It takes a village to raise a child (and to be the parent you want to be) 

16 September, 2015

It takes a village to raise a child – but especially to be the parent you want to be…

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.)

It takes a village to raise a child - but especially to be the parent you want to be. The Embrace, Gustav Klimt

It takes a village to raise a child – but especially to be the parent you want to be.


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.

It takes a village to raise a child- and there is one out there for you!

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  • Victoria Gosnay 16 September, 2015 at 6:27 am

    You totally echo my thoughts & feelings…
    Blinkin’ love reading your blog 🙂

    • Lucy 16 September, 2015 at 8:12 am

      😀 thank you Victoria!

  • Elizabeth 16 September, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Lucy, I love reading your posts! You hit the nail right on the head with this topic. We’ll be moving overseas at the end of October, and I was already thinking about the change this will bring for us and our children in terms of trying to recreate a tribe/village feel in our new environment. I’m hoping that there’s a Takes a Village type thing in Boston (going to start my google search now), but if not I might go down the same route as Rachel and start one up myself! Thanks for the inspiring read! x

  • Laurenne Hopkins 16 September, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Wonderful post. This is so true, and me and my husband were just talking about this the other day. I just sat and cried the other day, because with a newborn and a 2 and a 3 year old I just felt absolutely exhausted and like I couldn’t seem to get on top things. My house is a mess generally, but we’ve hit new heights since Marls was born, and it does make me stressy. We live out of one GIANT laundry pile, and oh what I wouldn’t give for someone to put it all away for me, or for a few hours of someone to hold the baby while I crack on with it.Yet when the house is so messy I invite people over less, because even though I hate it I do keep a pretense when people come over that I’m far tidier than I am.

    It’s funny though because we are made to feel like we should be able to do it all, be happy and wonderfully present with our littles, work, have hobbies, and keep a lovely home, which is just unrealisitic particularly if you have little support from family / friends. In the past when I had just one child but was working 2 jobs from home, I hired a cleaner for a few weeks and I got really negative reactions from people, like I was being really lazy.

    It’s so hard when you have parents that still work full time, grandparents that are too old to help, and friends that either work or have their own kids / houses / shit they are manically trying to keep afloat with too. I love the idea of sharing the childcare and helping each other do chores. It’s funny because, it’s something I’ve been thinking about lot lately, and I really either need t make my peace with a very messy house for the time being, or hire in a bit of help because I definitely slink into a horrible parenting place when my cup is empty.

    I dream of communal living, our own space but sharing things like cooking and working some land. Maybe one day 🙂

    L x

    • Lucy 16 September, 2015 at 8:12 am

      Oh love to you Lauren xxx personally, if hiring a cleaner makes you a better mum, allows you to work and feel sane I would do it in a BLINK. In fact, I am on the verge myself 🙂 don’t let other people’s reactions stop you doing something that will make your life easier.

      • Katy B 16 September, 2015 at 9:13 am

        Yes quite! Don’t feel guilty about getting a cleaner, or whatever it is you need to do to make your family life happier and easier. Sod what other people think – they’re just hanging on to guilt from their own childhoods.

      • ThaliaKR 16 September, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        Outsource anything you can afford to and don’t enjoy doing, especially with a new babe who needs all the time you’d otherwise have to spend on cleaning the shower! Do it now! (hiring, not cleaning!)

      • Laurenne Hopkins 5 January, 2016 at 11:51 am

        Just gone to reference this post in my latest post and own comment startled me a little bit in how unsupported I was clearly feeling at the time.

        Pleased to say since then have leant on a really wonderful supportive group of friends (and we did get a little bit of housework help too!) – our communal living dreams seem to be on their way to coming true too 🙂 L x

  • Dani 16 September, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Thank you Lucy… you have done it again. Just when I need some advice or a shoulder to rest my avocado smeared, unwashed, haven’t slept for more than three hours straight for as long as I can remember (which is basically nothing these days) head, there in my inbox lies a little lifeline – your articles are such an honest account of what it feels like as a parent… just reading that someone out there just gets it, makes me instantly feel more connected, grounded, part of the big global village. Thank you xx

  • Rowan 16 September, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Er, that was Tom.

  • ThaliaKR 16 September, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Such an excellent, excellent piece, and full of inspiring, practical ideas.

    I LOVE the housework co-op idea! Brilliant!

  • Sarah Rooftops 17 September, 2015 at 8:36 am

    This. All this. I am lucky that I have friends who work unconventional hours so, for the first few months of Matilda’s life, I managed to have someone round almost every day who would just hold her for an hour while I took care of myself/the house (or who would play with our poor, neglected cats while I did baby stuff). Now that we’re out of the crazy newborn bit that has waned but I’m starting to find it other new mothers instead and it makes all the difference. My partner is brilliant but he’s out of the house 11-12 hours a day and that’s too long to routinely go without grown up support. We need to pull together to make family life easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

  • Hollie 13 October, 2015 at 8:41 am

    It’s no coincidence I found this today. I sure as heck needed it. I’m having one of those – ‘If you ever need a lesson in patience spend the day (350 odd in fact) with a 3 year old.’ #PauseAndBreathe

    On that note. I’m just about to hit up Amazon for a conscious/peaceful parenting book and actually came here in search of your recommended reading list I remember reading WAY back when. Xx

  • Natalie 22 December, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Loved reading this. I feel completely the same and as with the isolation as well. It can be tricky being constantly around your littles (in my case 5, 3.5, 22month old and almost 6 months pregnant) and not see or speak to any adult. I love my littles dearly but like you say if you’re over worked, or your cup isn’t being refilled and you’re struggling to do it all, it can feel very relentless and takes the joy out of parenting. I often feel alone in my thoughts, and recently feel like my ‘real life’ friends just don’t seem interested in making an effort. So having no one to talk to or ‘ a village’ can be poop at times. I’m glad I have my partner (but works full time) and my dad who I can talk to. I probably blow their ears off though from lack of me time or simple adult conversation lol

    Fab post. X