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Harvey Karp

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No Mom Is an Island

Posted: 01/19/2012 11:00 am

If you're like most moms, while you're reading this you're probably cooking dinner, wiping noses, paying bills, juggling dishes, checking homework, and working an extra job -- all with the phone wedged between your ear and shoulder as you're asking your mom about her back pain.

When you think of what the average mother packs into 24 hours, it's no wonder so many feel just one little wobbly, baby-step away from... total collapse!

Yet, many overworked moms and dads have trouble reaching out for help. They think they're supposed to manage all their family responsibilities on their own. But, is that right... or a big lie? When did having a doula or baby sitter become a sign of being soft and self-indulgent? When did it become taboo to ask for help?

In truth, all parents need support. That's why the ancient adage, "It takes a village to raise a child," has stuck over the years. Whether you live in Turkey or Trinidad -- caring for a child actually does take a village!

Throughout history, parents have always had lots of help: The old-fashioned, hands-on support team of grandparents, aunts, cousins, older siblings, and neighbors -- who lived close by, if not right in the house with us. We could just drop the kids off at the next-door neighbor's for a few hours (even without calling up ahead of time). And, instead of surfing the Web for parenting advice, we'd simply turn to family and friends... society's original search engine.

But about 50 years ago, our parent support team began to unravel putting moms and dads under increasing stress. Increasingly, the neighbors are too busy working to help us, good baby-sitters are hard to find, and our families are spread far and wide.

Added to this burden, American moms have the unhappy distinction (along with moms in Liberia and New Guinea) of living in the only nations without mandatory paid maternity leave to allow them a protected time to nurture their newborns before heading back to the office or factory.

Furthermore, although today's parents may be the most educated in history, they may also be the least experienced when it comes to caring for young children. That means they need lots of information and counsel. Many new parents have never even held an infant before giving birth to their own. (Some feel so unready; they imagine that a shoplifting alarm might suddenly blare when they walk out of the hospital with their new baby!)

So, in order for families to thrive, parents need to reject the myth that asking for help is an extravagance or a sign of weakness. Far from indicating failure, it's actually a sign of courage and strength.

And, when parents ask others for help they actually give their community a chance to help itself because raising happy, healthy children strengthens the entire society.

This is perfectly understood by the Masai of East Africa. When they greet each other, they don't ask "How's business?" or even "How are you?" They ask, "How are the children?" And the correct response is: "All the children are fine." They say, "All the children!" because even these fierce warriors understand that each person must be concerned about the nurturing and protection of all children in order to strengthen the community and create a better future for the entire group.

So please, go ahead and ask for help. Ask a friend to bring over a casserole or ask another mom to watch your tot when you have to work late (and offer to watch hers for a few hours in return). You may be surprised at how willing friends and family are to pitch in.

And, when today's hectic world has you feeling overwhelmed, slow down, and let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect. Take a breath, laugh at how silly life is and don't feel guilty if you need to buy your child's birthday cake at a store rather than making it from scratch. Take the time to focus on what is most important, your child's needs... and your health and sanity!
And, most importantly, remember that no mom is an island unto herself. Seeking help from your own personal village is not only fine, it's one of the smartest things any mother can do.