Everyone’s heard the old proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” and yet so often today it seems to be forgotten and people are becoming more and more isolated in their parenting journey. So many of us live away from family and so have no natural support network when we first enter the parenting game. Many of us may be the first of our friendship group to have children and so find ourselves suddenly plunged into this new world for which we are totally unprepared and for which our friends have no real understanding or empathy. I was in this situation when I had my first child and remember well-meaning friends coming round very late in the evening to see the baby. Yes, they came armed with bottles of champagne and sometimes even the makings of a gourmet meal but all I wanted was a cup of tea, baked beans on toast and sleep. One friend was the exception; although she was absolutely adamant that she never wanted children (and she has stuck to this) she would telephone me every lunchtime to see how I was (sometimes that was the only adult voice I heard all day) never minding if I had to suddenly break off to deal with a baby crisis. And when she came round to visit she would always leave me feeding the baby while she disappeared to wash any dishes lying around the kitchen and generally tidy up. She was a real godsend in those early days providing gentle and constant support in whatever way I needed.
My parents lived a five hour drive away (on a good day) and so weren’t physically on hand to help much, although I did regularly go to stay for a week here or there so that I could enjoy being looked after myself, but they were always at the end of a phone and always seemed to know instinctively when I was worried about something. It didn’t matter how minor the issue was they would always listen and be able to set my mind at rest. And when I visited them or they came to stay they gave the children so much love and attention that I could see them blossoming before my eyes. It was my mum who sat with one of the boys in the bathroom for two hours at a time when he was experiencing toilet fears. She gave him a little pot of “special bottom cream” which he could pop on when going to the loo and which would stop him from falling in and being flushed away. I think he only needed it for a week or so and then he was cured of his fears; all thanks to the mystical magical properties of Grandma’s cream. It was my dad who would be charged with the task of looking after the current baby while the rest of us went for a brisk walk along the beach, to the playground, to the shops, to feed the ducks….It didn’t matter how long we were away nor how long it had been seen the baby had last been breastfed, we would always return to find a very contented pair snoring in unison by the fire.
Each time my parents came to look after the boys when I was in hospital having the latest addition to the brood, my mum would take them for a daily walk always armed with some “emergency money” because “you never know”. This foresight has stayed with them through the years; I am always amused when they are packing for trips away because they will always pack spare clothes because “you never know” and they always ensure that I have emergency money in the car because “you never know” -it’s a good job they’ve learned this as I frequently go out without any cash only to find the petrol gauge hovering precariously around empty!
New motherhood brings with it the need to establish one’s own support network and new mums inevitably join baby and toddler groups simply because they need to make new friends; friends who can understand why they haven’t managed to wash their hair for a week, why they have no idea what day or month it is or what’s going on in the world, and why their sole topics of conversation are nappies, feeding and sleep.I moved house and area within six weeks of my first child being born so knew absolutely no-one. The local National Childbirth Trust became my lifeline and I was soon part of a lovely group of women some of whom are still good friends some twenty years later. We supported one another through all the usual traumas of bringing up small children and were able to look after one another’s children whenever the need arose. Our children benefited from exposure to other adults and from the experience of different homes and different rules.
Friends often come and go as one journeys through parenting. Sometimes you leave old friends behind as they can’t adapt to your new role. I had some who simply couldn’t understand why I refused to leave my baby in the car with a baby monitor beside him while we all ate in a posh restaurant. Needless to say our friendship didn’t survive. Some old friends though become like honorary members of the family, prepared to visit no matter what sort of chaos they may encounter and, even better, prepared to let you visit with your brood, sticky fingers and all. They will step in during those times of need so you can concentrate on dealing with a child in hospital, ailing parents, your own ill health and even if you rarely see them you know that they will always be there for you and for your children. Those who have children of their own provide an extended family of pseudo cousins for your children, those who don’t can be the ones who introduce your children to some of the more sophisticated aspects of adult life. They can influence your children in a way that you, as a parent, maybe never can and, particularly in those tricky teenage years, can provide a more neutral sounding board for them.
And then there are the other really special friends who are always there for you when you feel at your worst, who will listen to you rant and rave about anything and everything and know instinctively when you need a hug, a glass (or bottle) of wine or huge quantities of chocolate. They are the ones you text in times of trouble and they will drop everything to be there for you, they’re on your side no matter what and will tell you what you need to hear even if sometimes you don’t want to hear it. They’re the ones you can open up to about absolutely anything without fear of any confidences being broken and without any fear of being held in any less regard. I think these are the ones you need the most as your children grow into adults. they may not see your children much but they play an instrumental part in their lives by providing you, the parent, a lifeline, someone to whom you can recount your “child’s” latest escapades in all their gory detail without for one minute being made to feel that you’re a bad parent
It really does take a village to raise a child: all those instrumental in caring for baby and child in the early years, teachers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and above all the friends who give us so much love and support no matter what. I guess we can also add to that list the support of all those people out there on Twitter and other social media sites who are prepared to respond to cries of help with kind words of support and encouragement just when you need them most. No one can make this journey by themselves, we all need help and in return we all need to give as much help and understanding to others as we possibly can.