In the absence of ‘the village,’ mothers struggle most

Print Friendly and PDF

Dear mothers,

I'm writing you today because I can no longer contain the ache in my gut and fire in my heart over an injustice that you and I are bearing the brunt of.

Though this injustice is affecting everyone, mothers not only feel its burden more than most, but we also feel disproportionately responsible for alleviating its pervasive and deeply damaging symptoms, which is adding hugely to the weight of the world we're already wired to carry.

The injustice is this:

It takes a village, but there are no villages.

By village I don't simply mean "a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area." I'm referring to the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the well-being of each other's ever-roaming children and increasingly dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.

I'm talking about the most natural environment for children to grow up in.

I'm talking about a way of life we are biologically wired for, but that is nearly impossible to find in developed nations.

I'm talking about the primary unmet need driving the frustration that most every village-less mother is feeling. Though the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" has become cliché, the impact of our village-less realities is anything but insignificant. It's wreaking havoc on our quality of life in countless ways.

In the absence of the village…

—Enormous pressure is put on parents as we try to make up for what entire communities used to provide.

—Our priorities become distorted and unclear as we attempt to meet so many conflicting needs at once.

—We feel less safe and more anxious without the known boundaries, expectations and support of a well-known group of people with whom to grow.

—We're forced to create our tribes during seasons of our life when we have the least time and energy to do so.

—We tend to hold tight to our ideals and parenting paradigms, even when doing so divides us, in an attempt to feel safer and less overwhelmed by so many ways and options.

—Our children's natural way of being is compromised, as most neighborhoods and communities no longer contain packs of roaming children with whom they can explore, create and nurture their curiosity.

—We run around like crazy trying to make up for the interaction, stimulation and learning opportunities that were once within walking distance.

—We forget what "normal" looks and feels like, which leaves us feeling as if we're not doing enough, or enough of the "right" things.

—Depression and anxiety skyrocket, particularly during seasons of our lives when we instinctively know we need more support than ever but don't have the energy to find it.

—We feel disempowered by the many responsibilities and pressures we're trying so hard to keep up with.

—We spend money we don't have on things we don't need in an attempt to fill the voids we feel.

—We rely heavily on social media for a sense of connection, which often leads us to feel even more isolated and inadequate.

—We feel lonely and unseen, even when we're surrounded by people.

—Our partnerships are heavily burdened by the needs that used to be spread among communities, and our expectations of loved ones increase to unrealistic levels.

—We feel frequently judged and misunderstood.

—We feel guilty for just about everything: not wanting or having time to be our children's primary playmates, not working enough, working too much, allowing too much screen time in order to keep up with our million perceived responsibilities, etc.

—Joy, lightness and fun feel hard to access.

—We think we're supposed to be independent, and feel ashamed of our need for others.

—We make decisions that don't reflect our values but our deeply unmet needs.

Perhaps most tragically of all, the absence of the village is distorting many mothers' sense of self. It's causing us to feel that our inadequacies are to blame for our struggles, which further perpetuates the feeling that we must do even more to make up for them.

It's a trap. A self-perpetuating cycle. A distorted reality that derives its strength from the oppressive mindsets still in place despite our freedoms.

Here's a new mindset to try on for size.

You and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to.

That makes us heroes, not failures.

No, we're not oppressed in the same ways that we used to be (nor in the ways other women around the world still are), but make no mistake about it:

In the absence of the village, we're disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy.

Since the beginning of time (and until very recently), mothers have borne life's burdens together. We scrubbed our clothes in the streams while laughing at splashing toddlers and mourning the latest loss of love or life. We wove, sewed, picked, tidied or mended while swapping stories and minding our aging grandmothers. We tended one another's wounds (both physical and emotional), relied on one another for strength when times were tough, and sought counsel from our community's wise, experienced and cherished elders.

Village life fostered a sense of safety, inclusivity, purpose, acceptance and importance. These essential elements of thriving were built in.

Now? We're being forced to create all of that for ourselves within a society that has physically and energetically restructured itself around a whole new set of priorities. It's a profits before people model that threatens the well-being of nearly everything we mothers are wired to protect.

Though I'm optimistic and hopeful by nature, this dilemma has left me discouraged many times over the years. How does an entire nation of mothers shift a storyline this massive while individually and collectively weakened by the absence of the very thing we so desperately need?

Major cultural shifts in prioritization, structure and power are clearly in order (and I do believe they're happening, however chaotically). In the meantime, each of us has a choice to make:

We can buy into, make peace with, and conform to the way things are, or exercise the freedoms our foremothers and fathers won for us and commit to doing our unique and essential part in creating change, starting within us and working our way out.

You and I aren't likely to experience what it's like to raise children in an actual village, but that's okay. That's not what this generation is about. This generation is about waking up to who we really are and what we really want, and resetting society's sails accordingly.

Playing your part in the re-villaging of our culture starts with being wholly, unapologetically, courageously YOU.

Here are a few tangible steps you can take whenever you're ready:

1. Get really clear on one thing.

The fact that you're struggling is not a reflection of your inadequacies, but the unnatural cultural circumstances you're living within.

