Parenting, Tribes & Villages (Or How We Aren't Supposed to Keep It All Together)
We are almost 2 months into life as a four and the last 7 weeks have absolutely bombed past. Ada is the baby of dreams. I am not saying that to be smug, I promise. I'm as surprised as anyone that babies can be as sweet and undemanding. I can already tell she is going to be a really laid back kid. She coo's a lot, is giving some killer smiles of the not-just-wind variety and has started sleeping for longer stretches (but we don't talk about sleep here, do we, because that jinxes things, doesn't it...?). She slept for 6 hours straight one night and I called my mother-in-law to see if something might be wrong with her. That's how depressingly low my expectations are. Our days are full of naps, coffee dates, hanging out with the neighbours and generally keeping the girl side of Team Wiggy solid.
Levi, on the other hand, is having a bit of a tough time adjusting. I can tell he is finding the change in family life more difficult now that the dust has settled and it's really hard to know how to help him. We are trying to ignore the difficult behaviour stuff and find time to initiate fun with him, to do stuff with him one-to-one and make sure he sees enough of Dave and I on our own without the baby. I've ordered Dr. Laura Markhams newest book 'Calm Parents, Happy Siblings' to see if we can glean any wisdom from her about how to gently and peacefully deal with this stuff now. Other than that, it's just a lot of digging deep and trying not to shout 'GENTLE' forty million times a day when he 'accidentally' kisses her too hard/sits on her legs/tries to feed her a tortilla wrap. Any and all gentle advice on this would be hugely appreciated...
So it's beautiful and difficult and rewarding and tender and hard all at the same time. This is the stuff of parenthood though, isn't it? The flux of emotions, the huge highs and the constant worry about everyones needs being met. The shuffling of priorities almost hourly to make sure nobody feels left out and making sure there is enough of everything for everyone - physically and emotionally. It's relentless and noble and quite the responsibility.
My beautiful friend Jenny was over in Northern Ireland visiting and we got to have a morning together drinking coffee, meeting each others' new bambinos and sharing tales of life back at the newborn stage. We were talking candidly about how different it feels this time around, how much more relaxed and less overwhelming it feels to care for a tiny one, and the unique challenges that come with adding one in.
We talked about our families and the community of people we have around us that help and step in and share the load - communities that have emerged largely since becoming parents. And then she said something that has rang in my ears since - she said "what a relief it is to know that this is how it's supposed to be!" and it struck me again. I think it's easy to forget - we're not supposed to be the sole meet-er of everyones needs. It's not normal, not even possible to live life in that way! Family life and parenthood was never meant to be lived in isolation or in a vacuum, trying to keep it all together and juggle everything ourselves. From the beginning of time and through generations it is so clear that families thrive when communities take collective responsibility to raise a child. It IS a relief to know that as truth.
Check out this amazing initiative Jenny's friends have started called 'The Life Village'. The idea is simple, but so beautiful - a modern take on the 'it takes a village to raise a child' African proverb; a more intentional take on having godparents. Their idea is:
Parents or the child's primary carer invite a group of trusted friends to be part of their child's Life Village and ask them to contribute a particular skill to his/her life, for example, teaching an instrument, being a listening ear or taking them on days out.
The Life Village is about community. It's about interdependence. It's about a child being surrounded by role models. It's about parents not feeling alone.
Isn't that beautiful? Although it's not been something we have formulated, I already see a Life Village springing up around our little family in the big and small ways. Blood relatives, neighbours, dear friends - all investing in our family in different meaningful ways. Bringing food, celebrating milestones, giving up time to help you clean, remembering favourite toys, telling stories over and over, carrying car seats, taking cranky four year olds away to play for a few hours, holding the baby so you can dry your hair, calling to ask how things are going, understanding when you can't talk for long, sending cards. It all matters and it all builds a little village that helps you hold things together when the territory is new.
I love Colin Beavans take on how to build a great community around you, including spending time really thinking about the kind of people you need in your life (do you need a hang-out crew? a world-changer group? a chosen family?) and how we can find and build those relationships. Sometimes these villages happen naturally and sometimes we need to seek them out. Read more here and here.
So, what do you think? Have you found your village? Is it a relief to know we aren't supposed to be able to do it all on our own? I hope it is.