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Any parent would agree that, right from when they are expecting a child to when the child is old enough to express its needs, they need all the help they can get.
Traditional wisdom believed that a child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community plays an active role in rearing that child. So does it take a village to raise a child?
Most of us in India have the comfort of having family support in raising a child, whether it is direct or indirect, hands-on or overseeing. While nuclear families are more common now, the concept of extended families is evolving. Everyone respects each other’s space and love and closeness is intact inspite of not being under the same roof. Indeed, a child brings everyone together.
Grandparents play an important role. The initial month or so is crucial for any new parent when one struggles with everything at the same time – lack of routine, feeding the child, mother’s recovery, understanding the reason for baby crying etc.
I appreciated the immense support I got from my own parents when I gave birth to my son. My mom stayed up with me at nights, bathed the baby and took it upon herself to burp him each time. Any new parent would know about “burps” (true music for the ears) and how helpful it gets when family members come together to take turns to make that happen. My dad contributed in his own way, by cheering me up by getting new things for me and the baby every few days. I remember, my only task was to feed the baby and rest of the responsibilities were shared by my husband and my parents. Their unconditional love and support in tiding us over, putting our needs and comfort above theirs, made us understand what parenthood is all about. It’s true that you start appreciating your own parents much more, soon after you become a parent yourself.
Some help may come from unexpected family members as well – brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins etc. Depending on the family set-up and closeness, this may differ. My younger sister, who was unmarried at that time, played an integral role in my baby’s initial months. She used to babysit him often, telling him fun stories and singing nursery rhymes in an animated way. While my son was too young to understand, he enjoyed the closeness and comforting voice talking to him so lovingly. I also recall her having given him a bath before even I did. The bond was hence created early on which still remains.
Another very important source of help are friends, especially those who have recently gone through the same experience. My friends gave me the avenue to vent out my feelings, without any filters.
I remember reaching out to them very often to ask silly parenting questions. Soon I realized that no question is silly as long as it satisfies my apprehension. Friend’s advice is more relevant sometimes, since they are in the same boat and have the latest information. In certain things, it’s also easier to open up to them than to family members. I have frankly reached out to my friends to get advice on everything under the sun – from sore nipples to breast feeding positions to right colour of the poop! Their answers were always reassuring and calming for an anxious, sleep deprived, nervous mother. Now I pass on my wisdom to other new mothers and quite enjoy giving them tips based on my experiences.
A major source of information today is online portals. Google can’t parent. But I greatly benefited from reading experiences of other parents on various parenting platforms. It makes you realize you are not alone and so many like you are going through the same journey. You can leverage their experiences and also find out what experts have to say on a variety of topics. The ability to find answers at the click of a button makes it an easy and fast way to find relevant information and guidance.
I remember the time my son rolled off the bed; I was so guilty and started crying. I was embarrassed to admit it to anyone and sought solace in the virtual world. The moment I typed it out, I felt relieved that it happens all the time and one should check for bumps but not over-think about it. Later when I narrated the story, one of my aunts tried to guilt me, but I was prepared and casually told her that I have a smart baby, for he first threw the pillows on the floor, and then landed safely on top of them.
As the child gets older and more expressive, one can take help from a broader circle. My in-laws along with my parents step in to keep him for a few days while my husband and I go on vacations. Our aunts offer to take him for story telling sessions or simply to play with him, giving us a much needed break for an hour or so. My sister’s husband engages in sporty activities with him and hopes to take coaching lessons for him soon. Teachers in school spend a substantial time imparting knowledge in a disciplined and controlled environment. Children are also enrolled in various activities and hobby classes to learn a variety of life skills.
While parents should continue to be primary caregivers and child care providers, I feel this help from others is a welcome break and helpful in re-energizing the parents themselves. To become good parents, time is needed to nurture our own relationship as spouses. Being happy and content in our own relationships boosts good parenting in a big way.
Though it takes two to make a child, it does take many more to raise a child! A child after all does not grow up in one home. Family, friends and teachers are integral to a happy and well-rounded child.
I would love to hear your views and learn who constitute your “village” to raise your little ones.
Published here earlier.