It’s a village, girls, but not as we know it…

Many of our posts over the last year and a bit have mentioned the African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I’ve previously talked about the importance of having a tribe and a ‘mayday mama‘. Now I don’t live in a traditional tribal village. Neither do I have my extended family close at hand, but I am ever conscious of the importance of the people who surround me and the role they play in helping raise our children. Likewise, I take on that role with the children of these people. This week has reminded me what an honour that is.

Phil left on a school trip last Friday. I was dreading the week that stretched out before me and filled it with plenty of things to keep us busy. I did it last year whilst pregnant but this was my first solo week with two children to look after. I am keenly aware that some parents are on their own all the time, so felt silly getting so worked up. It actually turned into a really lovely week. Of course we missed him but, thanks to my village (of sorts) we not only survived but had fun in the process…

A visit to my aunt on Saturday meant an afternoon of being ‘looked after’ with delicious food and plenty of fun for Primrose. We left there and headed to Lauren’s for dinner. Her hubby was away too, so us four ladies enjoyed a delicious meal with Wilf happily bouncing in his chair. The girls loving spending time together, as always, and we got to have a good natter.

Sunday brought a trip to visit a friend with a baby the same age as Wilf, for tea and a catch up, followed by a children’s theatre production with the tribe and toddlers. I was stressed at this point – a poonami, a nap cut short, sub-Saharan temperatures at the top row of the theatre and an overtired baby threatened to tip me over the edge but, of course, there was strength in numbers once again and the girls held Wilf whilst I sat with Primrose, so I didn’t feel quite as frayed and they snuck in some cuddles! I cooked dinner for Lauren and the girls that night, so we all ate together again, then bathed the kids before she headed home and I put mine to bed. A valiant effort from Team Mother Side!

The rest of the week followed suit – meet ups with other mamas, a wonderful friend taking the day off work to lend a hand, another similarly wonderful friend popping in to help me at dinner time (and have a glass of wine), the in-laws driving up to take Primrose swimming… all these offers of help and, in stark contrast to how I was as first time mum, I not only accepted but absolutely loved having the load shared.

On Wednesday, I was able to return the village spirit when a dear friend went into labour. Her toddler breastfeeds and bedshares and, as she needed to be in the hospital, we knew it would be an unsettling time for her. As a like-minded mama, she asked me to be on call when the time came. I arrived mid-afternoon and switched places with another mum-friend of ours. Her lovely au pair and I set about trying to create the perfect balance of distraction and calm(!) as we headed towards supper, bathtime and bed with two two-year olds and Wilf! We sent updates to my friend and her husband, reassuring them that their daughter was happy, and she was – playing with Primrose and giving lots of kisses and cuddles to Wilf. In the middle of the night, I heard a cry and we spent the next little while cuddling, reassuring and entertaining this tiny being, trying to emulate the care that her mummy and daddy would give as much as possible and showing her pictures of her new baby sister. When her Daddy arrived home a few hours later, she was happy but very ‘awake’. He was able to resettle her back to sleep. Calm was restored for a few hours before the new day began and I went to sleep feeling very lucky to have been trusted with an important role in such a private and pivotal moment in this family’s life, especially as I’ve known them for such a short time. It was a very special 24 hours. I rocked up at soft play mid-morning and felt the lingering tiredness dissipate slightly as three other mum friends took care of the little things like subbing me the cash I needed to get in and taking off Primrose’s shoes and coat!

Phil came home that night but not before my Dad and his girlfriend dropped in at just the right time to help me unload the car of children and bags, get up to our flat, sort the washing, cook dinner and bath the bambinos. It was the final boost I needed until he arrived home a few hours later.

Last Sunday night, Lauren and I got to chatting about the draw of living in a commune and sharing all these responsibilities. To know your children are safe with a team of other caregivers; to know you have similar parenting styles and that there’s a whole community of like-minded folk who’ve got your back, love your children like their own, and can stop you from going ever-so-slightly bananas in ‘those’ moments.  We’re not designed to be alone and raising children is an extension of that.

The relative isolation from our families, compared to a few generations ago, when we tended to live close by, plus our society’s strange stance that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that mothers should have it all together, not needing to ask for help, means that many of us are alone in this crazy world of parenting. Like penguins, cosying up for warmth and protection, rotating around so no member of the huddle is left out in the cold, having each other’s backs is part and parcel of parenting – we’re all in it together, after all.

So, wherever you are and whether you’re parenting one child or several; newborns, toddlers or teens; old or young, rich or poor, here’s to you and your ‘village’, whoever it comprises.

This week has been brilliant and I am thankful to my hodgepodge village and all the people in it for making it so.

Jo, The Mother Side xx

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