Are we raising our children alone?

Last night I stumbled on Jennifer Fulwiler’s recent post, “Stay-at-Home Moms Need Help” on the National Catholic Register (she also blogs at Conversion Diary). In it, Jennifer is asking the question of whether it’s self-indulgent for a woman who stays home to have help with housekeeping or childcare.

I thought what she had to say was too good to not be discussed:

When I studied anthropology in college, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the element of community: In pretty much every time and place outside of modern Western culture, people lived around family all their lives. The average person was surrounded by brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. For women, the work of raising children was not done alone: Younger nieces and cousins would help with the little kids, the women would socialize as they gathered water or washed clothes, all the children playing together around them. This is the kind of life we were designed for.

In contrast, the average modern woman who is out of the workforce lives her life on a suburban desert island. The nearest family member lives miles (if not thousands of miles) away. She doesn’t know all the people on her street, and not many of them have kids anyway. If she’s like many Americans, she’s moved within the past few years, losing any sense of community she’d built in the last place she lived. Any opportunities for socializing with other women involve the herculean effort of packing up all the kids in the car to drive somewhere. She doesn’t even have the age-old mother’s release valve of banishing the kids outside and telling them to come back at mealtime, since safety concerns mean she has to keep them within sight at all times.

This is an incredibly unnatural way to live.

I found myself saying, “Yes! That’s true! I do need a community. I do need to live in a big happy compound with all the people I love so I can shoo the kids into the grassy commons while I hang out with my friends and family and scrub laundry in wooden barrels!” And then, I remembered that 1) No matter what I do, I can’t  gather all my people into one commune, and 2) I’m thankful for washing machines.

What do you think about this? Are we living unnaturally? And is there anything we can do (other than paying for childcare and housekeeping) to raise children in a less demanding, communal, natural way?

(I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this…)


Filed under Motherhood

12 responses to “Are we raising our children alone?

  1. Sam

    I thought this was a great post and I read the comments with interest. I especially liked that someone in the comments pointed out that nearly every family had help not so long ago. It was a status thing, yes, but also needed. My own grandmother had help when they lived in Germany, back in the 50s – she desperately needed it, in a foreign country where her husband worked long hours and wasn’t home very much. I’m sure it blew her mind – she’s a country girl from Mississippi!

    At this particular moment you could say I have childcare – by sending my 4-year-old to a Mother’s Morning Out/preschool and have, since he was one. I seriously do not what I would do without those little breaks to run errands in peace, exercise, have a coffee date with a friend, and if I want – to clean our home. When my husband had a different schedule, we could even have a breakfast date! Cleaning and laundry and cooking is something I can easily manage with one kid, but I can see how that gets really hard with several kids, activities, etc.

    I do wish I had that “tribe” – it’s so hard to find. We’ve lived here for three years and still don’t have a trusted babysitter, other than a good friend of mine (another mom).

  2. Linda Carleton

    Visit to review how we are building community in Abilene.

  3. Right now, I’m at home alone with my 4 year old. The only adult interaction I will have today was with the barista at Starbucks and the checkout lady at SuperTarget…at least until my husband gets home.

    I’m a bit of introvert, but I have to say, even I feel pretty lonely in this existence. Especially after moving cross-country a year ago and losing most of the people I called friends, when we left a ministry we had been apart of for 7 years (they don’t really stay in contact with anyone who leaves the ministry…).

    I enjoy the opportunity to be at home with my daughter and also my son, when he’s on break….but I have to admit, I am kind of looking forward to doing something that involves other adults when I send my last one off to Kindergarten in a year……

    If I could somehow have a community surrounding me in all this, it certainly would be easier.

  4. Bruce Perry, PhD, addresses this nicely when writing about traumatized children (He is the founder/ director of the Child Trauma Academy) and what ALL children need.

    “As we’ve seen in order to develop normally infants and need the devoted attention of one or two primary, consistent caretakers, and those caretakers need the daily support of a loving community that recognizes and relieves the exhausting demands of new parenthood. When humans evolved they didn’t live in a world where one woman spent her day alone with her offspring while her partner spent his day at the office. Both men and women worked hard to ensure survival, but women worked together with young children close at hand and older boys often accompanied men and were trained by them. An overwhelmed mother could hand her infant off to an aunt or a sister or a grandmother: there were,on average, four adolescents and adults for every young child. Today we think that a daycare center has an excellent adult/child ratio when there is one caregiver for every five children!” (“The boy who was raised as a dog” p.236)

    My kids are grown now, but we did not have extended family near by and I really missed not only the support, but the relationships that form from have having frequent family interactions. We did make great effort to create “cousin camp” every summer and that has reaped benefits as they are now all grown.

  5. Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. Linda (Dean!), I’m thrilled to see that CCC is still doing such amazing work in Abilene. I know that the simple work of being the house that “cares” in the neighborhood is huge for making a community instead of simply a row of houses.

    I feel like, from reading these comments so far, that this is such a vulnerable topic for women, especially SAHMs. Here we are doing this work that is largely dismissed as brainless by our culture, while at the same time feeling complete overwhelmed by the work. Thanks for the quote, Phyllis. It’s so true that we were not intended to live this way.

