Danielle Aubin, LCSW
When The Village Never Shows Up
Let's face it, for most of us, the village never showed up. Even when our families live close by, they rarely ever show up in a way that meets our needs as new parents. Most of us find ourselves alone trying to meet the needs of a newborn and we feel completely overwhelmed.
Many of us don't get experience with newborns before we give birth. This might be the first time we ever even change a diaper. If we are lucky, the hospital staff might spend 2 minutes showing us how to do it and that's it. Then we are on our own.
Movies never show what new parenthood is actually like. We are never told how hard it is going to be. How lonely it can be to have your life completely disrupted in an instant and have literally no time to yourself. And how society doesn't acknowledge how hard it is. People only stop to say how cute your baby is but they never ask "Are you ok? Do you need anything?" We have no idea that being a breastfeeding mom can make it impossible to share the work of parenting evenly. How birth trauma can affect our mood. That postpartum depression is actually really common (1 in 10). We are facing all of this with no one to guide us, no one to step in to hold our hand, and tell us that everything will be ok.
Our Economic System Makes It Worse
Our economic system has made it extremely hard for parents to stay home with their kids. Most families require two-income households. This can cause moms to go back to work sometimes only 2 weeks after giving birth. And then we wonder why many mothers feel completely unsupported and overwhelmed as parents. So parents rush back to work and come home exhausted and guilty because they don't have the energy to be present with their cute baby. Even if they are lucky enough to afford to stay home, they become exhausted caring for a child all day with no breaks and no support.
Where are our aunties, grandmas, neighbors, and community members that were supposed to be there to support new families? Surely our neighbors who have already raised children can offer guidance and cook us a hot meal or two, right? This period in life is so short so why isn't society stepping in and helping new parents? Why are we leaving them completely on their own?
Children Were Meant To Be Raised By The Community
Children were not meant to be raised by a nuclear family. In fact, evoluntarily speaking children require the energy and time that only a community could provide. One or two parents cannot provide this on their own. Children exposed to multiple caregivers (aka alloparents) receive multiple benefits. It helps the parents recharge and it helps the children be exposed to different ways of thinking and doing things. So where are the alloparents?
Many people who would be great alloparents are busy working or have their own health issues or other problems. Many parents don't feel comfortable leaving their children with others due to concerns about abuse. It is hard to trust someone with your kids, family or not.
Grieving The Village And Hope For The Future
It's important to grieve for the loss of the village. Due to the lack of support, many of us can't parent in the relaxed, trusting, and patient way we wish we could. We have economic stressors and we are burnt out from either working and caring for kids or caring for kids all day. We don't get enough breaks. Paying for childcare means we need to work more to keep paying. It is a cycle that never ends. Our retired family members never showed up. Our neighbor never thought to bring us a meal or offer to hold the baby for a little while. And we need to grieve this. It shouldn't be this way. Our society has failed new parents.
It doesn't have to be this way. We can change society at any time. I am starting with myself. I know what it feels like to try to do this alone. Watching a baby and toddler 12+ hours per day with no breaks. Cooking all the meals. Cleaning the home. And working outside the home to boot. Once my kids are older and need me less, I am determined to be the neighbor and auntie who brings you food. Who offers to hold your baby so you can take a shower. Who reads your toddler books. I will be the change. How about you?