…)
We need shoulders
Our mental health as parents relies on us having shoulders to cry on, arms to lean on, ears to vent in. Especially for those of us (possibly many, many of us) dealing with emotional baggage from childhood, we need a space where can be honest and open about our feelings. Having other adults we can call on to talk through stuff with us, to give us a huge hug, to let us know we are enough, but that we don’t have to be enough by ourselves… We are born to have this kind of community. Having a group of people we can be vulnerable with and talk through struggles with restores us, makes us able to be the parent that can laugh and dance and be really present. (I also believe we should be authentic with our children too, but not to burden them with our emotional needs.)
Build a village
I found myself beaming today as I opened up a facebook group I’d been invited to, called Takes a Village. Alot of isolated mums are found on facebook and forums, that’s for sure, I spent my first three months as a mum almost solely online googling “Is [insert very normal newborn behaviour] normal?” Takes a Village is a local, open group where mothers can connect and build a friendship offline in order to start doing bits of life in a villagey way, raising their kids, cleaning together, getting well needed breaks. The creator of the group, Rachel, set up the group one evening, and in the morning she woke up to 128 members. A few days later and it has 250 members- it doesn’t sound like much but it represents about a tenth of the NZ population. Hehehe.
Rachel says “I moved to a new town in November and although I joined the local playgroups I’ve found it hard to develop the intentional sort of friendships that extend beyond focusing on children’s play. These days children don’t get to witness as much of ‘village life’, meaning amongst other things, you end up with many adults spending the afternoon playing with their children inside and frankly being a little bored. So I started this page to see if there were any other parents who, like me, craved more adult time and interaction during the day. I created it in the evening, and by the time I went to bed there were already 70 members.
We are hardwired by nature to be a part of a tribe, but these days we move away from our families and change locations so much it’s hard to make old friends. So we end up on our own, which with small children is incredibly hard. This page was a way to bring people together and help each other – with cleaning, with cooking meals for new mums, de-cluttering, babysitting, baking, gardening, sharing skills – whatever people want.”
Parents have already organised themselves, met up and some have begun a roster of meal cooking for the group’s pregnant women’s transition to motherhood. It is potentially so life, and society, changing.
If you are a parent, you are probably weary, likely have a list of jobs as long as your arm, but you deserve a shoulder to cry on and the fulfilment of your hopes and dreams – be they writing a novel or doing a poo solo.
Can you send a text now? Start a Facebook group? I hope you find a way to find your village. You and your kids are well entitled to more fistbump days.