There’s an old saying that goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It means, we can’t do this parenting gig alone – we need others alongside us. Once upon a time I worried that living among urban sprawl with a scattered extended family, a ‘village’ might be hard to come by, let alone a nearby granny or aunty who could lend a hand to a struggling new mother.
Years down the track, now a single mum to two busy teenagers and an energetic dyslexic nine year old, I still live in a big city, and my extended family are still pretty much scattered to the four corners of the earth. But thankfully, I’ve managed to build a little village of my own, and I honestly couldn’t survive without it.
I’m writing with all of us busy mums in mind, at the start of the year before the whirlwind of scheduled life resumes full-tilt, to remind us all that that we are not alone. Like me, you may be staring down the barrel of another busy year juggling kids, sports, school, work and home-life (never mind having any kind of time for yourself!). How on earth do we keep all these plates spinning whilst maintaining sanity? I can only say that I do it with the help of my village.
I get by with a little help from my friends
My village has been helping me survive since way back when I had three littles and was battling depression. I wrote this on my blog in 2009 –
“My village is made up of school mums, church mums, soccer team mums, coffee group mums, and neighbours. Thrown in for good measure are some surrogate aunties and uncles and borrowed cousins. When my third baby was born, I was astounded as night after night people turned up on my doorstep with meals – I didn’t need to cook for three weeks!
There have been other times when I’ve been physically incapacitated and have been blessed by my wonderful village with offers of rides to school, play dates and sleepovers. I’m trying to make sure it’s not all one-way traffic though, because ‘what goes around comes around’. I help you, you help me. We help each other, right?
We’re in this together, my mummy friends. We may live in a very different world than our grannies did, where the village was just over the fence, but the old saying is still true – we need each other. Our village may look a little different, but it can be just as supportive, just as real, and just as invaluable. Thing is, it takes time to build one.”
That was nine years ago, when I had three little kids (a baby, a preschooler and a school-newbie). The mums I met at the kindy gate back then have become some of my dearest friends. Years later, even though our kids’ friendships may have waxed and waned, we still get together and compare notes on the challenges we’re facing.
Friendship dramas, hormonal tantrums, rumours of trouble – we share stories and encourage each other. We are each other’s eyes and ears. Whatever my teenagers get up to when they’re away from home, I can find out about from someone who heard something, which helps me head off trouble at the pass. Thanks to my mum network, my kids think I have spies everywhere – and they’re right. It’s a wonderful thing having a spy network especially as a sole parent.
Carpooling saves lives (and sanity and time and the planet)
Having three kids all involved in sport (with multiple games and training sessions each week), I’d be spending my whole life driving if I had nobody to share driving duties with. I survive by carpooling and sharing the driving duties with other team mums – without this, I would honestly go mad.
A great example of this is my daughter’s cheerleading team, which has two to three training sessions per week. There’s a group of five or six mums who share the drives. Between us, we only have to do one transport a week. Bliss. One evening driving a van-load of chattering girls instead of six trips there and back on my own – I can do that. We communicate on a messenger group chat to keep us coordinated – “I can do Wednesday drop-off, can someone do the pick-up?” It’s genius.
Since my marriage ended around 18 months ago I’ve come to realise how incredible single mums are. There are so many of us out there, doing the hard yards, unseen and alone, but rocking parenting in spite of the endless challenges – in spite of incredibly tight budgets and the sheer relentlessness of doing life on our own.
Following my separation I discovered all over again how amazing my community of mother-sisters, friends and family is. I literally could not have gotten through those months without them. Of course, initially when all the drama first happens there is a flurry of activity and support. But then things settle down and you are faced with picking up the pieces of your life and creating some kind of new normal. It can be truly overwhelming, not to mention lonely.
So I’ve had to learn to ask for help. Swallow my pride and pick up the phone. Nobody knows I need help (or a grown up to talk things through with) if I don’t ask. Asking for help is hard – it’s humbling to admit that we are struggling in some areas. But it’s also freeing.
Making new friends
Of course having long-term friendships that stretch over years is awesome, but equally helpful is making new friends. This can get more difficult though, as the kids get older and life gets busier.
In my experience there was a golden window when the kids were little, when there were plenty of mums at home with preschoolers, and we were in and out of each other’s homes, having coffee and play dates on a regular basis. But then our kids headed off to school and we headed back to work. We’d drop our kids at the gate and never manage to see another school parent for months on end. As the kids progress through school and make new friends, it gets harder to make friends with their parents outside of sports teams (where we get to chat on the sidelines at least).
Which is what I have to do if I want to make a new mum friend – be deliberate, make the time and effort. When I drop my kid off to for a party/play date/sleepover at a home where I’ve only met the mum in passing, I can rush off and get back to my tasks – or I can take her up on the offer of a cuppa, sit on the stool in her kitchen and make a new friend. As I stop the whirlwind for a moment and say yes to that cup of tea, I discover a brand new ally, a kindred spirit even. And I drive away feeling excited and happy because I made a new friend today.
Sadly, depression and isolation are rampant in our busy society as we rush from one thing to another and end up feeling exhausted, overwhelmed – and lonely. Life is so much more enjoyable – and doable – when we don’t feel like we’re ‘the only one’ who is struggling with aspects of parenting and juggling life. What a difference it makes when we connect with each other and be honest about our struggles, sharing the (carpool) journey.
If you want a friend, be a friend
Here comes one of my favourite old sayings – if you want a friend, be a friend. A chat with another mum, talking honestly and laughing at ourselves, groaning over the way our seven year old still can’t hit the pot when he pees, crying together over our adolescents’ struggles with self-image, groaning over the way our teenage daughters roll their eyes at us and think we’re deathly embarrassing. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.A chat and a laugh can make the world of difference in feeling like we’re not alone in this busy, frantic world-on-speed. Keep doing it enough and you’ll find yourself with quite a wonderful village.
In brief – thoughts for the new year
- Remember that you’re not alone in this parenting gig (and the struggle is real)
- Carpool kids’ activities wherever you can (it’s good for building friendships, reducing the load, saving time and petrol (which even makes it good for the environment)
- Take time to build friendships with your kids’ friends’ parents (and build a support network that will stand you in good stead for the teenage years)
- It’s never too late to make a new friend (if you want a friend, be a friend)
- If you’ve moved to a new town or school, find the local community group on Facebook and join it (interacting with others on those pages is a great place to start)
- Ask for help/reach out for support when you need it (friends can’t be there for you if they don’t know you’re struggling)
- A cuppa and a laugh can be just the medicine you need when you’re feeling overwhelmed (a problem shared is a problem halved)
Simone Graham is mum to energetic three kids and a rescue dog. She blogs at greatfun4kidsblog.com and is eternally grateful for her amazing village of mother-sisters, without whom she would probably be curled in a fetal position hiding under a table by now.
Attend a Toolbox parenting group
The four Toolbox groups – Early Years (0-6), Middle Years (6-12), Tweens and Teens (12-18) and Building Awesome Whānau (0-12) are available throughout the country. In an informal, relaxed and friendly environment participants are equipped with practical skills and strategies that can be immediately put to use. Over six sessions, key parenting principles are explored and participants are encouraged in their parenting. Find out more and register here.