Parents are mourning the loss of ‘the village’. The tiers of family living in close proximity, the natural way that the responsibility of children runs fluidly between families and close friends. Groups of children roaming the village, being safely watched by all the adults they pass.
The village has died, but nothing has sprung up in its place.
Cars have meant that we’re all more spread about than we once were, space around us and boundaries between us are high priorities when finding somewhere to live. No one wants a garden overlooked by neighbors, a detached house trumps cojoined ones. We want physical distance, we want emotional distance, we want privacy.
We can no longer give our kids a packed lunch in the morning and send them off on their bikes for the day, we no longer turn them out of the house when we need to clean and tidy.
It’s become the opposite
They sit inside, they play computer games, they watch TV, their social lives are diminished from packs of roaming kids to packs of avatars online.
Mothers, in particular, are struggling without the village, often the sole responsible adult throughout the entire day. We are left trying to make up for the loss of all that the village once gave us, attempting to be the entire village in one person.
But the comradery, the practical help, the lifestyle that allowed for families to thrive, is irreplicable by just one mom.
We have been taught that, as mothers, our needs are last on the list. If we’re happy and calm, then we’re doing something wrong, because we are supposed to be frantically running around getting the work of a village done in a day by ourselves.
We no longer have the security of unbreakable social bonds, a group of fellow mothers who rise and fall with each other. We are wired for this social way of raising kids, yet we find ourselves isolated in our homes scrolling through social media looking to fill the void the village left behind. One woman with her phone is not the same as a team of women who celebrate and commiserate each step of the journey.
It’s problematic that much of women’s socializing was once done over the work that we must still get done today; clothes washing at the river, baking in the communal oven, sewing and knitting in groups. Modern living has eliminated the need for these communal ways, so now we do all these things alone in our homes. In order to see others, we arrange social visits which can feel trivial and selfish when the work is piling up at home.
The effortless socialization has gone, and we are suffering. New moms are thrown into parenting without the support of fellow mothers around them who they can learn from. Mothers struggling postnatally are left unchecked where they would once have been pulled into the group and supported. The cities are awash with worn-out, tired moms.
But while the village, for most of us, is gone, all is not lost. If we swap the word ‘village’, for ‘community’, a new way of motherhood appears from the gloom.
No, we don’t live in small groups anymore, we don’t have implicit trust for those around us, we don’t live in an era where we turn our kids over to nature for the day. If we accept that, then we begin to see an alternate route.
Communities can be fostered anywhere, by anyone. Thing is, you have to be willing to give and in our society of greed that can be tricky. It takes a mindset change.
The media is constantly telling us that our time is worth nothing but money and it’s hard to turn that off. But we mustn’t forget that this is the same society that killed the village we so miss, that tells us we aren’t worthy unless we have a shiny car, a beautifully clean house, a front garden filled with flowers, and we must do it all ourselves and we must do it while smiling with perfect teeth.
This ‘ideal’ doesn’t serve us, yet it’s somehow aspirational. If we can bring ourselves to realize that true worth lies elsewhere, then we begin to bring back the normality of giving our time and our help to others.
Communities can be built around schools, around old people’s homes, around support groups. They can be built around anything that gives those involved a common denominator.
And then comes the thorny part…
Changing your mindset
It is so common that mothers want to prove they can do it all on their own, and it feels like a kind of failure if we accept help.
But why should we struggle to the bitter point where we feel we can no longer go on alone and only then accept help? What is the appeal of trying to prove you don’t need anyone and you can cope in your isolation?
We are conditioned to believe that this is the way we ought to be, that a happy mother singing while doing the dishes is the best kind of mother.
The truth is… there is no perfect mother.
The ones who defend their previous selves, the ones who don’t know how to cook, the ones who don’t mind the mess, the ones who are always tidying up, the ones who don’t know what they’re doing – they’re all as perfect as each other in different ways.
We shouldn’t have to carve out our tribe, and the trepidation of it is more than many of us can surmount. But this sociability and comradery is no longer built into our society like it’s still built into our biological constitution. We have to step forwards and create it for ourselves.
We might not be able to rediscover the village as it once was, but we can rediscover the villagers.