(*Throwback post #2 - the expected baby in the first paragraph is about to turn two!)
A couple months have passed since I wrote the first part of this blog, and a LOT has changed. We are expecting our second child in September, my husband is starting a PhD program this fall, and we are moving! And I thought I needed help with the first kid-o!? In preparation for the new addition to our family, I’m thinking a lot about what I hope to do differently the second time around.
Several years ago, my husband and I vacationed in Panama, where we spent most of our time with an indigenous group known as the Ipeti Embera. We trekked through the jungle to visit their gardens filled with rice and corn. We saw a neighboring tribe transporting a dugout canoe, ate fish caught in the river that runs through their village, and spent countless hours talking with the tribe’s chief about the challenges of maintaining traditions in a changing world. There was a lot to take in! Still, I think what left the biggest impression was the way the children were being raised. It’s only fair to say that, as a single person yet to take on motherhood, it didn’t occur to me to ask many questions about the attitudes toward parenting. But, I can share what I SAW. I saw all the children in the village roaming about the land together, pretty much all the time. While mothers maintained the homes, laundered clothing in the river, and prepared meals, their children ran, laughed and played together, bathed in the river, and joyfully helped out with the chores. And not just the older kids! Pretty much anybody who had mastered walking and was under the age of 12 was part of this self-regulating group. They truly took care of each other, and parents seemed to exhibit little to no concern about what they were up to. AMAZING! Older kids teaching the younger kids, alongside the parents, who were just going about their business of tending to daily life. There was no perceptible stress around the tasks of childrearing and parenting. I think it is because no one was doing much of anything alone. They did most everything together-as a VILLAGE!
I’m guessing most folks reading this blog are not as intimately connected to their friends and neighbors as the Embera. Some, like myself, may be settling in to new communities or living far from family and looking for their village. And while our lives may seem very different from those of my friends in Panama, I think we can learn something from them-we don’t have to do it alone either!
My parents and my in-laws all live about 4 hours away from me in opposite directions. I feel so lucky over the holidays, when my husband is out of school, and we get to spend a week at a time with our families. Those are the occasions when I feel least overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being the primary parent. There is always someone there to prepare a snack, give a bath, read a story, and answer some of the many “why’s”. The workload gets distributed amongst grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There are people to reminisce with, joke with, and to join me in appreciating the beauty of my sweet child. It’s so much more fun AND I get to take half hour showers!
So, how do I get more of those feelings of love and support when my family is so far away?! It has taken me a while to realize that sometimes, I might just have to…ASK FOR HELP (gasp!). As a midwifery student and doula, I have many opportunities to talk with women about our experiences as wives, mothers, and humans. Lately, a lot of conversations have led to the realization that asking for help is actually just as much a gift to the person doing the helping as to the person doing the asking. Asking for help let’s those folks in our lives who love and care for us in on a little secret-we are not perfect! No matter how much we try or how busy we feel, we’ve still got raisins glued to the living room floor, a mountain of laundry to put away, and stuff in the back of the fridge that we can no longer recognize as food.
It seems that the key is vulnerability. If I’m gonna get help, I need to be willing to let my guard down and give myself a break. I can’t do it all. And why should I? Sure, I can do a lot of stuff, and some of it pretty well! But there’s a lot of pressure in our society to be some kindof mother-goddess-badass…you know, someone who has a sparkling toilet, angelic children, and the body of a 16-year old. For me, there’s no fun in spending all my time frantically sweeping and folding. I’ve let some stuff go lately. I refuse to fold sheets or my son’s clothing. I invite friends over even if I haven’t cleaned the bathroom sink for a week. I’m already asking friends to pencil me in for a visit in late September to join our family in welcoming the new babe AND maybe bring over dinner and play with our toddler.
It is pretty exciting to let go of the feelings that I should be doing more and I’m never doing enough. Actually, I’m trading that guilt for stronger, deeper relationships with people near and dear to me. By being real with my community and with myself about my shortcomings, challenges, and triumphs, the folks around me feel more comfortable sharing theirs. We all get to be more real, and we all come to learn that we can rely on each other for the help we all need. We win!
That’s what I have needed all along, and I’ve seen it in action during my travels abroad! I’ve even experienced it, briefly, on family visits. The pressure on parents is immense, and no matter which way you turn, you can always find someone telling you that you would have been better off heading in a different direction.
All of this is why we at Bright Birthing are committed to providing the perk of village prenatal gatherings to all of our clients. This is why we will make every effort to connect parents and parents-to-be with loving, kind, supportive folks out in our community who truly wish to be part of the village.