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  • catherinejforrester

Building your village

We all know about the proverbial village it takes to raise a child. But I don’t think many of us truly understand how weird the situation we are raising children is, historically and geographically. Women being in sole charge of individual (or multiple) children, alone, for hours or days on end - this is a total aberration. If it feels impossibly hard sometimes, that’s because it is. We are not wired for this.

Some of us are lucky enough to have family support nearby. But many of us don’t. And even those lucky to have family support still need other layers of support to not just survive modern motherhood - but perhaps even enjoy it.

Almost all of my early parenthood took place during the pandemic. We were worried from the time my son was three months old, we were locked down from four months. It was a weird, weird time to come into motherhood. And it made it so much clearer, in so many ways, our deep and real need for connection and support. As a result I’ve spent a lot of my son’s early life consciously building the village I need, and which the isolating experience of modern motherhood can so easily strip us of.

Here are some practical things I have done to build my village and find a greater sense of community in a culture which sometimes seems pretty keen to keep us isolated:

1. Sharing meals: This is monumentally important for me. I’ve got a whole post about it (have a scroll through my Instagram grid for “toddler tea time”) I can’t stress what a game changer it is to regularly share the practical load, diffuse the intensity of 1:1 childcare, and enjoy the company of mixed groups of adults and children.

If you’re going to a toddler group this week and then heading home to eat alone… is there anyone who lives nearby you could invite round for cheese/beans on toast? Could an afternoon playdate extend into an early tea for both the kids and the grown ups? It doesn’t have to be complicated food. It’s not hosting, it’s sharing. Inviting someone in.

2. Community Hall family tea time: an extension of the above, which allows more people to get together. Hire a cheap local community space, bring a dish and some toys, and have a frankly lovely time. Then everyone can go home to their own home, and no-one has the hassle of tidying up or pressure of hosting multiple families. Are there two or three other families who live near you who might be up for this? Why not book it in for a weekend over the Summer?

3. Share childcare: The more time you spend with other families in these contexts, the easier it becomes for kids to trust the web of adults around them - so that eventually you can look after each other’s kids alone. It might take time to build up to this (ten minutes here and there in each others homes, over months, can extend to longer periods). This Summer I am without formal childcare but am doing childcare swaps with wonderful friends so that we can all have time to work and rest. And honestly - I find it easier hanging out with two young children than one!

4. When you have the capacity, help others: Consciously be part of establishing a culture of dropping round a meal when someone is poorly, or folding someone’s laundry after a hard day. For many of us (myself included) this makes asking for help when we need it easier.

5. Which leads me on to… Ask for help! This can be really vulnerable for so many of us (immersed as we are in the toxic cultural messages of perfect, got-it-all-together motherhood, and our own historic messages about our needs) but it’s crucial. Think about the practical ways that people could help you, when they have capacity. And ask. Could someone cook for you, give you a hand tidying up or sorting out a cupboard that’s stressing you out, or watch your child while you rest or get things done?

6. Normalise doing chores while people are around. Fold laundry, clean the kitchen, sort out the kids outgrown clothes. Don’t separate domestic tasks and socialising. Try to find ways that allow you to do both simultaneously. Invite a friend round to work in your garden with you while your kids play together, and offer to do the same for them.

7. And lastly but maybe most importantly, be honest. In order to connect with someone about how things really are, you need to tell them. Often being vulnerable by sharing the truth of your experience gives them permission to do the same. It is scary, and it is hard, but it is worth it.

Ultimately a lot of this necessitates a reframe away from the very individualised way we are used to running our lives. Rather than siloing off family time; socialising; and domestic labour, you are finding ways to meet all these needs at once. Let go of the idea that your house has to be tidy to welcome someone into it. Can you hang out together and get things done, while meeting both you and your child’s needs for social interaction and connection? Yes you can. It might feel a bit vulnerable at first but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

We really weren’t meant to do this alone - and you don’t have to.

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