The Disappearing Village

Childhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Random poetry Add comments

Hey there 🙂

Today was scorching!  I thought yesterday was hot, phew!  We walked down to the school this morning, and I did not need a jacket, but tied a fleece around my hips, anyway.  Old habits, etc…

I actually made the decision to have my arms out in a vest top, which I never do, but it was to get up to 25 degrees today!  I put on factor 50 a few times over the day, but unfortunately I missed a bit across the back of my shoulders (black bra strap – bad idea…) and now I am sporting very ouchy red patches!!

The heat affected Youngest on the way home from nursery, after his long walk this morning and frolics in the nursery back garden. He got in the buggy and fell asleep about a third of the way home!  It was then a huge saga trying to wake him up and get him out of his mucky clothes so that he could have his lunch.  He spent 45 minutes lying on the floor refusing to budge, while I ran about tidying, shoving laundry on and putting our food together.  Then Youngest got up and became his amiable self again: throwing his dirty clothes in the basket, changing his own pull-up, washing his hands and scrubbing his nails with the ‘brush 😉

Youngest took ages to fall asleep in the buggy on the way to collect Eldest but, once he was sleeping, he slumbered  through me chatting to Eldest’s teacher; and Eldest gambolling about telling me about his day on the way home, as he usually does.  I put more cream on Eldest, though I could see that he had put some on the back of his neck at lunchtime, which made me very proud!  His teacher said they have been teaching them about sun safety.

Youngest was popped on the couch when we got home, and Eldest sorted himself out with comfy clothes, and grabbed the tablet while I shoved the coffee table up against the couch so Youngest wouldn’t tumble off, then went for a very quick shower to cool down (that’s when I noticed the sunburn!)  My parents did not visit us today, because they are hoping to come and see us with my Grandma on Monday.  This freed me up a bit because I did not have to do any tidying up.  It also meant I could just collapse into the couch and keep an eye on Youngest after my shower (and an ear on what Eldest was up to) while I read some fan fiction on a blog from one of my Twitter followers.

 

 

When I saw ‘village’ as the first of today’s words, I immediately thought back to those early days of babyhood, and the whole tug-of-war between being everything to the child at that time, and yet each ‘experienced’ person I met seeming to imply that one can spoil babies with too much love; and should make them as independent as possible, very early.

 

Village  Five  Gimmick  Glamour  Cold  Pin  Wept  Controversial  Freakish

 

“It takes a village” they say

But ‘they’

Are not around at five in the morning.

 

It is all very well

To spout the gimmick-like phrase

And point out how

It’s not all glamour

(Like I hadn’t guessed)

But I’m living it,

And there’s no end in sight…

 

I’m not asking

For no-one to take the child

Unless they prise him

From my cold, dead hand.

Don’t pin that on me!

 

I have wept about this

Many times and

(This may be controversial)

Although I NEED a break,

My son has needs, too.

 

It’s not that freakish a concept.

 

I’m not trying to smother him

In maternal love,

He’s a baby

And it’s me he cries for most.

 

Mothers should, apparently, hand the baby over to other people to get the kid used to not always being with the sole carer – but first get bubs into a fixed sleeping routine to make it easy for those ‘other people’, show these kids at every step of the way that they are here to fit into adults’ ideals. Not to flail out of line or need extra attention.

The NHS recommend sleeping in the same room as your child for at least the first six months, but do not seem to like the idea of having a child share a bed with any caregiver, being quick to point out the risks and not highlighting the safest way to co-sleep after that. 

Needing someone to hold in the night should be stamped out of us as quickly as possible, of course…

Then there are the WHO guidelines that state that a mother should consider breastfeeding until 2 years of age (exclusively til 6 months, then with other foods).  The reality, in the west, is that that advice is a double-edged sword.  If there are feeding problems, it seems like an impossible goal, because formula is pushed while women are at their most vulnerable.  If a mother does manage to get to breastfeed for the magic two years, she is seen by most in society as a bit strange and ‘only doing it for themselves’ (which is ludicrous because watching a mum feeding a toddler, while the child appears to be doing complicated yoga poses at the breast, would put paid to that notion in a heartbeat!). 

Also, it is common (and desirable) for mothers to return to work while the child still feeds regularly during the day, and therefore the mother requires facilities to pump milk (which is not always provided adequately) or the opportunity to visit their child in their childcare environment, during the working day, to feed them (which is also rarely possible).  Of course, cows’ milk powder fits better into this ‘village’ idea:  “How can a mother expect support if the child can only be fed by one person?! Do they not want a life…?”

