I want to start by saying that I am very lucky to have the village that I do. My husband and I moved back to my hometown and moved in with my parents just a few months before my son was born. We didn’t intend on staying as long as we did, but we ended up living there for about a year and a half. My mom was a HUGE help. She took care of making formula, washing and sterilizing bottles, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and child care. My dad ensured I had all the support I needed to finish my masters, he supported us in all we wanted to do, and now that my son is out of the delicate baby stage, the two of them are two peas in a pod. Finally, my husband has been heavily involved since day one doing everything from feedings, night wakes, bedtime routine, bath, laundry, groceries, and worked a full-time job that was anything but supportive and flexible (thank goodness he has a new job). I know that I am one of the lucky ones. However, I really struggle with friendships. I always have. While I’m grateful for my village, and again, I am so very lucky, I still struggle with isolation and loneliness as a Mom.
I don’t want or need a big village. I would be happy having 2-3 close mom friends to share the trials and tribulations of motherhood, to have playdates with, to go shopping with, to grab coffee with, and to vent to free of judgement and without any problem solving, but this isn’t easy to find and I know I’m not alone. It’s been estimated that over 50% of moms experience feelings of isolation and loneliness and up to 75% find motherhood to be distressing (American Pregnancy, n.d.). That’s an epidemic. That’s a problem. Mothers are often the primary caregivers and there has been evidence to suggest a link between a mother’s health and well-being and that of her child (Giallo et al., 2015; Prenoveau et al., 2017). We need to take care of ourselves. We need to take care of each other. We need to take care of our mothers. The goal of this blog is to discuss the definition of a village, its importance, things that may be getting in your way of having a village, how to overcome those roadblocks and find your tribe, and things to think about.
WHAT IS A VILLAGE?
The definition of a village, in my opinion, defers depending on the person. For our purposes here I am going to define a village as a small community where people really know each other. They are invested in each other, take care of each other, and they share the same joys and tribulations. More specific to raising children, a village is a community of adults that are invested in the children, their health and well-being, and development. In other words, surrogate caregivers who create a sense of belonging and connectedness within the child. This could be immediate and extended family living close by. It could also be friends, neighbours, co-workers, a nanny, etc. with no familial relationship, but still feel like family. Or it could be a mixture. Your village may be large or small. There are no rules.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A VILLAGE
The importance of a village varies depending on who we’re talking about, the parents or the child. For parents, meaningful social connectedness among has been well-established in psychological research and has been linked to longevity, strengthened immune system, decreased anxiety and depression, increased empathy, resilience, higher self-esteem, and cooperation and trust. Accordingly, a village allows mothers:
- To have a break
- To attend appointments
- To go to work guilt free (or as guilt free as possible)
- To not bare the burden that historically was shared among a whole community
- To feel safe and secure
- To let go of perfectionism
- To trust our instincts
- To be dependent, vulnerable, and get our needs met without feeling shame
- To establish a strong sense of self
- To feel joy, connected, and supported…..
For children, strong attachment relationships create a secure base for them to venture forth. Children who are securely attached to their adult caregivers have been shown to demonstrate high levels of resiliency, to exhibit self-regulation, to be more adaptable, to have lowered stress and alarm, to be better able to attuned to their own needs, are more empathetic, and experience less behavioural concerns (Rees, 2007). While children only need to be securely attached to one adult to reap these benefits, if the primary caregiver isn’t being supported and there is no village of attachment, they may not be able to create a secure attachment for their child. Adequate social support is one of numerous of determinants of maternal mental health and well-being (Fisher et al., 2012; Robertson et al., 2004). Therefore, a lack of support (or village) is a risk factor for maternal mental health concerns (e.g., depression), which may result in behavioural and emotional problems in the child (Giallo et al., 2015; Prenoveau et al., 2017). Bottom line, humans are hardwired to connect and this is becoming more and more rare, particularly among the realm of parenting. But why?
ROADBLOCKS AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
We know that mothers, as well as, anyone caring for children on a daily basis, need support. We know not having this support is harmful to us and to the children. So, where’s the support? What’s preventing us from having that support? Well, I have a few ideas:
- Society and culture. We are in a day and age that no longer values community, closeness, and dependence. Nowadays, we tend to lean towards individuality, separation, and independence. We often spend more time on our phones on social media, rather than actually being social (in-person). We’re more likely to send a text rather than call someone. We’re more likely to move away and start a new life rather than remain close to “home.” Now, none of this is a bad thing, but we have moved away from in-person social interactions and towards more secluded and isolated forms of communication.
- You’re at a different stage than your friends. This has ALWAYS been me. I have always been an old soul and introvert who preferred quiet nights at home with my dogs, crafting, and watching movies. However, I just happened to be friends with a bunch of very extroverted people who liked doing age-appropriate things like socializing and being together. I started to retreat from a lot of my friends when I was about 21 and started working in mental health. As a result, I ended up becoming close with individuals who were a bit older than me and no longer had young children. I’ve just never inserted myself in the “right” group.
- Your values and beliefs. This could really be anything from child rearing to religion. Regardless, if we can’t find like minded people to spend time with and to talk to, we ended up spending a lot of time trying not to offend them, feeling judged, not being open and honest, among other things. However, being open to others and their beliefs can be a great way to learn something new and gain a new perspective.
