…so what do you do if you don’t have one?
“It takes a village to raise a child”. It is an old African (various sites suggest Nigerian) proverb and it does make sense. The idea of a collective group helping to raise a child. Mothers, aunties, fathers, uncles, brothers, sisters, even neighbours all helping teach a child about life. Problem is, modern life doesn’t seem to always fit well with the concept.
My husband and I are to coin an old phrase, ‘childhood sweethearts’, we met at the tender age of 16 on the school bus, we married in 2007 after our relationship survived a-levels, university (we went to the same college) and post-grad studies. We have been a couple for 15 years. We have each other, we have our beautiful boys and we have the dog. We also both have loving and supportive families.
But they live 160 miles way, in the same town we grew up in. Not in the city where we made our family home. So how does the idea of the village – the wider family and friends – work in this?
Technology plays a big part in maintaining the village idea. FaceTime on iPhone and iPad allow us to not only contact Granny and Grandad but see them too. WhatsApp on our mobile phones let everyone stay up to date with the normal daily routines of life. We regularly send photos and videos to one and other. It lets our families feel involved. It lets grandparents see their grandchild growing.
Grandparents aren’t just free childcare and they should never just been seen as it. But they and the boys get so much from the interaction (although sleep isn’t one of those things…..Isaac chose to wake up for the day at 4.45am during one recent visit). But it doesn’t solve the lack of babysitters, or opportunity for a night out. I see how easy it can be for my sister to get a babysitter if they want to go out. Our parents live nearby and if one can’t the other usually can. Whereas I can’t just ring my mum or dad and say ‘can you have the boys (and puppy) tonight?’ This year we have managed to arrange for my mum, my in-laws or my dad to have the boys so that I travel with my husband to watch him officiate in some pretty important football matches. He is a Football League Assistant Referee and Football Conference Referee. In the last two weeks we have made two trips to Wembley to officiate. Without some coordination, several phone calls and text messages I would not have been able to come. These were planned (although short notice due to nature of football) trips.
It is the unexpected events where we struggle. So how do you create a village without family nearby? For me my village comes from my friends. They have helped me through illness, provided last minute babysitting when stuff has happened, they have done food shopping for me when I broke my ankle and ferried me to hospital appointments a couple of years ago, the sling library ladies have run sessions while I have observed from sidelines in agony with bad back and a broken ankle, and run sling library completely when I came down with a tummy bug, they provide someone to talk to when I just want to scream. They are there when I need them. I can call, text, pop around when needed. They are doing the same, bringing up their kids, therefore they know what it’s like. Whether my friends are close by or online they are there when I need them. My village now consists of mums and dads across the country. I find solace and support from various groups and forums. A village does not need to be the people you have in your street anymore, it can be anyone anywhere. After all they are all doing their best for their families too.
I cannot express how much my friends mean to me. The support and help they provide is priceless. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff I do. They may not be my family but my boys have lots of ‘aunties’ who like their relations have their best interests at heart and do you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world. Our villages are what we make them, whether in person or online. Embrace your family and your friends, life would be pretty boring without them.
Rachel Coy | North East Sling Library