Sigh.

Then there are the people (Daily Mail article alert!) who say that a mother’s milk after the baby stage holds no nutritional or developmental value for the child.  As a species, the natural weaning age for human young is between 2 and 7 years old.  This is why our first teeth are called ‘milk teeth’ and do not fall out until we have started school.  There are many benefits to natural-term weaning for the child.

I have learned not to go into much detail about me ‘still’ feeding Youngest, however.  If I do, I must be trying to make other people feel guilty, or (worse) be pampered and have no ambition in life.  Though I personally think the comfort and connection I have provided through breastfeeding has helped to grow Youngest into a very capable, verbal, empathetic and sociable individual, who is confident when away from me…it’s not something all women can or want to do, and I respect that.

Eldest has a strong bond with me, too, even though he was mostly given formula due to our birth experience (and subsequently refused the breast from eight months and even the taste of my milk in a bottle by ten months). 

I didn’t sleep train him (but he slept all night in his own room from 2.5 years old)

I didn’t aggressively potty train him (but he was still dry, day and night, before he started school) 

I never fed him pureed food, or worried about how much he was getting – he fed himself real (minimal salt) foods from when he was six months old, and ate loads, well before he was one. 

All of this was untidy (so too was the house!), and most of this was child-led.  This meant I rarely left the children’s side.

Thankfully, I didn’t have a job outside of the home.  Hat’s off to those who manage to stick to similar parenting regimes and attend (paid) work!  The Daily Mail would say that if my kids have been advantaged by this approach, it’s because I am middle class and reasonably well educated, not because any of this is what our kids actually prefer, of course…

So the ‘village’ idea, for me, is a distorted one.  In the west, if a mother chooses to embrace the messy schedules that babies naturally keep, she is fairly isolated.  She is made to feel that in some way she has failed, right at the beginning of her journey.  Other people rarely offer to carry a baby in a sling so that the baby feels safe and secure while the mother get things done, or to take the baby overnight with the promise that they will be kept warm against the caregiver – and that the caregiver will be fine with numerous wake-ups.  It would not even cross many people’s minds to offer that!

In some cultures, this is exactly how a ‘village’ operates, however.  Children are looked after by everyone, there is a parenting practice consensus.  Kids are carried on the guardian’s body, so are part of the working day, families sleep as units and everyone invests in the community.  In the west, we seem to view this as a ‘primitive’ way of life, but still want to use the phrase!  If a mother wanted this kind of support in the west on a regular basis, she would have to employ a nanny – and search hard to find one that is comfortable putting the baby at the centre of any childcare decisions!

I probably have the closest I could ever get to the ideal, it must be said, as I live in a small community; and have done for the past decade.  I have met some amazing mums here, and we have shared our highs and lows a LOT in the last seven years.  I do not drive, and there has been many a lift offered and things dropped off or picked up by these fabulous people.

I could have utilised this support network a lot more had I been backed up by the medical profession, however.  I slipped into a twilight world for swathes of my parenting journey, and spent a lot of time on the fringes barely functioning, when I should have been out there making even better memories.  It was not all a result of my parenting choices, and others have said the same.

Seven years in, however, I do feel I have come a long way as a mum.  There are still things to learn and many many challenges to overcome in the future, but I think the foundations are there for me to be able to handle things as the kids get bigger.

To any mums out there who are reading this and feeling isolated and/or like they are not doing their best – I send such huge hugs to you.  Babies have not fundamentally changed, but society’s expectations of mothers fluctuate with the times.

In the age of overwhelming information, it is still valid to listen to your heart and do what works for you.  You don’t need to answer to anyone’s ideal.  Not even your own before you had that squalling bundle and realised what the reality of parenting actually looks, feels (and smells!!) like.  I hope that you are given all the support that you need and, if you are not, you go out and meet the angels who will try to fill in the gaps for you!

We are given instincts for a reason, and I find it sad that we are asked to ignore them so much when doing something as important as bringing up the next generation.  There are all kinds of mothers with all kinds of tolerance levels, and some babies naturally sleep longer than others, etc etc…but fundamentally: holding and loving that child is never the wrong thing to do, no matter what time of the night they want you to do it! If your instincts are telling you to go to that kid, go.  Their brain development and your lifelong parenting relationship, actually depend on it 😉

 

 

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