Thursday, January 10, 2013

It Takes A Village to Raise a Child- Another Cosmopolitan Parent's Challenge

It takes a village to raise a child. Does the proverb apply to families today? Are we rallying around our struggling parents like they did in the villages of yesterday?

Some might say "Yes", some might say "No". I guess it all depends on your personal experiences. The Igbo culture of Omugo in Nigeria where the mother of a girl leaves her home to stay with her daughter who has recently delivered, is an attempt and a surviving ember of our anthropological need for the experience of another experienced parent in the process of parenting. In the past people co-slept, breastfed much longer, and wore their babies all the time. But the village raised the child. There were grandparents, aunts, neighbors  and older children to share the parenting. In our society, if the mother cannot do it all, all of the time, we look down on her. Or, alternately, if she is willing to leave her baby with someone in order to get a break, we look down on her. Even I got attacked recently for sending my daughter to her grandma so my husband and I could take a short break

While I was little my mother was a single mother in the UK far away from home and she had to work long, often unsociable hours and this was the story of many mums I knew. Fortunately she had a few fellow Nigerian mums who she was able to leave me with. She attempted to build a small village around her. But mostly, she was on her own. Today even married couples who have each other are working long hours and spending hours in traffic and getting home to sleepy children or kids wide awake in front of the TV. 

I know another single mum who said the entire workforce at Virgin (the company) knew her child since she took her to many meetings while her daughter played in her car-seat waiting for mummy to finish. For her this wasn't about politics or work life balance, it was about survival. She couldn't afford to lose her job for taking a day off or constantly missing meetings. She could not afford to lose a day's pay! She would tell you she had no village, but does anyone care? What happened to the communal view of parenthood?

We parent alone. We raise our children alone. This is exhausting.

People are divided about how much support we actually owe each other when it comes to discipline and parenting in general. The experience of parenthood is almost completely personal right now, a function of your company, your religion, your class, your education. Some people might argue that all those things are your Village. And they're happy with it.

That said, I don’t think the entire burden of raising my child needs to fall on my shoulders or my husband’s shoulders alone. In our case, we have been very lucky to be able to have his mother as a regular and trusted presence in our daughter's life but she doesn't live in the same state. So the point is we should go out of our way to find like minded mums and dads, we should try to forge a closer and more consistent relationship between our children and our friends, and siblings to create opportunities for trade-offs (I’ll watch your kids today if you watch mine tomorrow). I think it is important to your own mental health as a parent to encourage a strong attachment between your child and at least a handful of other trusted adults, this importance is emphasized when they become teenagers. As teenagers these adults serve as confidantes when your kids find it hard discussing certain things with you and role models of responsible parents or even in terms of career.

A major concern is that a lot of parents have is that their caregiver needs to use the same parenting approach that they do. That is why these should be like minded parents who you feel are good role models if they have different rules in their home it will only serve as a learning experience for your child and for you the scriptures say "Iron sharpeneth iron."

Take some of the burden off yourself and put it onto the village. Now put up your feet and enjoy a good
 book or a movie.

Ijeoma Olujekun

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