Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, was published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Parent

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. Here’s how to be that village….

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. Here’s how to be that village….

Parenting can feel like an exercise in endurance: much more marathon than sprint. But many parents today are left feeling like they are being asked to run an entire relay race on their own, without the much-needed support of any teammates.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. We were never meant to raise children on our own. And doing so makes parenting so much more difficult and more stressful.

I think we need to talk about this more. I think we need to talk about why so many parents are hungering for support from “the village” and why that support can be so hard to find.

Because here’s the thing: Parents needs support and they need it at every stage of parenting.

13 million calories and counting

Parenting requires a huge investment: an investment that is much bigger than what any individual parent or set of parents is capable of providing on their own. Anthropologists estimate that 13 million calories are required to raise a child from birth to the point of nutritional self-sufficiency (the point at which they are capable of buying their own groceries). And that’s just talking groceries! As every parent on the planet will tell you, parenting is about so much more than buying groceries….

So where is “the village”?

These days, it can be challenging for any parent to find and connect with “the village.” Families are increasingly isolated and cut off from one another. Whether you blame it on the geography of our neighbourhoods or the relentlessness of our work schedules or the exhaustion of the combined work-life load, we’re increasingly squirrelled away in our own homes. Parents have to make a conscious effort to find and connect with other parents in their communities—and that can be hard.

And, of course, it’s important to acknowledge that it is more difficult for some parents to tap into support than others. I’m thinking about parents who may be new to a particular community; parents who are raising a child with some sort of mental health or behavioural challenge or health concern; parents who are barely scrapping by from pay cheque to pay cheque and who may not have the financial resources to sign their kids up for extra-curricular activities that might otherwise bring them into the orbit of other families; parents who are working unpredictable schedules that make it hard to make plans. All those factors can make it extra challenging to find let alone connect with your “village.”

On finding or rebuilding “the village”

If you’re a parent who is finding it hard to find support in your community, start out by looking for that support online. And then, once you’ve tapped into that support online, look for opportunities to carry those relationships into the community as well. Maybe you can find an online group for parents and kids in your neighbourhood that offers the best of both worlds: instantly accessible online support when you’re looking for support and advice in the midst of a really bad day (or even longer night!) of parenting plus offline neighbourhood get-togethers that provide opportunities for the face-to-face conversations that you may be craving.

And, while you’re at it, lose the guilt. Don’t feel like you’re imposing on other people when you accept – or even ask for – this kind of support. Think about times in your life when you were able to offer hands-on help to another person. What you no doubt discovered is that it doesn’t just feel great to be on the receiving end of such support. It feels just as great to be on the giving side of that equation. So don’t deprive your fellow villagers of the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from providing that kind of support to you.

Finally, recognize what the village stands to gain by supporting parents and kids. It can be hard to keep this big-picture in mind in our fiercely individualistic culture. Too often, parents who ask for support are rebuffed by harsh and judgmental messages that are anything but supportive (“Hey, parents. You made the decision to have kids. Stop asking the village for help in raising them!”) This is because we have a tendency in the broader culture to treat parenting as a personal problem that every family needs to solve on its own. But here’s the thing: the village has a vested interest in the health and wellbeing of its children because they represent the next generation of citizens and workers.

That’s how things are supposed to work. Parents are supposed to feel supported by their fellow villagers. There are, after all, so many things the village can do to make things easier and better for parents and kids—and it’s actually in the village’s best interest to do so. Because when parents and kids are healthier, “the village” is healthier, too. Talk about the ultimate win-win!

Want to read more about the importance of tapping into support from “the village”? You might enjoy this book excerpt from Ann Douglas’ latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids.

Be The Village

What does it mean to be “the village”?

What does it mean to be “the village”?

What does it mean to be "the village” — to not just long for connection with other people but to actually show up and build those kinds of relationships and, along the way, create community for yourself and other people?

Here’s what it means to me.

It means investing the time needed to truly get to know another person: to establish intimacy and build trust.

It means looking for opportunities to make life better for that person in some small way, like passing along a message of encouragement on a day when that person’s encouragement stores are running low.

It means being open about my own struggles and my own hunger for community. When I am brave enough to open up about what I want and need, I encourage other people to do the same.

It means daring to make the first move when it comes to establishing a connection with another person. At a community event that I hosted in Fredericton, New Brunswick, last month, participants talked about how much courage it takes to approach someone you don’t know to say, “Hey, do you want to be my friend?” The thing is…most of the people in the room were feeling the exact same thing. They were all afraid to make the first move and they were all desperately craving friendship and community. We concluded that some sort of “speed dating for friends” event was desperately needed to help people make these kinds of connections. (I don’t know about you, but I’d be all over that kind of an event.)

I think we need to talk about this more — why so many people are feeling so lonely and so isolated and what practical things we can do to rebuild "the village" in our communities. This is something I’m going to be talking about all summer long. I hope you’ll follow along and join the conversation, too, by sharing some of your own experiences in not just finding but being the village.

This post was originally published in The Villager, Ann’s free twice-monthly newsletter about building community and finding common ground in a rapidly changing world. You can read back issues of the newsletter here and sign up for a subscription at the same time.