There is a saying bouncing round the Internet: It takes a village to raise a child. Now, regardless of the dubious provenance of the aphorism itself, it neatly fits my experience.
You can do the parenting thing on your own, but it’s lonely and frightening. As soon as you involve other adults, you have back-up. For many of us, our primary back-up is the other parent, but even then work commitments can get in the way.
Before there was such geographical mobility, people tended to live where they had been born, within walking distance or even shouting distance of their parents, siblings, cousins, and so on. Women got on with the business of housekeeping with gaggles of small children (not necessarily their own) around their feet until those children were old enough to have jobs of their own either domestically or in employment. If a child fell and Auntie Cathy was nearest, she picked him up and kissed it better. If a child got a bit too close to the river’s edge and his mother was nowhere to be seen, someone else would pull him away and talk about drowning.
It should go without saying that not all adults are good with children. Even those who are good with their own children aren’t necessarily good with anyone else’s. There exists an enormous spectrum of parenting styles and resources, and the Village does need some consistency.
So how do we build a Village nowadays, when we might live hundreds of miles away from our own parents, who in turn live hundreds of miles from where they grew up?
There are two ways, really: geographical and virtual.
My geographical Village is made up of other parents we’ve met through baby groups, toddler groups, pre-school and school. We share pick-ups and drop-offs and babysitting. We text each other reminders about own clothes day or homework. We know where to find a fancy-dress costume with eighteen hours’ notice, or where to find PE kit in an unusual size. If my smallest falls over at toddler group, someone else will pick him up and make sympathetic noises until he’s ready to toddle off again. Middle child is now faintly disappointed if I’m the one picking him up from preschool rather than Alice.
My virtual Village can’t help with any of that. They help with different things. There’s a group I met online who were all pregnant at the same time, so we hit milestones together and discuss why on earth a six-year-old can be so hormonal. There’s an opinions group I met online, so we talk about how to avoid Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, and how to make sure our children grow up as feminists. There’s a camping group. There’s allergy groups (although mercifully I’ve been able to fall away from that need). Whatever very specific community you need, it exists online, just a Google search away.
They are all my Village. The words do not exist to explain how much I need them, and how much I appreciate them. I can tell you, though, that I’d be a shuddering, shrieking wreck without them.
Happy Mothering Sunday. Who is your Village?