When I found out I was pregnant in August 2016, I had no doubt that I would continue pursuing my career. I’d waited so long to feel like I was working towards something; back in 2014, I’d practically forced myself to graduate college a semester early because I was so anxious to begin my life out in the “real world” everyone was so eager to tell me about.
As my pregnant belly expanded, my husband and I constantly wondered when the baby would be born, whether it would be a boy or girl (we’d opted not to learn the gender in advance) and what name we’d come to call our Youngster. “Who will raise the baby if I go back to work?” was a question that never crossed our minds. Who would be our village? And what’s more, it was a question that no one in our community asked us either.
Eight months after my son’s birth, I feel like we’ve finally arrived at an optimal childcare solution, which is a journey to be detailed in another post. But I’ve been carrying so much shame over my naïveté, embarrassed by my failure to consider childcare options before the baby arrived.
[a diaper change, a nursing break and laying the baby down to nap later]
I’d even begun to silently blame my community for not identifying the oversight, for not sparing us the frantic panic that crept into the walls of my household as my husband and I tried to piece together a routine that would allow us to carry out our work lifestyle with minimal disruption. But then this past weekend, I allowed a new perspective to reveal itself.
My husband and I called in grandparent reinforcements and went out for a much needed date night on Christmas Eve Eve. (It’ll probably end up being the last one of 2017.) In trying to avoid the crowds, we found ourselves enjoying dinner at the Barnes and Noble Kitchen, pleasantly surprised by the meal’s thoughtfulness and flavor. (Seriously, if there’s one near you, check it out!). And after dinner, we browsed through the shelves of the store intoxicated by that new book smell. We used the last of our date night budget to purchase Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris. It’s all the advice you’d ever wanted from some of our generation’s most brilliantly accomplished minds wrapped up into one bound collection. Ferris figures that it makes more sense to surround yourself with the wisdom of those who have gone before you instead of facing uncharted waters alone.
I’m not the first to remark on how loose the family ties have gotten within our society. It’s not hard to observe that this is the first time in human history that we’ve expected parents to raise their children with little support and encouragement from their communities. “It takes a village,” they used to say. But nowadays, that village is barely established and sparsely populated. I live an hour away from my parents, 30 minutes from my in-laws and our extended family members and friends are spread out far and wide in between. I remember savoring the independence that came with setting up a life separate from our nuclear families. But now, because we’re too far for “I was just in the neighborhood” to be an excuse for dropping by, our distance only highlights how disconnected we truly are.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve come to value my community in ways I never had before. Beyond having a large selection of baby-sitters always at hand, being a part of an engaged community means being able to leverage one another’s experience and insight as each individual approaches new branches in the road. A tribe of mentors.
As my husband and I continue to navigate the choppy waters of parenthood, we’ve vowed to humble ourselves to the counsel of our community. This doesn’t mean that we’ll integrate every single idea that a loved one presents into our lives; in fact, we’ll need to filter the words of wisdom for the pearls that best fit with our unique family goals. But we want to be open to presenting our challenges unashamedly with the hopes that we’ll be able to invent novel solutions after bouncing a few ideas around with those that love us most.
While I think this initiative will serve my entire community well in the long run, I’ve already realized that it’s not going to be easy. When you confide in those around you, you often open yourself up to unwanted judgment and unfairly biased convictions. But you also open yourself up to the love and support that are necessary in establishing a strong, family-centric bond. I’m learning that I don’t have to “go it alone” if I cultivate and nurture my community. Food for thought: perhaps it’s the raising of the child that makes the village. Here’s to finding out!