2. Own + honor your needs.

Most mothers are walking around with several deeply unmet needs of their own while focusing almost exclusively on the needs of others. This is precisely the thing that keeps us from gaining traction and improving our circumstances, both individually and collectively.

3. Practice vulnerability.

Rich, safe, authentic connection is essential for thriving. Cultivating this quality of connection takes courage and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. What you want most exists on the other side of that initial awkward conversation or embarrassing introduction.

4. Own your strengths.

What makes you feel strong and fully alive? What lights you up and gives you energy just thinking about it? Who would you be to your village if you had one? Tapping into your strengths and engaging them is one of the greatest ways to attract the kinds of people you want into your life, bless and inspire others, and build a sense of community in ways that fill rather than drain you.

5. Become an integral part of something.

Whether it's a knitting group, dance troupe, church, kayaking club or homeschool collective, commit to growing community around one area of your life that enlivens you or fills a need. Use the connections you cultivate within this community to practice showing up bravely and authentically and asking for what you need, whether that's support, resources or encouragement.

6. Do your part + ONLY your part.

Though it's tempting to fill our lives to the brim with commitments that make a difference, doing so only further disempowers us. Read Essentialism by Greg McKeown if you struggle with this one.

7. Learn self-love + self-compassion.

In a culture of "never enough" it is essential that we forge healthy relationships with ourselves in order to be able to fend off the many messages hitting us about who we're meant to be and what makes us worthy of happiness and love. In fact, I see self-love in action as the greatest gift our generation of mothers could possibly give to the mothers of tomorrow.

8. Speak your truth.

Even when you're terrified. Even if it makes you the bravest one in the room.

9. Imagine a new way.

Where we're headed looks nothing like where we've come from. Creating the kind of future we want requires envisioning that future and believing a new way to be possible. Get specific and think big. What do you want?

I've tasted village life.

—During college, when my tribe of idealists and dreamers were all within walking distance, and we'd yet to subscribe to "adult" social rules that told us what what was most important.

—When my young adult cousins lived with us for several months at a time. I've never enjoyed motherhood more than those days when I knew that the needs of the children, home and its individuals were joyfully shared among eager, loving souls.

—On retreat with other women, when each of us was reminded how very similar our struggles were and how very desperate we all feel for consistent support, everyday interaction, healing, lightness and ease.

—At outdoor festivals, when the village is re-created, if only for a weekend of camping, and everyone settles into a communal way, cooperative rhythm and lighter state of being.

—During the time I spent with Mayan mothers in impoverished rural Mexico. There I witnessed the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.

My soul was fed deeply during those time periods. Every time I get a taste of what we're missing, I become strengthened and hopeful again. THAT is the energy needed to create change. THAT is what the powers that be don't want us to feel.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know this:

We're supposed to be crying, celebrating, falling down and rising together.

We're supposed to have grandmothers and aunts and neighbors and cousins sharing the everyday moments, guiding us and helping us see the sacredness in the insanity.

We're supposed to be nurtured for months postpartum, cared for when we're sick, held while we mourn, and supported during challenging transitions.

And our children are supposed to cradled and allowed to grow within the social structures WE deem best for them.

Find yourself, then find your people. Or do it the other way around. Just don't settle. Don't ever settle for a way of life created by those who don't honor your soul and cherish your babies.

Change-making right alongside you,

Beth

A version of this article was originally published on Revolution from Home.

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

So far 2020 has been a year of big changes for Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Earlier this month the royal couple announced their plans to step back as senior members of the royal family. Initially, the plan was for the couples to retain their royal tiles and raise their "son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also give themselves the space to work and live in North America. Sometimes young parents have to make tough choices to do what's best for their new family and that can mean making changes that impact your family of origin.

FEATURED VIDEO

On Sunday, during a speech at a charity event for Sentebale (an organization Prince Harry co-founded to get support children living with HIV in Southern Africa), the Duke of Sussex explained that stepping back from being a senior royal wasn't easy but had to be done.

"The UK is my home and a place that I love," he explained. "That will never change...The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly," he said. "It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven't always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option."

This follows the Queen's announcement earlier this weekend. She stated that her family has found a way for Harry and Meghan to move forward, and it means they're not only not senior royals anymore, they do not have HRH titles (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) anymore and "are no longer working members of the Royal Family."

The statement from the Queen reads, in part: "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

"I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.

"I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.

"It is my whole family's hope that today's agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life."

The Queen's statement explains that Harry and Meghan have "shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home."

Basically, they're serious about being financially independent and they're going to pay rent on the cottage.

Untangling family issues can be hard, and it is difficult for anyone to imagine what it must be like to live this out on the world's stage. In her statement, the Queen said she understands the role the intense press scrutiny has played in the couple's decision to forge a new path, and that they will always be her family.

Whether you're leaving the royal family to move to Canada, or just trying to explain to your parents that your own family needs to move to another state, the challenges are real.

Here's to a new chapter for Harry and Meghan and all the other new parents writing their own stories.

[This post was originally published January 18, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

FEATURED VIDEO

It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

FEATURED VIDEO

Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

News

After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

FEATURED VIDEO

2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

Learn + Play
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.