After recently having serious foot surgery, I couldn't help but think about the amazing "village" that surrounds my life. With four children, when I can't be available for all of the kids, it seems it takes an army to handle the daily needs of my family. My husband took me to surgery and my mother came to help with the kids and brought amazing hamburger stew. Post-op, mom took one kid home with her. We had friends stopping by to check on me while my husband was at work, and other families watching our youngest. Another friend spent over three hours in Los Angeles traffic to drop off a week's worth of savory casseroles. I don't think it was the pain killers causing my euphoric state. It was gratitude for my stellar village.
I recently asked my friends if they had a village that helps them raise their kids. The more I thought about it, I wanted to know what made their villages unique. I was met with some great responses, and ideas I had never considered. I was also met with answers that shocked me. One friend said, "I don't really have a village. I have my parents. I envy those with a village." Another person said, "I don't think the village really gives a sh*t." Whoa! Wait! What?
The old village concept certainly isn't what it used to be. We all know we are way past leaning on each other for playdates and shopping trips. We aren't sitting around in our freshly-pressed dresses sipping iced tea and talking about how our husbands ignore us. There are moms at work, dads at home and non-traditional families of every scenario. I think we all need a village, and our needs for that village have evolved. So, if you don't have one, want one and aren't sure where to find one, I have some suggestions for you.
1. Your parents and siblings: Listen, I have many friends who do not like the way they were raised, and have completely different parenting philosophies than that of their own parents. If your parents or siblings are near, chances are they would like to help. If they live in a geographically desirable location and don't have any history of abuse, it is smart to ask them for help. You may not like that they think Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is health food or that Sons with Guns is must-see TV... but time spent with grandparents, the help they can offer and their love completely trump the minimal exposure to things you don't approve of.
2. CO-OP: No, I do not mean that place where you get vegetables and supplements. I have been a part of a babysitting co-op for over 13 years. It is a group of 25 families that trade babysitting, dog sitting and rides to the airport on a point system rather than exchanging funds. After all these years, I am here to tell you it works for the majority of people who get involved, and most families have stayed in it until their kids are too old to need a sitter. We support each other in all kind of ways. I always have a sitter when I need one and in trade, I take on someone else's kids when needed. There is a little bookkeeping, some revolving responsibility within the group and it is based on personal referral only. There is plenty of info online about what a babysitting co-op is and how to start one. It is the best thing that ever happened to my family, and I wish more people would start them.
3. Online Resources: If you deny that your 300 Facebook friends aren't at least some kind of village, I would argue that they probably want to be. If anything, it can at least be an emotional support system when you are feeling trapped and alone while parenting. I know I am guilty of using it as a place to brag, to vent and a place to find like-minded parents who may be willing to share what I yearn to know. Where else can we put our first day of kindergarten photos? There are online groups that are very specific like "Moms giving birth in January 2015." This seems to be the modern version of the group I met in childbirth class in 1999. Things like this may still be intimidating for some. The most valuable connecting tool I have found to date is something called avillage.us. Imagine a website that matches people. This concept has proven successful for dating. Why not for families? These smart women have started a free, online service to match families looking for other families to support each other in whatever their needs may be. I can only imagine how valuable this could be for families that have specific needs. In this day and age, I would think that is all of us.
At the end of the day, I realized I have a village because I have nurtured it and allowed it to be present in my life. Open the door and let one in. It might be difficult and force you out of your comfort zone.
It will, without a doubt, be the best thing you could ever do for your children and yourself.