The Village Ideal: Does it exist?

My husband and I got to know each other in an African bush village; the women gathered over the fire pits, the children played freely – no telling who’s child was whose, except for the ones on their mother’s back, or who came back to their mothers to nurse. It was a beautiful picture of village life as I always imagined it.

Many of us have a picture in our head of our own ideal “village”, especially as we move into the motherhood stage of life. It probably doesn’t look like an African bush village, but it probably does involve having lots of family and/or friends living close by, all willing to help each other out with colicky babies, laugh together at our children’s antics, give advice to our pregnant sisters, and just be together in general.

There were so many times in the 6 years I lived overseas when I would think, “If only I lived close to family…if only I had a village. Then life would be easier.”

But what if the village ideal doesn’t actually exist? In an intriguing article on Mother.ly titled “In the Absence of the Village, Mother’s Struggle Most” , the author talks about how in our western culture there is no village, and it’s because of this that so many mothers struggle through their days and eventually years, not having any community. While I agree with many of her conclusions, I disagree with her conclusion that as mothers, “we’re disadvantaged as never before”.

Just as I thought life would be easier in Japan if I had a “village”, I still sometimes catch myself thinking that here in America. Even though I live within 45 minutes of my parents, two of my siblings, a church family and other homeschooling families, life isn’t miraculously easier. I have 5 young children, and while I do get some help occasionally and would certainly have help in an emergency (just as I would have in Japan, even though I didn’t always recognize it), I still don’t live in a village.

But I do HAVE a village.

It’s unrealistic to think that somehow in this day and age we’re going to revert to how it was 50-100 years ago, revert to the way our ancestors lived, or become a different culture. And it’s not particularly helpful to bemoan this fact.

So where and what is our village now?

It’s our quirky neighbor who brings our kids unhealthy cookies, and the neighbor on the other side who lends our husbands wheelbarrows.

It’s our Facebook groups for moms in the area, and our groups for moms with similar interests. It’s our Instagram hashtags that connect us with like-minded mothers from around the world.

It’s Skype and Facetime dates with our moms and dads; phone calls via Whatsapp or Messenger with friends on the other side of the world where the fact that you’ve forgotten each other’s languages doesn’t matter because you can play a silly game together online.

Your village is in the comments on your Facebook post that encourage you and remind you that you’ve got this. Motherhood isn’t easy, but you’re not alone.

It’s the clerk at your local grocery store who smiles and hands your kids balloons in their favorite colors, even when they’re acting crazy.

It’s the friends from church who bring you a meal after you had a baby; it’s your best friend and sister who live hours away, so they order you a meal to be delivered after you had a baby.

It’s the other moms in the pick-up line; it’s the moms at your homeschool co-op.

It’s your midwife, your doula, your postpartum doula; it’s the ladies in your hospital birthing class or breastfeeding support group.

It’s your dad rocking your baby to sleep and your grandfather bouncing him on his knee; it’s your “adopted” grandmother who lives across the street and knows that your family lives on the other side of the world, so she takes it upon herself to teach your children how to grow marigolds and rolls a kickball back and forth with your toddler.

Your village doesn’t look like your great-grandmother’s village. Her village was most likely confined to the 2 or 3 mile radius around her home.

Your village is across the street. Your village lives hours away. Your village is around the world.

Rather than complain about what we don’t have anymore, let’s embrace this new village life.

Because we’re not alone, mama. We’ve got this.

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