As women, we are socially conditioned to believe we can do it all. Which is why, as mothers, we take on major challenges and push ourselves to our furthest limits. In most homes, women look after their children single-handedly, without compromising on their existing household duties. When it all begins to pile up, we then experience despair and guilt if we fall short of our goals. We’ve wrongly convinced ourselves that as mothers, it’s only our duty to care for our children in entirety. But here’s the thing. You are the primary caregiver. You are NOT the only caregiver. Raising a child, especially a stable, happy, well-adjusted one, takes a task force to achieve.
You need a community of like-minded people, who volunteer or are hired to help you survive your little one’s childhood. After all, human beings need social interaction for survival. This extends to raising children as well.
Taking help is a sign of strength and not weakness, especially when it comes to childcare. The CEO of any major company doesn’t do everything. He or she delegates. That is the difference between success and failure. Their ability to see the bigger picture while outsourcing the details to trustworthy people.
Child-raising was always a community activity
We’ve all heard someone from a previous generation tell us how they used to do everything. Many of them insist that they had no help or support. It may be true when it came to household chores or similar domestic tasks, but it wasn’t always true with children. The advantage of living in a joint family, or close-knit social circles, was that there was always one well-meaning adult who could care for a child when the mother was busy. In close-knit communities, neighbours and non-resident family members were also roped in to contribute. Even older children in the family took turns to watch the younger ones or keep them occupied. Whether it was babysitting, storytelling, nap-time or mealtimes, mother always had help. It is probably where the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” comes from.
My mother worked throughout my childhood. She didn’t need a nanny or a maid to help fill in the hours she was absent. But help always arrived in the form of a well-meaning neighbour or a grandparent who resided nearby. There was always someone to unlock the main door after school, to ensure that hungry stomachs were filled and that one watchful eye was kept on us at all times. When my mother was home, she, in turn, would look after the neighbour’s daughter. This symbiotic relationship made sure no child felt neglected, and no mother felt overwhelmed. This was a common experience that many children in India grew up with. Today’s mothers need to cultivate similar relationships and form their team of helpers.
The modern mother’s difficulties with managing childcare
Raising a child is far more challenging today than it used to be for the earlier generations. With the rise of nuclear families in India along with double income parents, the onus of childcare falls on the mother. Parents no longer come with a built-inbuilt in a family or social support system, they have to make their own. It doesn’t help that our generation seems to have lost touch with the traditional wisdom that helped our mothers and grandmothers.
Also, today’s children have far more activities than ever before. Media sources like the internet and satellite television bring the outside world into your living room, exposing the child in your house to a broader range of experiences than you had at the same age. It’s so much more that one single mother can cover.
An average, urban child today deals with:
- School-related activities and homework
- Extracurricular activities
- Hobby classes/ Sports classes
- School projects
- Doctor’s appointments
- Healthy meals
For all of the above, you need someone to ferry your child to different places, or to monitor him at home. A mother can’t be everywhere at all times. And if you have more than one child, how will you split your focus?
How extended childcare support helps your child
Children tend to cling to their parents as their main support system. But it’s healthy for them to spend time with other adults and children. Babies and toddlers who interact with more people on a regular basis tend to:
- Learn to talk faster or pick up a second/third language
- Pick up social skills quicker
- Become less dependent on the primary caregiver
- Be less afraid of being in a new environment
- Adapt quicker at preschool and primary schools
How a mother benefits from the support system
There are so various advantages to having your own village support you.
- You get more free time to relax, unwind and de-stress
- More time for non-baby activities including your Important TO-DO lists
- You learn more about parenting and even some new insights from your band of helpers
- You form a deeper bond with friends, other mothers, and family members
- You look forward to spending time with the little one, as you are no longer overwhelmed by constant childcare demands
- You can balance your other interests like work, travel, and hobbies without feeling guilty
How to form your own village
If you think it must be tough, it is. But it can be done. And, for your sanity, it is also required. Start within your family and social circle, and you’ll be surprised just how willing your loved ones will be to help you. After all, they have yours and your child’s best interests at heart.
Start first with your spouse. Ensure that your husband does his share of the responsibilities, so you don’t feel snowballed. It’s not babysitting when it’s your child. Whether it’s changing diapers, feeding or playtime, your husband can lend a hand when you are unable to. It’s the 21st century. Men can’t be backseat parents anymore. They must learn to step up and contribute.
1. Grandparents and other family elders
If you live in the same city as your parents or in-laws, they can be a great help. You can chalk out a schedule for grandparents to spend a day or a weekend with your kids, as per their convenience. They can also be enlisted to run errands for your children when you are otherwise detained.
How they can help:
- Babysit when you are busy or sick or need a break
- Take your child for after-school classes
- Attend school meetings when you are unavailable
- Visit paediatrician with your child for regular check-ups
Note: This is easier said than done. Often, a clash of parenting philosophies and minor disagreements can make it difficult to ask for help. But focus on the bigger picture and make practical compromises where possible.
2. Close family members
If you or your husband have siblings or close cousins, get them on board! Aunts and uncles usually love to spend time with their nieces and nephews and are always willing to take them off your hands. If you can make an arrangement for a few hours every week/month, it’ll be a win-win situation.
How they can help:
- Babysit or organise fun activities for your child
- Help out with meal times
- Take them to parks and playgrounds
- Teach them cycling, swimming or any other fun activity
3. Mother support group
Like calls to like. Once you’ve had a baby, you are officially part of an elite circle of mothers who support each other. Whether it’s advice, pre-cared goods, babysitting or even just an understanding ear, mothers always help other mothers. After all, only we know exactly what we are going through. We have the wisdom, expertise and experience. So whether it’s your own college friend group, moms from your kids’ schools or an online support group, mothers will have your back.
How they can help:
- Educate/guide for breastfeeding, solid foods, potty training, baby products, sales, carnivals and book fairs, and other child-related information
- Take turns to organize playdates/outings so that you get some free time
- Pickup and drop your child to school, and attend class meetings when you can’t
- Regular reminders for vaccines and polio drop sessions
- Babysit on short notice in case of emergency
- Provide support and encouragement when you struggle with motherhood responsibilities
4. Hired help/Daycare
While it’s true that good help is hard to find these days, it’s also not impossible. A nanny can your children when they come home from school and attends to their needs when you are unavailable. Alternatively, you can opt for a reliable daycare service nearby who can tend to your child for a few hours.
How they can help:
- Take care of mealtimes
- Help with household chores like washing clothes and tidying up
- Help the baby or child with bath time, meal times and naps
- Engage kids in their free time
- Help with potty training
- Take them to parks or playgrounds
A good mother knows her limitations and feels no shame by asking for help. After all, your little one’s childhood is a precious time and one best shared with your loved ones. Share the load and lighten the burden, and you’ll be a happier mother for it.