Over in an online summit of parenting experts I like to call "parenting school," the conversation is lively. Dr. Laura Markham talked about giving ourselves permission to be less productive. Lori Petro talked about healing ourselves if we didn't grow up with good role models for communication. I talked about letting our kids do things for themselves -- and asking for help for ourselves. To that last point, one mom commented on Facebook:
"What if [the support network] just isn't there? There's no village."
This is such a big issue for nearly all of us, I think. The village isn't there. We have to work to create it. I talk about some of this in Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science ("Ask for help"). But here are more of the things I did to create a village for myself:
- Following up with a retired neighbor who said she'd love to watch my baby any time. Texting her with a specific date and time (including, "Can you take her for 60 minutes right now?) and not waiting for her to come up with one.
I really took this seriously. Even if you have family nearby -- my mom lives an hour away -- you still need people literally next door, and you still need friends with kids going through the same stuff you are. Why? We evolved to parent in groups. Not solo. That's because of the heavier burden of raising kids that is particular to our species. It's not just nice to have this village; it's necessary.
University College London anthropologists Gillian Bentley and Ruth Mace demonstrate this need across a number of societies in their research tome "Substitute Parents: Biological and Social Perspectives on Alloparenting in Human Societies." They write:
"It seems that alloparenting is a necessary but flexible phenomenon for humans that may have co-evolved with other life-history traits such as our larger brain size, short birth-intervals, long life spans and extended juvenile period.
The heavy investment of parenting typical for humans whose offspring need nurturing for several years has led to the evolution of multiple patterns of allocare and parenting strategies which shape themselves around the particular ecological circumstances of societies."
This village usually doesn't just exist. Building it, though, definitely pays off.
Subscribe to Tracy's weekly parenting tips
(Yes, you can still join the free online parenting summit I mentioned. It's 20+ video interviews with parenting experts in your inbox, one per day, plus a closed Facebook group to discuss your questions, struggles, and insights.)