They Say it Takes a Village to Raise a Child. But What if You Don’t Have One?
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
When I imagine this famous aphorism in action, I picture being surrounded by women in my family as I bring home a new baby.
There’s a bounty of food, conversation and laughter. Whether physically or emotionally, they support me as my children and journey in motherhood grow. I’ll call on any combination of them for my burning questions about breastfeeding or Tylenol doses. Any one of them will provide a shoulder to cry on when I need it most.
“You take a nap, we got the baby,” one will encourage me. “I’ll come over and watch the kids since you gotta go to the store,” another will offer.
Or even, “It’s gonna be OK.”
The only thing is — where Imma find these women? Not in my family and not under my circumstances of being what feels like worlds away from them to even try and test these kinds of waters.
The fantasy is real. I’m not sure any Black mom has it this good these days, not us millennials, whose parents are still working, who never moved back home and who are raising babies with no outstanding support.
So how do we do it? What happens when you need a village but don’t have one?
Maybe we just need to take a closer look.
Join an Online Motherhood Community
Social media isn’t all bad. Many mothers have been fortunate enough to find their tribe through digital platforms — whether it’s on Instagram or in a Facebook group. Now these may not be people you’d ever trust to watch your children, but when we dig deeper to build a village we don’t have, having someone to lean on can make all the difference.
There are more structured options, too. Apps such as Peanut and Kijiji match you with mom friends in a space designed for building and nurturing mommy relationships.
Examine the Possibilities Around You
Maybe there’s a warm neighbor or colleague that you’ve grown to trust. Think about adding them to your list. This person can be a helping hand or just someone to connect with when you need to talk to another adult.
Not too long ago, one of my neighbors offered for my daughter to join a sleepover at her house with the granddaughters. We’ve grown to love all of them, and although I was uncomfortable at the time, I see how my neighbor has become part of my village.
No, she can’t replace a relative who may step in to actually help raise my child, but she’s someone I can trust to have around my daughter. And that’s a good start when you have no one nearby.
My daughter has been to her house without me and the girls have been over mine without her.
When you take a closer look at who’s available around you, it gives you a chance to reimagine what your village will look like. That way, you’re open to various possibilities going forward.
Establish a Good Relationship with Your Pediatrician
If you stick around your area long enough, chances are your local pediatrician is going to get incredibly familiar with your children. They are going to be some of the few people who have a chance to watch them grow up close and personal.
A pediatrician isn’t a therapist, a postpartum doula or that retired aunty who you wish would come help out, but they can be a source of support — especially when the baby first arrives.
It wasn’t until I switched to a Black pediatrician that I was offered postpartum care services, such as lactation specialists and therapists. Our pediatrician partners with these local specialists to support moms after birth. I was dealing with a lot after I had my second daughter because we had a big surgery looming over us, and I guess my overwhelm was evident.
My pediatrician referred me to a few lactation specialists her office works with and reassured me that she can be a listening ear. She even prayed with me when my baby girl was about to have surgery.
Who cares if she can never watch the baby while I sleep or shower — if that’s not supporting a new mom in need, I don’t know what is.
Be Brave Enough to Find a Babysitter
This is tough. Where do you even begin this search? In college, I worked for a babysitting agency. I showed up on the night a family needed me. It would be my first time ever meeting them, and they’d leave me to watch their children.
Clearly I’m no threat, but fast forward six years later to when I became a mom: there’s no way in hell I could ever do that.
But it’s worth it to at least look for someone to formally add to your support network. There are trusted websites you can research, and there may be babysitting groups on Facebook specialized to your area.
Still, it’s not easy depending on your parenting style. I have honestly been searching for a sitter on and off for about a year without success, but that’s because I’m not too desperate and it’s not exactly necessary for me at this time.
Right before the pandemic, my husband and I went on a date as a babysitter watched our children for the very first time. She came highly recommended from a friend, so that was half the battle. We invited her over a couple of times to meet the girls before she stayed. We adored her and were looking forward to seeing more of her — but COVID-19 turned the world upside down. We stay in touch, even though her college hasn’t resumed in-person learning.
And if you’re uncomfortable, don’t take the plunge just yet. Feel it out. But please consider finding a sitter if you don’t have family or friends available to watch your kids.
Don’t Ignore Your Mental Health
I know all too well the toll it takes when you don’t have an abundance of support. Motherhood can feel lonely and overwhelming — and a range of other emotions that fall in between. You feel like you have to do it all. You feel like it’s no end in sight. Trust me, I’ve been there.
It’s important to go easy on yourself and be realistic: you’re one person. Even with a partner, two new parents raising a child is a major transition that we all need help through.
Whether you schedule time for self care, journal or use a wellness app, don’t neglect your mental health. It’s not selfish to think about yourself (I say this now, but it took me four years and two children to realize). The better you feel, the better you can be for the new tiny humans who need you at your best. Even if you can only take one step today, that’s still progress.
Postpartum Support International has a hotline that you can call any time of the day at 1-800-944-4473.
I hope these steps help you dig deeper to see what’s around you. I envisioned my village in the traditional sense of the concept, but I did one of the things that motherhood makes you do best: adapt.