There was a time (so I hear), in our society, when families would live together in closer proximity or in the same dwelling: grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, children, siblings – even great-grandparents and other extended family members.
The childcare, homemaking and care of the land would not be just one or two caregiver’s responsibilities; The work was shared by all. Some family members would focus more on manual outdoor tasks while others may take turns caring for the home, sewing, cooking and caring for the children.
There was always someone to share the load with. It was not one man’s responsibility to handle everything while also being away from the home 8 hours per day.
In our modern times, with most parents living away from family members and relatives, who often live many miles away, the advice of a gentle grandmother at a kitchen table has been replaced with weekly $150 therapy sessions.
A man to man talk in the backyard with a favorite uncle while stacking wood has been replaced with a bill to a landscaping company.
An older sibling’s arms to pass the crying baby to or play a game with restless children has been replaced with Baby Einstein movies, IPads, Kindles and television.
We have isolated ourselves from others and removed ourselves from the family. Yet, we expect so much more from ourselves. We feel we are not doing a good enough job if we can’t figure out our own problems, stack our own wood, or keep our kids busy. We feel overwhelmed and guilty. We feel tired and empty.
Not only does it take a village but it takes a family. We have lost the family. But I believe it is not too late to change things.
This week at our family’s beach house, I experienced both ends of this issue. In many ways, it is very difficult living side by side with others. Sharing space, having different opinions and looking for quiet spaces can make it hard. Yet, in other ways, it was very nice to have extra hands if one of my children were hungry while I was busy folding clothes; sharing outdoor and indoor chores with others rather than struggling to handle it alone lightened my load.
It started me wondering about ways that we, as caregivers and parents, can recreate the family unit we have lost without losing our self, our privacy and the independence that we (*I*) cherish.
- This “family” does not have to be blood relatives. Find your tribe within your community and create a family unit with members of your church, your neighborhood or other parents in your area. Explain what you are trying to do. Get together on a regular basis, share meals together, share babysitting, cry on each other’s shoulders, ask for advice, help your neighbor in her garden, ask a handy grandfather to help you fix something at your home and remember to give back more than you receive.
- Start a family tradition of having close relatives (or friends) over for dinner one or two nights per week. If you decide to do this on a weekend, start early and tell them to enjoy the day with you. Let them get to know your home and your children closely and be a part of their life experience. ALLOW them to help you and offer the same in return.
- Seek out elderly people or other people in your area who may be lonely and have something to add to you and your children’s lives. An older gentleman could be a wonderful father figure for a child whose dad travels a lot. A lady down the road may be an excellent listener who can offer experience and advice over a cup of coffee. Maybe you can share a meal with those who often eat alone. Building these bonds, especially in your own neighborhood will pay you back tenfold.
- Block out time for no electronics. It is impossible to build true bonds and relationships if we are always hiding behind a screen. Put down the devices and talk. Reach out to your children, your spouse and your family and ask them what is going on in their life. Find out what they are struggling with and help ease the burden. Speak out loud about what you need help with and receive the help with open arms.
- Barter. Swap babysitting with another mom so you can go to an exercise class. If you sew, offer to make something for a friend in return for fresh vegetables from her garden. Think of creative ways to work together to enhance each other’s lives.
- Never feel bad for asking for help and never be afraid to receive it. We are expecting too much from ourselves. This is not just for the primary caregivers who are at home, I mean this for the parent who works outside of the home as well. Working all day and then coming home to take care of everything else including finances, lawn care, shopping and parenting is A LOT to do. We need to learn to share our load. If you need a mother’s helper, get one. If you have to have your groceries delivered so the baby can nap, do it. We are expecting ourselves to do the job of too many. Be gentle with yourself.
I would love to hear any other ideas you have on how to slow down and recreate the family unit this summer. After all, how can we slow down if we have so many things on our plate that MUST get done?
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