Mothering without a Village in the 21st Century

The first version of this post happened way back in March 2013 and starts down below the line.   

And now The missing Village has returned.  Let me start first by agreeing with the author that the isolation of child-rearing is real; that navigating playground politics/parent dating creates a whole new level of pressure. Walk into any Target at 10am on a weekday… the silent gangs of mothers pushing carts of loneliness and goldfish-bedazzled, unhappy toddlers suggests an unfulfilled need.  Speed dating for moms?  Speed *lunch* dating for moms?

But even with this idea that our society becomes more personally isolated I question the craving for this Village Full of Supportive Adults that comes around.  When did it exist? The  50s decade of June Cleavers?

I am sad for the people that feel isolated and alone in their own neighborhoods. My children have just recently gotten old enough to run around the corner to play– and I admit that, despite my tendency toward hermit crab-ness, I enjoy the back and forth of these kids in my house, too.  Before that, before my oldest started kindergarten, I had a core group of like-minded friends with like-aged children. 

What is it about the alluring call of the village?  The freedom from the minutiae of playing yet another round of sea horse versus alien?   The freedom from the children because they are roaming the ‘hood like feral bees?

I spent years 4-6 roaming the wilds of military base housing in Ft. Dix that way.  Most of it a hazy blur of stolen crab apples, crossing a busy road to go to the park, playing in something called the sand pit.  Of wetting my pants, a lot, because to leave the pack to go inside to the bathroom meant being left behind, packless.

I had my Village– of *kids*.  I don’t recall the moms hanging out together in some sort of pickle-canning giggle fest. Maybe it’s the idea that there were more eyes on the children, so the children were safer to roam? Because, um, we didn’t have eyes on us.  And you can’t have eyes on children now without those eyes calling the cops on you.

I sympathize with the author’s feelings of isolation, but this craving for a mythological village fuels a “glory days” type thinking that does none of us any good. Sometimes you just gotta go stock your own village.   

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Last week, I talked about why the current generation of moms has developed Stuart Smalley syndrome. This crushing need for constant validation– in kids, other adults, and myself– makes me twitchy.

But. The thing that sets my eyelids twitching so hard that I can feel the breeze? It’s this concept that all women of my generation are suffering because they are mothering without a village.
This ridiculousness that the average 21st century mother has it SO MUCH HARDER.

1) Mothering now is harder than it was 100 years ago? If I were to TARDIS my family back to 1912 to visit one of those super-lucky, village-having moms? Not the romantic one some folks think about, but the real one. You know her, she shucked oysters all day– for a dollar; had a baby every year (birth control, what?); with a husband that didn’t do NONE OF THAT BABY REARING.

My first thought on her reaction?
Something like…

She Doesn't Agree

After she handed me (and my kids) some oysters she’d slap me in the face for complaining about things I read, since no one wasted time putting no learning on girls.

Then, her eyes narrowed into furious slits, she’d realize that I had time to 1) worry about something other than physical survival, and 2) had a husband that knew how to change a diaper.

I think we can agree she might not see my life as particularly difficult.

This idea of a village? It’s been a long time since humans lived tribally; that village became diluted and isolated by agriculture– those farms weren’t close and no one had smartphones.

Or cars. Or time.

Oh– when the girl-people got themselves hitched, they moved to their husband’s farm. To the village run by their new mother in law’s.

And the industrial worker village? I guess, since the kids were working with their parents, not pottery barn kitchen work– but actual for-survival work…

This gut-emptying craving mothers have for being reassured? What the hell, ladies?

Check it out. Sometimes I do a great job. I rock the parenting thing like it’s my job (snort, snuffle– because it IS) and my family spends the day grinning and cheerful.

Please note, this rocking of the job almost always happens over the simplest of things, like playing tennis in the driveway. It almost never happens when I let them use power tools, deliver unto them prepaid Great Experiences, or cheerfully allow them to destroy my house with their gluttony of toys.

What my Small People see as parenting successes are the Simple Things. Figuring that out saved me (and later them) thousands in therapy bills.

Saying yes more than I say no. Not talking shit about them to other parents when they are clearly close enough to overhear me (for real–how often do we all do this?). Following through on my promises– and recognizing that Small People hear each utterance of, “yeah, building a sky scraper does sound cool” as “we’ll build a sky scraper RIGHT NOW. This VERY SECOND!” Remembering the importance of reading a particular book, be it the first, or thousandth time. PUTTING DOWN THE DAMN PHONE. Photographing the big stuff and not every single other minute of their lives.

Those are how we all rock it as a parents.

Then the days (weeks, months) I fail. When I’m overtired and cranky. When my head is pounding with a migraine, and they deliberately screech at me like the sociopaths they often resemble. When they are entitled, demanding, and self-absorbed. When they are whiny and belligerent and…

In other words, when they behave like children.

My personal parenting goal isn’t to make sure that they grow up to be adults that never resent a single parenting choice/mistake I’ve ever made. I’m human, my husband is human (I think), my children are human. Part of a child developing an identity separate from the safety net of their childhood requires a certain measure of young adult discontent. Otherwise you risk raising your own Stuart Smalley, then paying for him to lay in bed all day eating fig newtons.

I make mistakes; sometimes I behave badly. I throw temper tantrums. I lose my patience–with them, with my husband. I huff and I puff.

Later I often apologize and then– say it with me people, I let that shit go.

Because that’s what humans in relationships do– they love, they laugh, they fight, they cry.

Anything else is fake-ity fake fake and serves my children no purpose.

My husband’s family doesn’t argue. No screaming matches. Just quiet anger. My family argued, but my Dad preferred stony silence. Not polite passive anger, but Angry Anger that followed him around like the smell of a bad fart.

Neither method teaches actual conflict resolution.

I do crazy things, like accidentally volunteering to sew 25 seat cushion so that ALL KINDERGARTNERS REST THEIR BUTTS ON A SOFT PLACE. Not because I’m “that” mom, trying to outdo everyone else. Not because I’m an expert seamstress.

My only motivation, as it is with most things, is boredom avoidance. Learning new things like, how to sew a seat cushion assembly-line style, prevents that muscle called my brain from atrophying into a gelatinous mess of carefully removed sandwich crusts and dirty yoga pants.

Of course, you can’t then ever un-know how easy it is to sew these things, forever preventing you from spending $11 on any sort of stuffed seating thingy.

Double-edged sword, people.

For example:

I let my kids use some power tools, because I think it’s fun to use power tools and enlisting them as “helpers” means I have a shot of accomplishing something during their waking hours. And do you know what my children think? Because using power tools exists in their reality, they are NOT IMPRESSED WITH USING POWER TOOLS.

Or, despite having spent a full 6 hours completely engaged with him and activities of his choosing; spearing him with the love laser of my undivided attention, I still got attitude for taking an hour to write this post.

Self-absorbed twits, all of them.

I’m almost certain that the mom up there would shove me under a bus, to steal my TARDIS to come enjoy my luxury life of popping hormone therapy and facebooking my discontent. I’m completely certain that I’d be utterly miserable shucking oysters (a shellfish I adore) all day.

Perspective. It makes the world go ’round.

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