Why parents find their support system broken and how to fix it

We are no longer living in the 1950s notion of women staying at home to solely tend to the house and clean, many women now work, have babies and become successful in their own right.

But there are certain changes that no one tells you about when you have a baby.

How there can be long days and sometimes lonely nights. How juggling work and home life can be a real balance (that morning school run is an exercise in itself).

And how remember that saying it takes a village to raise a child? Well, that ship seems to have sailed.

In times not so long ago, close-knit families and communities lived and worked together, frequently helping each other out. Children would play with neighbours or lean on local school friends in the summer holidays. Older grandparents would tend to the children and alternate school pick-ups.

But with the freedom of being able to work and live wherever we like at the drop of a hat, modern motherhood can have the facade of endless potential but lacking the much-needed day-to-day support.

Grandparents no longer live down the road, friends are just as busy and women can find themselves at the disadvantage of having to be the entertainer, cleaner, chef of multiple snacks and more.

For Naomi Victoria, author and mental health advocate, this felt all too real when she thought she was going to get a lot more support with her children than she actually did.

‘My mum sadly died before I had children. And although I had my friends and siblings, they all worked and my husband only took a week’s paternity leave.  The antenatal and ‘mum’ groups didn’t happen for me either as I was self-employed and needed to be in my shop so was difficult to take time off (this meant I had a 3-day-old baby behind the counter with me also).’

While Naomi did have nursery provision which helped her power through those first couple of years, this all came to a halt when her two-year-old daughter suddenly needed urgent hip surgery.

‘She couldn’t be in a nursery setting so required me to be at home. I found this really challenging as she was in a huge body cast. When I went out people would stare at me. One lady even asked me in the supermarket if I’d thrown her down the stairs!’

By the time her second daughter was one, she found herself a single parent.

‘This came with further feelings of isolation and feeling judged by parents at school who were in ‘couples’,’ she said.

‘Other than spending time with my siblings at weekends I felt like I was totally on my own and relied on school and nursery support’.

While every family situation is different some women find they don’t have informal support from friends, relatives and other mothers.

For Karen Whybrow, she had the vision of her children almost being shared by her and her husband’s relatives.

While there was some distance (she lived in Essex, her parents in Cumbria), she thought that it would still be achievable. She soon found out it was not.

‘I realised pretty soon after having my eldest daughter that my village was more of a hamlet! We would have regular visits from my parents and occasionally siblings but the bonds I envisaged taking time to nurture combined with living so far apart didn’t support that.

‘It was when we were pregnant with our second child that I really struggled as my husband, Ben was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

‘During what should have been one of the most enjoyable experiences of our lives, we were thrown into oncology appointments, chemotherapy and treatment plans.’

Karen continued: ‘The life growing inside of me seemed to be the polar opposite of what was going on in our outside world. The mum friends I’d made during Georgina’s early years drifted away. My focus was getting us all through.’

The arrival of her daughter, Harriet, along with another round of chemo brought some much-needed relief and joy but the first year of Harriet’s life was a whirlwind of hospital appointments, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and palliative care plans.

‘I was a carer to our baby, our daughter and primary carer for their Daddy too.

‘The village of support would have been ideal but in our times of need, we don’t have the capacity to reach out to others for strength. We continue in patterns and habits that we know and feel safe in, and that did not include finding our village.’

Karen’s parents were supportive and did as much as they could including a six-hour journey to spend time with them.

‘I never did manage to bridge the gap,’ she recalls.

‘It is only now almost five years after Ben’s death that I feel I may be beginning to find my village. This is through the peer support of other widows and moving to be closer to my parents!’

So is there a way to fix the village or even create your own?

Even though it can seem like friends, family and parents no longer come together to celebrate and share children’s upbringings, psychologist, Catherine Hallissey explains how you can make your own village.

‘While modern life means many of us are parenting in the absence of the village, meaning far less practical and emotional support from multigenerational networks, you can still take steps to create your own one.

‘Reach out and ask for help, you may be surprised with how many people step up to support you. Mother and baby groups are a lifeline for many new mums, as they can help to reduce the feelings of isolation. 

‘Joining online communities can also help to bridge the gap. This can help to reduce the stress and increase the joy of parenting so you can become the kind of parent you really want to be.’

And for those who may have lost a partner, Karen, who now runs her own coaching service, The Anchor Coaching, strongly recommends reaching out to WAY Widowed and Young for peer support.

‘Make sure you look after yourself and reach out for the support you do need where you can.

‘You are the most important thing to your children so do all you can to make your life easier.’

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