REFLECT: It takes a village to raise a child

Six weeks after the complicated delivery of our first child, I had an appointment with my paediatrician. As I was leaving, he asked whether I’d started my Mothers’ Group yet, and I replied no, not yet, and to be honest, I don’t really have time for new friends. He wisely cautioned: ”Never underestimate the value and potential of your Mothers’ Group. If you’re anything like my wife, you’ll develop a lasting bond with those women. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child”.

Fast forward 10 years, and his words sound prophetic. Recently, our Mothers’ Group celebrated the combined 10th birthday of our oldest children – a date that marks not only their much-anticipated arrival into the world of double digits, but also signifies 10 years of parenting, with all its ups and downs. And also – 10 years since we all met, at our very first group session with the Maternal Health Nurse. A tentative bunch of new mothers, who happened to be living in the same little pocket of Hawthorn. 

Looking around the room on that first day, it seemed our only common link was our babies. But over the hours we spent together in those first few months, we pulled back the layers and discovered other things we had in common. Remarkably, most couples in the group had at least one partner who had immigrated to Australia. We had an English couple, an Irishman and a Welshman, a Canadian and a Russian. Perhaps this drew us closer – our reliance on each other for practical help and support, given only one set of grandparents and fewer long-term friends around.  

As far as Mothers’ Groups go, we were fairly committed. We hosted weekly meetings at each other’s houses, and regular park catch-ups. We even ventured out at night – swapping tea and coffee for wine and cocktails – and started a book club. The fathers had a pub night, or two. Often, groups dwindle when second children arrive, either because homes struggle to fit so many young children, or because parents are reluctant to host them. But we soldiered on, and relocated our growing brood to a local church playgroup.

There, we lounged on the comfy sofas – feeding our newborns, keeping a sleep-deprived eye on our toddlers, and enjoying luke-warm cups of tea with an occasional Tim Tam. We continued to discuss the issues that keep mothers awake at night – pumpkin or apple puree to begin? How to shift the post-baby weight? And last, but by no means least, sleep. So much for the expression ‘sleeping like a baby’ – we had now realised that cliché was a much-researched, sought-after achievement. Piercing daggers for the playgroup mother who smugly announced her newborn was sleeping through the night (but how do you define ‘night’? Is that 12 hours, or eight?). On we went, fingers crossed that it would be our turn next. Meanwhile, another hit of caffeine and more biscuits.

We were living our version of Groundhog Day – a fixed routine of sleeps, mealtimes, park trips and activities – and would often say, with mostly sarcasm and a touch of mirth, that we were ‘living the dream’.  Thankfully, in hindsight, our first-born babies were all healthy, without medical conditions or allergies, and met all growth and development milestones on time – and as such, it really was our privilege that we could afford to dwell on these issues, and nothing more serious. Over time, and with the arrival of more children, this would change.

Our friendships grew, and so did those of our children. We branched out and met other local families, in the parks or at playgroup. Happy days were filled with play dates and fairy costumes, hide & seek and picnics in the park, themed birthday parties and Christmas concerts. Looking back, we were absolutely living the dream, and so were our children. Our village was a happy one, a healthy one, a safe and secure one.

Our babies grew into toddlers, the toddlers became pre-schoolers, and finally they started school. School! Surely that was the hardest part done? They were all toilet-trained, dummy-free, eating raw carrot without choking and successfully putting themselves to sleep in their own beds.

Yet with school came other concerns – anxiety, bullying, friendship issues, fitting in, keeping up. The realisation that once you become a mother, you never really stop worrying, and you never truly reach your destination. Life is a journey, and each stage brings its own highs and lows, its own set of challenges and rewards. But you wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Time passed, the years rolled on. A few families moved to other areas, and one overseas. A core group remains and we continue to live our lives with, and around, each other – but differently now. Life is busier, with more time in the car, hectic schedules, work commitments, and always, the needs of our children. There are still many cups of tea and glasses of wine, plenty of laughs and a few tears, too. Our children are becoming confident, caring, capable people, and of that we should be proud.  The hours we spent worrying about sleep routines, toileting and tantrums now seem fruitless, compared with life’s bigger issues, but they were part of our story and our journey.

And so, we all came together again to celebrate our 10-year milestone. Our children have grown, but we’ve changed too – older, wiser and touched by the realities of life. In 10 years, we’ve lost beloved mothers & fathers, a sister too. We’ve grieved for a stillborn child, suffered miscarriages and the despair of infertility. Each loss is immeasurable and the pain is not far from the surface.  We’ve supported each other through life’s ups and downs, and our bond is now much more than our babies. We are richer for it, and so are our children. I understand the meaning behind the words of the paediatrician, and completely agree: I’ll be forever grateful for the bond with these mothers – and for the village that's helping to raise my children.

Written by Carmen