“It takes a village to raise a child.” Not a bad sentiment, in theory. But, since becoming a mom, I’ve often found myself wondering if I wouldn’t be better off on my own out in the woods somewhere. It’s not that other people don’t mean well, I’m sure. But a lot of times the “help” I’ve been offered is, well, unhelpful. Consider:
- The lady who scolded me on a perfectly warm day for not putting shoes on my baby, who was still months away from walking. My external reaction: smile and try to express some semblance of gratitude. My internal reaction: “I made it out of the house and we’re both dressed! What more do you want?!”
- The lady who found me and my 11-month-old in Michaels, frazzled and on the verge of a meltdown (both of us!), knelt down next to my daughter who was playing with/chewing a store loyalty card I’d given her in hopes of buying the few additional minutes I needed to GET OUT OF THE STORE and said, ever-so-sweetly, “Oh, what are you doing? Cutting your little mouth open?”
- Most recently, the cashier at Home Depot who told me no less than 4 times that I was guaranteeing both my children were going to get sick because I’d dressed them in short-sleeve shirts when it was “only 78 degrees out!”… less than a week after my daughter had been so sick she’d been hospitalized, for reasons other than her wardrobe.
I’m sure none of these people were going out of their way to try to make me feel simultaneously like a failure as a parent and as if I wanted to (verbally) unleash The Mama Bear Fury all over them, but that’s still the effect they had. Because of these, and similar encounters, I’ve tended to wince at the idea of The Village having anything to do with me, my kids, or my parenting.
But, since moving to Charleston and taking up residence in “The South”, I’ve already had a few encounters that have made me believe that there may be hope for The Village, after all. While trying to juggle a bag of purchases and a squirmy Beach Baby, and to convince Beach Girl that she really didn’t need yet another ball, especially from Old Navy (why, Old Navy?!), a dad jumped out of line no less than 20 feet away from us to hold the door and help us get out of the store.
A couple weeks later, as I left Trader Joe’s, I pushed a cart overflowing with groceries, carried Beach Baby and tried to hold Beach Girl’s hand as we entered the parking lot. A lady came up to me and said “Your daughters are gorgeous! Please let me help you. Where’s your car? I’ll push your groceries to the car and you just hold her hand.” As she took our groceries to the car, she told me her babies are in their 30s now and don’t need her help crossing the parking lot, so she’s glad to help me be able to hold my baby’s hand.
Then, after I unloaded our groceries, another kind couple who was about to leave in the car next to mine came up to me and offered to take the cart back to the store so I could just take care of my children.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand about help from The Villagers: actions speak louder than words. If the help you’re offering can’t be performed without speaking (or especially if it requires it) it’s probably not all that helpful. That’s not to say I don’t want to exchange pleasantries. I love the chance to talk with other adults! And please, feel free to tell me my kids are gorgeous any time! My two year old will especially love it if you tell her what a big helper she is. And, of course, I value real advice when it’s given in the context of an existing relationship.
But unsolicited advice from strangers while I’m already struggling to juggle my children and my tasks? No thanks.
Little things like held doors or a quick encouragement may not seem like much. The folks I mentioned above probably don’t even remember doing them for me. But, to a tired mom, trying her best to get errands done while showing love to her children, these small gestures mean the world and I doubt I’ll ever forget them.
After just a few weeks of living here, I remember telling my husband, “I feel like I can more easily leave the house! It’s like I have friends wherever I go, ready to hold doors for me and to help me if I need it.”
That’s the kind of villager every mom needs, and the kind I want to try to be.
So, “Village”, let’s find some helpful ways to help each other. Instead of critiquing the young mom, find a way to encourage her and help her. Carry stickers in your purse to offer the toddler on the verge of a meltdown. Push the cart to the car for her. Tell mom she’s doing great and her children are gorgeous. Smile at her children, and encourage them for the great job they’re doing helping mommy. Open doors for them.
These simple gestures could just make her day and restore her confidence. These simple gestures could create the type of village we’d all like to live in.
How about you? Have you ever had an especially good (or bad) experience with “The Village”? Any other tips for how we can help each other out?