    So the question is, how to be a counter-cultural SAHM? I think Linda’s on to something. Community is only creating intentionally. So how do we live intentionally in our neighborhoods and among the Starbucks baristas? 🙂

  6. Good post! I dealt with the loneliness, especially when Matthew (he’s 4) was born. None of my close friends had kids yet, and he was the only baby at church. We started MOPs at our church back in January, and I can’t begin to tell you what a blessing it has been to me personally, and to so many other moms in our group. I don’t think these moms come for the speaker, but for a human touch and adult conversation. It’s a place they feel safe and welcomed. It would be so easy to be a hermit, but I find I’m a better mommy when we get out of the house (and I’m a better wife too). I think for a SAHM, you almost have to start over– your job is gone, your friends change (to an extent), and you have to figure out that your worth is really in Christ, not what place you work at or how much money you make.

  7. Sam

    Micha, I think you’re so spot on in that being a SAHM is a vulnerable position. It’s a luxury that requires sacrifice. I personally have family members that were happy for us when my husband took a job that meant I could stay home with Thomas, but after a year or so I guess they thought he was already raised? They wanted to know was I going back to work? In particular, my husband’s grandmother is incredibly unsupportive about my SAHM role. I have family members that wonder if my gifts are going unused (and sometimes they are).

    I have realized that my world has gotten smaller. Somedays I may only encounter the grocery store clerk, so it’s important that I smile, be friendly, acknowledge that I appreciate them – if I can while trying not to lose my wallet or my child in the process!

  8. Lex

    Micha, I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday, and I want to be sensitive to the SAHM situation, and not say anything completely dumb. But the article you linked struck a wrong chord with me. It seems to neglect the virtues and opportunities (not available to most women “in pretty much every time and place outside of modern Western culture”) of feminism. Plus, it seems out of touch with the harsh economic realities facing most women and families. Not that a SAHM must be ashamed for having a nanny and/or a maid (or a dishwasher, or a car…), just that some perspective makes the word “luxurious” pretty reasonable.

    With that being said, isolation is absolutely a widespread problem. I don’t think it’s at all exclusive to SAHMs (although I’m sure that it has unique expression for SAHMs). Having a job can intensify isolation, rather than providing community, especially if it’s a competitive job. I think that socioeconomic pressures are at the root of the isolation. You and I can kvetch plenty about relocation, and, at the same time, we’re fortunate to be able to find jobs that we want. It’s a very mixed blessing.

    I also agree that community must be created intentionally, and that it is counter-cultural. CCC is a fantastic ministry, and a wonderful model for creating community.

    • Well said, Lex. I appreciate, as always, your voice around here. You’re totally right that the post I linked to said nothing about the economic reality most families face. And it didn’t talk about the value of what we SAHMs have. An example of romanticizing the past? (I’m always guilty of that.) Of course, as with most of the progress in our culture, we’ve all become more and more isolated right?

  9. As voiced among many of the responses – community is the starting place to answering the SAHM plight. I mean, the essence of the word community is unity – togetherness. I have found SAHM life to be isolating and lonely – and I wish it was even more of a community experience. Sure, I have my mommy groups and we do things together – we help each other out. But the SAHM life is an on-call 24-7, 365 job. There is no break, and to me, even going to an office to work would seem like a break. I love my “job” as a mom – and I know it is a blessing to have this season of my life. But even my loving husband can’t completely understand why there are constantly crumbs on the floor, unfolded piles of laundry and out-of-sorts kids when I’ve “just been home all day.” He never says that, but I’ve gotten plenty of responses from other people in my life in this respect. “Why can’t you do this favor for me – it’s not like you are doing anything all day.” Etc. The idea of community – the It Takes a Village perspective – is so appealing to me. I’m a team player. I’d always choose to do something with SOMEONE instead of doing something alone. I love that in community, one’s strengths make up for another’s weaknesses. Community is the starting place – but it has to be created, built and nurtured INTENTIONALLY. How do we be counter-cultural SAHM’s? We have to be intentional. We have to make it happen. We have to reach out, create, unite.

  10. Monica

    Thank you for sharing thoughts that express what I have been contemplating the past 6 years since I started being a SAHM. Some of the best community building time for me has been kid-swapping allowing me to get some things done, run some errands, or even take a nap and then being able to return the favour, giving my full attention to the kids and their friends while another mom is having some freedom and respite time of her own. That said, I then feel as though I still need to make time to visit with those kid-swapping moms or our connection fades. Another way I’ve been able to be part of community is by doing work together. No, I can’t visit at a friend’s home while cleaning my own, but we’ve been able to get together for an morning/afternoon to make applesauce as a team, or prepare a large batch of a supper together for us each to share with our families. It is in doing these things together that I feel I can visit and build friendships while accomplishing the things that need doing. I have less guilt about the drive time to get together (sometimes over half and hour) and then feel that we have connected in a different way, too! I hope some of this makes sense…

    I still “mourn” the sense of community that used to be. I dream of moving to a commune with a group of friends and their families to raise our children with the support of one another and then realize that in doing so we are hiding God’s light under a bushel. How can we share God’s love with those who don’t know it when we live secluded separate lives. Now, to find more ways to connect and build the sense of community that I feel we’ve lost!

  11. Leah

    Micha, I just got back on sunday from a trip to Africa. During my time in the village I saw that women still live the exact way described in the article (down to the scrubbing of the laundry) The women are together all day, caring for eachothers children, cooking and cleaning and laughing. They care for eachothers children so much that the kids will refer to even their aunts and uncles as their moms and dads. This still exist places! There is something to be said about this kind of a community and it is an experience i am so thankful to have had. I will work hard on integrating the village way of life into Philly but i too will also love my washing machine. 🙂

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