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

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.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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