Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mothering in the eVillage Age

It takes a village to raise a child, or so the saying goes.

Once upon a time not so many generations ago, that village was made up of extended family and close friends, a circle of people with whom we interacted on a regular basis from the country store owner where we shopped to the preacher of our church. It was grandma, and maybe great-grandma, aunts, cousins, and a score of relatives living in close proximity who could give a mom advice or assistance with practically any problem she encountered. It was a sizable group of people looking out for the well-being of every child in the community, ready to help set them on the right path or get their parents to do it if necessary.

But now families are scattered and those resources aren't as available or, in many cases, as trusted as they once were.

Now we have a different sort of village -- an electronic or virtual village made up of the people we can reach out to through social networks, blogs and Pinterest.

Today's mothers (and grandmothers as well) can be bombarded with more information than a family reunion of thick-skinned relatives would ever dish out. It's a mixed blessing that can leave us all confused, bewildered, and still faced with making our own decisions, but at least lets us know that we're not alone.

Having raised my own two children with that traditional mix of relatives nearby, at least for the early years and not too far away in later times, and now with three little ones in this new era of child raising, I know there are big differences.

While nothing beats a good shoulder to cry on sometimes, it's often easier to be truthful about our problems with people we don't really know. Many Facebook pages and bloggers will take on a reader's questions, concerns and problems and give them a place for venting, which can often be all that is really wanted. Need to complain about how the daddy isn't much help, or is the only one in the house getting a good night's sleep, there's a safe place to turn without having the family ready to tar and feather him (or you). Tired of dealing with a little one's tantrums and sure it's your fault, you can look for a host of suggestions without ever feeling like your friends/family are going to blame you.

No matter what kind of issue you face in parenting, odds are really good there is a forum somewhere on Facebook that will let you gather more information, or a blog that will give you some support and let you know you're not the lonely, hopeless parent you may think you are.

At the same time, those wonderful, unreal people that you friend on Facebook or follow on Pinterest or in blogs can send your mood spiraling with their posts about elaborate meals their perfect children eat, the incredible way they solved a major dilemma in their child's life, or the wonderful crafts they're making for Christmas gifts. They don't stand in line to pass judgement on your child-rearing abilities, they let you do it yourself when you inevitably cannot create the perfect hot dog mummy, or paper tube Christmas tree, or when your child absolutely refuses to eat the guaranteed child-friendly recipe you worked so hard to prepare, or when they decorate so perfectly, or their child lands the leading role in the Christmas play.... the list goes on and on. (Keep in mind that out there in cyberspace a person can be anything and do anything, and Photoshop is a wonderful tool.)

Still, when we need a real, honest to goodness person to talk to, to look after a child so we can take a sibling to the doctor, or see the dentist, or on that rare occasion when we feel that we really should so something without a child, those virtual people with whom we've shared so much are absolutely no good.

Those are the times when those original villages of flesh and blood people -- family and friends with all their faults and fault-finding -- are the only ones who will do.

If we can find the balance between support and self condemnation, virtual and real, having friends in New Zealand and knowing the folks next door, it's an exciting time to raise a child. There's so much opportunity to do more than the mothers and grandmothers who have gone before could do to broaden a child's horizons and provide them with educational opportunities. We can challenge ourselves and our children in ways that no generation has previously been able to do.

What me may find most challenging, however, is accepting our own limitations and knowing that we won't be able to do it all because no one really does.

And what is most important is still raising happy, healthy children who know they are loved, even if they don't speak a second language or read before they are 5, despite Rosetta Stone or ABC Mouse, and even if we still can't decorate our homes like Southern Living or cook like a gourmet chef, despite all those posts we pinned on Pinterest.

Because what it really comes down to isn't the village, although that village can play an important part, it's what we're able to give our children at home. And the most important thing we can give them is ourselves and our time, and that may mean putting the virtual village away and going it on our own sometimes.

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