There’s the old phrase that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s not a new thought that children need a lot of input, stimulation, and varied experiences to become well rounded adults. That has been a steady concept for many years.
However, perhaps we’re not looking at this pearl of wisdom in ways that fully take advantage of all it has to offer. Perhaps it takes a village to raise a child so the parents of the child will survive parenthood well.
Historically family relations and parenting did not resemble what we have seen take place in the last fifty or so years. Families, immediate and extended, lived together in multi-generational households. Many families were situated in such a way that sisters or brothers would buy a house together. Each family would own a floor of the home and live together yet separate. Many of these traditions are still alive and flourishing today but it is not what we generally see occurring.
When a parent has access to aunts, uncles, and grand parents they may also have greater access to personal “adult time.” These past generations had immediate resources. Everyone in the house knew ‘the rules.’ Children knew the chances of them being caught doing something they shouldn’t were pretty good. They knew that they didn’t have to answer to simply one or two adults—they had to answer to an entire family. Parents and children alike knew that someone would always be there. When you have anywhere from two to eight adults depending on the size of the family, you have a type of assistance that is almost unheard of for coupled or single parents.
This model of multi-family households allowed parents to know they had assistance from morning to bedtime and every moment in between. What type of difference does it make to a parent to have the time to run an errand? What would it be like to walk upstairs, ask your sister if they mind if your child stays upstairs playing for the next hour? Chances are your child was already upstairs playing.
When we look at how Americans have structured their lives and expectations currently it looks nothing like what the past has had to offer. It’s becoming almost unusual to see two parent households with the rate of divorce soaring. A two parent household has become an ideal of sorts in modern times. There is an expectation that you’ll marry, live away from your parents and your siblings, and raise your children in your own single family home. Single and dual parent households are under tremendous pressure to provide everything needed to raise a child.
It’s a relatively new way of doing things. Given how other aspects of modern life have shifted not only is there an expectation that parents will handle everything by themselves but both parents generally need to work outside of the home as well. Even parents who are able to work at home do not magically have it easier. If their children are home they are not getting uninterrupted work time unless they have someone else to provide childcare. Stay at home parents have a full time job that doesn’t have an end time—they tend to work well beyond when their partners end their work day at the office.
Almost every parent I know is stretching daily to keep up with the demands of raising children, spouses, jobs, and social / familiar obligations. Add to it the scheduled activities that children partake in and we have a recipe for exhaustion. I have heard a nap referred to as the Holy Grail. I believe naps and time to oneself is as illusive as the Holy Grail for parents these days.
In my practice, I see parents who are laboring under the belief that because they are tired or having difficulty keeping up that they are somehow a failure as a parent or offer less than other parents who seemingly are moving through their lives with ease. I don’t think these parents have taken into consideration that the current parenting model employed by American parents is relatively new territory. I don’t think when they stated with awe and puzzlement that they don’t know how their grandmother did it that they really took into account the valuable resources familial proximity provided. Teamwork was not only valuable for parents, the very example of it taught children that others are needed to create a stable, consistent life. The very basics of this understanding might provide valuable lessons that children will carry forth into adulthood of how one works out differences in a marriage, how one works as a team member at work, and how to make room for the ideas of others without feeling personally criticized to simply name a few. They had the benefit of seeing how several marriages worked, how each member gave and took, how it was necessary to consider how one decision would effect the whole.
Parenthood is one of the most difficult and challenging experience adults may face. It’s not easy to keep your even calm when you don’t have adequate time or sleep. It’s not that the parents of the past had greater fortitude or patience per se. It’s that they had the time to replenish themselves by not carrying every aspect of raising a child twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. They had help that didn’t drain their financial resources thereby causing a new source of stress.
While an extended family model may not be possible for you currently do take advantage of other possibilities. Find a family or single parent that you like, trust and have enough commonalities with who would love to set play dates where each of you have a break. Make sure you use part of those days for just you. Don’t get carried away by all the things that need to be done, pay attention to what must be done and make sure you are on the must do list!
For most people, the concept of putting themselves on their own to do list is foreign. Parents have a tendency to place themselves last and take care of everyone else first. These concepts of taking care of yourself so you are better able to care for everyone else isn’t new in the least. I’m sure you’ve read it or talked about it many times. If this is what we know to be true—why aren’t parents taking better care of themselves on a regular basis? How is it that we’ve come to a point where we don’t see the bigger picture and regularly choose to care for ourselves thereby setting a great example for our children?
There are may answers to this ongoing epidemic. We might have lost sight of what’s really important? We may have felt love and obligation so deeply that the smaller things (doing that extra load of laundry that could wait) somehow became more important than our emotional/physical health. Or perhaps we’re trying to keep up with the illusion we’ve created of our neighbors and other parents who seem to do everything with ease (it’s generally never true, they’re exhausted also!). Discovering your own belief systems and really exploring what’s truly important can lead you to making new choices that allow greater happiness. I highly recommend it.
Cultivating your own sense of calm and replenishing your reserves will allow you to be the best parent possible. Being awake, excited, and present to your life provides the best example of living to your children. Teach them the lessons of self-care so you raise healthy self-sustaining adults. Be what you wish to create.
American parents may no longer have easy access to an extended or immediate family to help raise children however there are many strategies available to today’s parents. Many families are surviving and doing beautifully—sometimes even those parents need a reminder. What about you? What are you teaching your children by placing yourself last? What messages are you sending them about how they should lead their lives as adults?
The lessons available from parents of the past are many—they took their time, shared responsibility and managed to have full, meaningful lives while doing a great job raising their children.
Consider having a close look at your life systems so your life is fuller, healthier and happier. There couldn’t be a better model for your children then a happy, fulfilled parent!