There’s a question I hear asked from time to time that bothers me. When it’s asked, it’s always with a frustrated, woebegone undertone; a longing for days gone by; an acknowledgment of change and a helpless search to restore an unfortunate loss:
What happened to the village?
There’s a well-known maxim that says, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and there is so much truth to that. Parenting is hard work, and a strong support system is important. No, not important—necessary. Having a “village” is vital to our success as moms.
And for thousands of years, moms had that village. They banded together, shared their wisdom, and provided physical and emotional support. They did life together.
Now, the prevalent feeling is not a village mentality but rather one of “every mom for herself”. We keep to ourselves and hoard our secrets. New moms put on airs of confidence in public but flounder in private. “If she can do it, so can I,” says the voice inside our heads. And mommy mentors are almost impossible to find, though we all desperately desire them.
All of this leads us to ask: what happened to the village?
I have pondered this question many times myself, and I recently arrived at my answer.
We destroyed it.
Not all at once, of course. It wasn’t a one-time demolition of centuries-worth of matronly cooperation. No, it happened as most societal shifts do—gradually, piece by piece.
We took a piece when we stopped doing life together, in general. When neighbors stopped gathering on porches, schedules became jam-packed, and families started holing up in their own homes, shutting out the outside world. We sacrificed community on the altar of individual success and protection. And a piece of the village was lost as collateral damage.
We took another piece when we decided we had to be Pinterest-perfect all the time. Pinterest is great—it’s a very handy tool. But it has set some unrealistic standards when it comes to how real life looks. And when we feel we don’t measure up? We simply close our physical and metaphorical doors, compounding our feelings of isolation and inadequacy . . . and further removing ourselves from the village.
We took yet another piece when we began judging our fellow moms. I don’t know when it started—the rise of social media, perhaps?—but “mommy shaming” is real. And it surrounds us every day, intimidating us into immobility. We don’t dare share anything neutral, let alone questions, fears, and struggles. And it’s hard to have a village when everyone is too afraid to be real.
The demolition of the village started years ago, but we continue to take pieces all the time. When our to-do list gets so long we can’t possibly add favors for each other. When we’re so preoccupied with our own children we forget to look out for others’. When our lives so consume us that it never enters our mind to ask about our neighbors’. When we have that invisible “Do Not Disturb” sign stamped across our foreheads that prevents other moms from sharing their struggles or gleaning from our experience.
On the other hand, we also take a piece every time we refuse another mom’s help. We’ve had it so ingrained in us by now that “strong women” do it all, we consider it a personal failure to accept assistance. “I should be able to do this,” we think to ourselves. “Everyone else does.” And we not only hurt ourselves, but we push the village further and further away.
Where has the village gone? We destroyed it with our own hands. With our inward-focused homes, our too-full schedules, our judgment of other moms, and our prideful need to “have it all together.” Piece by piece, we tore down the village and in the process made motherhood harder on us all.
But the story doesn’t end here! The good news is that just as we have each contributed to its undoing, we can each reverse the cycle and rebuild the village. How? The same way we tore it down — one piece at a time.
Through one invitation into your home, you restore a piece of the village. Through one understanding look and kind word. Through providing a meal to a new mom, sharing your experience, accepting another mom’s help …
What happened to the village? We destroyed it. But we can also be the ones who rebuild it.