This Mother's Day we're asking, where is this "village"we were promised? 1 year ago

This Mother's Day we're asking, where is this "village"we were promised?

Sometimes, my house is filled with people.

My children are ecstatic whenever we have their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents visiting from Norway.

It can be busy and loud, but my goodness, it is also so, so lovely.

And if you think they get excited, I think I'm even more delighted. Raising my children away from family is not only lonely, at times, but also hard work. I miss having them near for the day-to-day stuff. When I am running rings around myself between work and school and creche and playdates and ballet classes and hockey and football and parties and dinner shopping. When they are sick for days on end and I feel my sanity slipping. When I just need to vent – on not just over Facetime.

And I am not alone. In fact, today, so many of us live away from our own parents and extended families, and as a result, mothers today don't have the network of support our own mothers and grandmothers had when raising their own young families.

In fact, in her article Secrets of a Maya Supermom: What Parenting Books Don’t Tell You, writer Michaeleen Doucleff states: “Never have mothers been so burdened by motherhood.” 

And to make it clear: It's not because we don't love our children or motherhood. Rather, it's the way family structure is today, and the expectations as to how we should parent being such a far cry from what motherhood looks like in other cultures – and from how it used to be here, even just a generation ago.

Most of this, the author argues, is because we more or less have to mother on our own.


“Up until about 150 years ago, households were much larger and included extended family members and sometimes paid help,” Doucleff writes. “Human children didn't evolve in a nuclear family. Instead, for hundreds of thousands of years, kids have been brought up with a slew of people—grandparents, aunts, uncles, extended family—which could include biological relatives but also neighbours, close friends or paid help.”

According to anthropologists, these extra sets of caregiving hands are called Alloparents (derived from the ancient Greek word “allo,” meaning “other”). Today, modern mums may join each other for limited amounts of time at designated gathering spots (playgrounds, preschools, paint your own pottery studios), but they generally go back to their nuclear family home with their kids.

In other parts of the world, on the other hand, “cultures consider alloparents key to raising children.” Doucleff describes family homes in Mayan areas of Mexico, for example, as “porous.” There, “mums value and embrace alloparents…all sorts of ‘allomums’ flow in and out. When a woman has a baby, other mothers work together to make sure she can take a break each day to take a shower and eat meals, without having to hold the baby.” Aunts, grandmas, neighbours and older children all pitch in and work together to collaboratively raise kids. This, in itself, is an acknowledgement of how much work it really takes.

“But in Western culture, over the past few centuries, we have pushed alloparents to the periphery of the parenting landscape,” Doucleff writes. And even if we are fortunate enough to afford paid help, there’s an unspoken criticism that mothers are “outsourcing parenting duties” that really should be theirs to carry out. “The result is something unique in human history,” Doucleff writes: “One mum doing the job typically performed by a handful of people.”

The appeal of more communal parenting is nothing new. Twenty-two years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote in It Takes a Village: “The simple message is as relevant as ever: We are all in this together.”

And, mamas, it's true. It does take a village. Not just for you, but for your kids – I firmly believe that having the influence of other adults and other children, of aunts and cousins and neighbours and friends, is good and healthy – for all of us.

So embrace the alloparents available to you. Recruit from extended family, from friends (I don't know where I would be today without the friends who are my self-appointed family here, my sisters-in-law, in-laws). Ask your neighbours. Be there for other mums. Build your village, mama.