I believe that one of the biggest losses in modern life is the loss of the extended family. The loss of love. The loss of support. The loss of community. The loss of role models – especially for new parents and their children.
As humans we have evolved to live in extended family groups and to be part of communities who we live within close proximity to. I’m talking of hundred of thousands of years of living together. Now, in the last few hundred years, we have separated ourselves from our extended families and, in losing these connections, are isolating ourselves to our own detriment.
You see, it wasn’t until I had kids that I actually really understood how vital it was to have a group of people of various ages who are there for you and who love you and your children deeply and unconditionally. There is no substitute for extended family – grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. Each member of my immediate family has a unique relationship with each member of our extended family.
I have strategically tailored my work life around raising my children, I breastfeed, I co-sleep, I have quality time with my partner, I have one on one time with my kids, I homeschool them and we travel as much as we can. In order for me to raise my children in the way I want to and the way that my children need me to I rely on the support of my husband and my extended family.
During the newborn phase of my children I was supported by my extended family who took turns cooking for us every day, helping with my housework, having the older kids over for sleepovers, looking after the baby while I shower or sleep. Making me a coffee while I breastfed.
I’ve heard from so many mothers that having an extended family member popping in post-birth even becomes an imposition. Something that brings up angers rather than something that is expected and welcomed. This is a product of the sickness of modern life. How unbelievably strange? Isolating ourselves even more post-birth. Why? Because of our fear of being judged. We don’t look good, we don’t smell good. The house isn’t clean enough. The individualistic culture we live in tells us that we can do it all, and we can do it all by ourselves. This is not true.
During the toddler phase my extended family helped me by playing with my toddler while I went out for a coffee by myself, stayed at my home while the toddler was asleep so my partner and I could go on dates. I distinctly remember writing my PhD thesis every day during my kids naps. I remember standing up at my computer typing away with my daughter asleep in the carrier attached to me. My dad would play with my 2 year old son while my daughter napped on me. Slowly but surely and with a lot of consistency and support, it got written.
It gets easier as the children grow and naturally children need their mothers less. My children are 2, 5 and 7 at the time of writing. I can see that in the near future my husband and I will be able to go away for a night or two because my youngest is now weaning on his own terms and he is wanting to spend more time with his grandparents and cousins rather than needed me as much.
Dr. Gabor Mate, in his book Hold On To Your Kids, talks about the detriment of young children being raised by peers as they are in childcare, kindergarten and school. The influence of the parents to their children development becomes secondary to the influence of peers of the same age. This is detrimental because the influence of family on a child comes with nurture, unconditional love and sacrifice. The influence of same age peers does not. While this is normal in our modern culture, it is certainly not natural.
As homeschoolers, it is amazing how often I am confronted with strangers’ questions of whether I am able to sufficiently socialise my children and how important socialisation is. Modern culture tells me that my kids should be with a large group of peers from when they’re 2 years old (or younger) for 8 hours a day (or longer) while I work. I call bullshit on that. Instead, my children have been raised by a select group of people, ranging from their own age through to their grandparents age and everything in-between.
I don’t worry about socialisation because I see that my kids are getting the best kind – not the kind that comes with the threat of being bullied – but the kind that comes with the love of siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents.
As I write this blog my kids are spending time with my dad, their grandfather. He transmits culture, knowledge and wisdom to them and gives them a unique kind of attention that no one else does. He tells them the same stories he told me when I was a child and he cooks them the same food he cooked for me (they have also most likely locked him outside while they raid his lolly pantry). I know that they are having fun in a loving and nurturing environment and I know my dad enjoys them. I don’t have mum guilt when I work because I know they are safe, happy and I know my dad is not burdened because I don’t abuse his time.
My work slides into my family life in the best way and this is why I can enjoy both. I have the balance I need for my own mental health and so do my children. This could not be possible without the support of all of my family members who spend time with my children, who often make us food and who provide us with unconditional love.
One of the most important things to have (or to cultivate if you don’t have it) in life when you become a parent is a close network. Sharing resources, sharing a laugh, sharing tears, having multiple people you can trust with your children and who you can rely on and who know you.
This is what privilege looks like – because it takes a village to help a mother to raise a child.