I was raised by a village. I have fond memories of staying over at various places being cared for by a community while both my parents worked. My grandparents had many children (my maternal grandma birthed 8 and my paternal gran birthed 12 and adopted 2) and their many children had two kids at least, so there was always that support network my family could count on.
Growing up, festivities were celebrated with a troop of cousins and a huge extended family. Whenever my parents needed a breather or an extra pair of hands to help whenever one of us fell sick, we could always count on family and neighbourly friends. I was cared for by my grandmas and babysat by aunts. My next-door neighbour watched me in the mornings when my parents couldn’t. My uncles brought me canoeing and hiking, my aunts took me out for rootbeer floats, movies and ice-cream treats with a contingent of cousins.
What the village did for me was astounding. I learned from the adults around me to be independent quickly and then joined the task force of caring for younger members within the village – cousins, nieces and nephews that came along the way. I volunteered to take my nephews to the parks for strolls and malls for ice cream treats when I grew older. It was just instinct, having grown up in a huge community like this.
Children thrive in a network of loving adults that care for them. I sure did, and am tremendously blessed to be showered with so much love.
When I hear ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, I am fortunate to count myself as one of the lucky few raised by one. When I became a mother of three, this proverb took on a whole new meaning: the village – if it ever existed for me – shouldn’t just help to raise my children; I actually need one to preserve my sanity (a wise saying indeed from Sonbonfu Some who was quoted to have said ‘It takes a village to raise a child…and a community that keeps parents sane.’)!
None of us are meant to parent in isolation or to feel overwhelmed raising our kids. Parenting with no support – be it emotional, physical or mental – can be exhausting, draining and depressing.
The village today is no longer bound by ancestry or physical locations. The community that is invaluable for our children to thrive in with added guidance, support and care is what we make for ourselves. As parents, if you have – like I did – a family support system to count on, you’re one of the fortunate few. But even if you don’t, you can always create a system of support for yourself in today’s context. There are virtual villages to connect with and relevant groups online that can offer advice, guidance and help and band likeminded people together. And in today’s context, playgroups, mom networks and meetups are aplenty for us to find the support system we need so that the parenting journey would never be a lonely one.
We can get a lot of help, if we position ourselves as wanting to create that village we can call our own for our children.
At Trehaus, a village has sprung up organically. When we first started, we wanted to create a community where maternity transitioners and parents could come together to seek out learning and child-minding options for their children while exploring the possibility of pursuing their career or starting a business. And at the same time have working parents embrace a progressive proposition of bringing their child to work.
While we have positioned ourselves to be offering these possibilities, what has happened organically is that a village – a comprehensive support system – has naturally emerged even without us engineering it.
The children that are at our Trehaus Kids Atelier now have new aunties and uncles (fellow co-workers who are members in our space) – a community that showers them with affection and love, and are involved in raising them indirectly. The parents and coworkers at Trehaus have initiated a host of so many things revolving around the children: from sharing hand-me-downs and dishing out breastfeeding advice to cooking meals for sick children and watching another member’s kid while errands to supermarkets are being run.
Just recently, I learned that a few of our members with kids the same age spent the weekend together over a play date, dinner and coffee. Last month, when I mentioned in passing that my domestic helper was on home leave, one fellow mum who was a resident in our space cooked extra mac and cheese for my three kids the next day and even offered to cook more the next time so I could freeze portions for my kids’ dinner. Children as young as six months get dropped off at the Kids Atelier for facilitated play with educators who engage in exciting conversations with them, and the community gathers often at the pantry to exchange pointers on a range of topics: so far I’ve heard talk about weaning, breastmilk supply, recommended pediatricians, places to buy organic produce, feet growth and sleeping habits over lunch and water breaks.
It’s a whole lot of chatter, a good time of exchanging ideas and a new way of supporting one another every time parents in Trehaus gather.
That’s our village right here at where we work and our children play. There’s so much support everyone gives and receives here in our co-working space which makes the parenting journey more worthwhile than if we were all to do it on our own.
“People coming together as a community can make things happen.” – Jacob Rees-Mogg
Elizabeth Wu is is the COO and one of the co-founders of Trehaus and is glad to have created the many opportunities for village-living there, having been raised by one. She is also mum to three lovely kids who gave her reason enough to leave her job as an educator to pursue present parenting, meaningful learning and magical moments with them. Pictured here is Liz (bottom row, third from left) with a third of the village she grew up in. This article was first published on the Trehaus blog in July 2016.