- You’re shy, lack courage or self confidence. It’s incredibly daunting to go up to someone you don’t know and try to make friends. I envy those personalities that connect with others so naturally. I always find myself thinking, “what if they don’t like me,” “what if I say something to offend them,” “what if they don’t want a new friend,” “what if they reject me,” “what if we become friends and they’re extroverted people who like to be out all the time,” “what if I don’t like them,” what if, what if, what if….?
- You’ve tried and nothing came out of it. I have signed up for parent-child groups and found that no one talked to each other or only talked to the people they knew.
- Financial burdens. It’s not cheap to socialize, particularly if you’re starting from scratch. Groups and activities (mommy and me, gymnastics, skating, hockey, swimming, fitness classes….) where you would meet other like minded people aren’t cheap. As well, getting out with friends may involve further expenses like babysitters and activities.
- You’re solo parenting. Whether you’re a single parent or have a partner who works a lot, it’s hard to get out when you don’t have that in-house support system. It is also likely the last thing you want to do if you’re taking on the majority of the parenting responsibilities.
- You’re booked. Do you work? Have your kids in activities during the evenings and weekends? Have errands to run? If so, you may feel like there’s no room in your schedule for anything else.
HOW TO OVERCOME THESE ROADBLOCKS
Mama, if you’re struggling with isolation and loneliness in motherhood. If you so strongly crave connection and a village, then you MUST find it within yourself to build that village yourself. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time and energy that you don’t have. It will require you to step outside of your comfort zone, but you can and you will, and it will be oh so worth it! But where do you start?
- Cultivate connection. Meaningful, in person social connection may not be the norm, but it doesn’t have to be YOUR norm. Start small. Initiate contact. Call a friend or family member instead of texting them. Ask a family member or friend to do something rather than waiting for them to invite you out. Get out and be around others. Take your kids to the park or a walk on a popular walking trailer. Smile at another mom in the grocery store. Just start getting comfortable with connecting.
- Think about what type of people you want to attract. It’s kind of like dating, if you’re looking for a serious relationship and want to settle down, maybe a bar isn’t the best place to meet that person (or maybe it is). If you’re into fitness, maybe try fitness class. If you like quilting, try attending a quilting class. If you don’t like MLMs don’t go to the host party or join the Facebook group. Just be apart of something that fills your cup and step away from those that don’t.
- Similar to what I discussed above, set your boundaries. Decide which of those boundaries are set in stone and which are drawn in the sand. If you really can’t handle being around those with differing opinions and values, then don’t be around them. If you don’t feel like you can be yourself around someone, reevaluate that relationship.
- Practice being vulnerable. Simply put, open yourself up and accept yourself for who you are.
- Practice self-love and self-compassion. Before you can connect with anyone and expect others to like you, you must first connect with, and like, yourself first. All of those “what ifs” I listed above may come true, but so what? If I like me, if i’m in tune with myself, if i’m honouring my needs, if i’m living authentically, that’s all that matters. Know that the right things will find you when it’s time.
- Finally, set your priorities. If you’re experiencing financial burdens, look for free programs and activities in your area. As well, decide what you can and cannot afford, maybe you can’t do everything, but can you do one? If you’re solo parenting, think of who you can call on for support and an appropriate time to do so. Maybe you can’t get out everyday or every weekend, maybe it’s once a month, but find a time that works. Remember, be vulnerable. Admit that you need help. As well, set your boundaries. If you need an hour to yourself, let your partner know. If your schedule is always booked, decide what can go and what can’t. You and your children’s days don’t need to be filled.
SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
What type of roadblocks are in your way from creating your village?
How do you feel about yourself? Are you practicing self-love and compassion? Are you setting boundaries? Have you assessed your priorities? I’d like you to list 5 things that you feel about yourself. List 3 ways you’re practicing self-love. If you’re not, list 3 ways you can show yourself some love. What are your boundaries when it comes to social connection and friendships? What are you looking for in this context? Finally, what are two things you can take off your to-do list?
What’s one thing you’d like to get involved in or try?
Finally, spend some time thinking about the village that you want. What does that look like? What’s one step you can take in creating that village?
American Pregnancy Association. (n.d.). Do I have a form of postpartum depression? Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life-/forms-of-postpartum-depression/
Fisher, J., Mello, M. C. D., Patel, V., Rahman, A., Tran, T., Holton, S., & Holmes, W. (2012). Prevalence and determinants of common perinatal mental disorders in women in low-and lower-middle-income countries: a systematic review. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 90, 139-149.
Giallo, R., Woolhouse, H., Gartland, D., Hiscock, H., & Brown, S. (2015). The emotional–behavioural functioning of children exposed to maternal depressive symptoms across pregnancy and early childhood: a prospective Australian pregnancy cohort study. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 24(10), 1233-1244.
Prenoveau, J. M., Craske, M. G., West, V., Giannakakis, A., Zioga, M., Lehtonen, A., … & Murray, L. (2017). Maternal postnatal depression and anxiety and their association with child emotional negativity and behavior problems at two years. Developmental psychology, 53(1), 50.
Rees C. (2007). Childhood attachment. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 57(544), 920–922.
Robertson, E., Grace, S., Wallington, T., & Stewart, D. E. (2004). Antenatal risk factors for postpartum depression: a synthesis of recent literature. General hospital psychiatry, 26(4), 289-295.
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