Your Parenting Village Lives Online

5 years ago

"It takes a village to raise a child," is often followed up with, "but I don't have a village" as of late. On the one hand, I get it. I moved to Ohio, away from my own family but not into the back pocket of my husband's family either. In the beginnings of our parenthood journey, it felt a little isolated, a little too far removed. My mother-in-law helped when she could, but I struggled to make a connection with anyone. Until I remembered, "Oh yeah, I have all of these friends. Online. Maybe they know what to do with a baby who won't sleep unless I'm holding him." And they did. I feel that too often we are downplaying the village that exists inside of our computers, our virtual families who love us even when we smell like baby puke -- if only because they cannot smell it.

The village has grown, expanded beyond the four walls of our family homes, past easily drivable distances. While the arguments can be made that having nearby relatives and friends you trust enough to watch your children is beneficial for all parties, our villages are larger now and I can't help but wonder why we're not embracing the more of it all.

One aspect of the original village concept revolved around the point that you weren't alone. You had support. You had readily available knowledge from people who had been there, done that. You had someone to hold your hand and say, "Tomorrow is a new day. It will be better." Your children had more love.

Please explain to me how that is different from our world of today.

A mother rocks her infant in the wee hours of the night, stealthily escaping from suckling lips only to find that she's still wide awake. She sits down to her computer and types a status update on Facebook. "Fifth nursing session tonight. I am exhausted." Instantly, responses from other awake friends -- be they moms of young nurslings or dads working the night shift to provide for their families or simply insomniacs watching midnight infomercials -- start popping up. She realizes, though she may be sitting in front of a glowing computer screen in a dark, empty room, she is not alone.

Today, a day I need to work and attend a meeting and do umpteen billion things as I had planned, we are experiencing our ninth Snow Day. Ninth. That's exhausting, depleting. "They're only young once," only counts for the first three snow days. Winter now feels never ending and I am left wishing that my village lived inside my four walls. But... but and yet and still. Fresh out of ideas for what to do with two little boys who are also out of ideas for what to do, I turned to the Internet. Right now, my two are building a blanket fort and tearing up a notebook full of paper to make "snow" balls as our snow will be melted by noon, the roads more icy and than snowy. I feel grateful for the few hours of quiet(ish-ness) that I wouldn't otherwise have; I feel grateful for those who share their ideas online. I feel thankful for the ones who have come before, paved the way.

Nevermind the fact that this "virtual" village brought me one of my best friends -- in real life -- and that she would and has shown up at my door at the drop of a hat. To watch my children, to support me in the dark hours, to hold my hand, to drive me to surgery.

Left: Amanda, an Internet-turned-real-life friend. Right: Catherine, a friend who lives in my computer.

In the depths of postpartum depression, I had support. The people in my real, everyday, 3D life didn't quite know what to do or say, but I had people who had lived through what I was living through and they were the pillars on which I leaned when I didn't feel strong enough to hold myself upright. When I began processing the true reach of my adoption grief and loss, I had support. When my oldest son struggled with texture issues, I found people who understood, people who offered their ideas and their own triumphs and follies. When my younger son had a severe tongue tie and a latch problem, in addition to the support of my lactation consultant in real life, I found other moms who shared their stories, "sat" up with me at night as we struggled through yet another feeding, and calmed my fears about the procedure to clip his tongue. When I began to panic about Kindergarten, other moms and dads were there with stories that made me both laugh and cry. When my kids puked in public again, the general groan on Twitter reminded me that yes, puke is gross and it's okay to think so.

And on and on.

No, the collective Internet can't show up at my door and watch one child while we rush the other to the Emergency Room with a burst ear drum. But knowing that they would if they could makes a wealth of difference. Knowing that if I say I need a prayer or a thought or a piece of advice or someone to simply say, "Jenna, that just sucks," someone -- or lots of someones -- will be there, immediately and with passion? Well, that makes my days as a busy parent just a bit easier, just a little less alone.

Today, seven years into the day-to-day parenting of these two boys, I have a few local friends that would step up and help if needed. It took awhile to find them, but I am oh-so-thankful for their presence in our lives. But I also have a giant, ever-growing network of people ready to say, "Tomorrow is a new day. It will be better." And, maybe most importantly, my sons are loved by people they don't know, by people they don't really know exist, people they haven't met and might never meet. These people do more than just "like" pictures of my boys. They love and care for and are invested in my boys. They care about the well-being of these two little guys. And if that ain't a village mentality, well, I don't know what is.


Family/Moms & Events Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land.

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