Motherhood:Is loneliness hurting us?

When did motherhood become a lonely profession? I feel like it has more to do with the breakdown of the neighborhood and the community than anything else.

I think of older customs like confinement and churching of women after births and personally consider that those were at least helpful in establishing breastfeeding for all that they were isolationist. Albeit they may have been done for reasons of ‘uncleanliness’ or part of the routine oppression of women, but once mother and baby emerged from the 4th trimester isolation there was a place for them in a community of mothers. More or less.

Now, unless a mother is proactive, it can be quite difficult to find a sense of mothering community. To remedy this lack there are a number of artificial community aids. Things along the lines of mother and baby groups, breastfeeding groups, online communities and so on. I personally was too traumatized, and thus lacking in confidence, by my complications to feel able to go to a group such as a breastfeeding group and for various reasons (earthquakes among them) all my mother and baby groups dissolved before they really got started. So I was left with online groups, which can be highly divisive.

How did it get this way? What part of our culture broke?

I’ve had to make an effort to appropriately socialize my child. Part of this is our personal circumstances, but a large part is the culture. I work away from home so daycare was a welcome option, but my child never sees or plays with other children or adults when either of her parents are around. Children can be a bit like dogs in that separate conditions are mentally separate. So playing with other kids at nursery is not the same sort of activity as playing with other kids while parents are around. Which is why it’s important in dog socialization to expose puppies to many conditions and situations. I’ve been making determined efforts to remedy this. Interestingly enough almost everything available to me is a paid service. So it becomes an economic issue. I have to pay to appropriately and fully socialize my child. Such is the price of being a thoughtful parent. Because I am considering this thoughtfully I can see that there are many social services that replace what was once more spontaneous. We have people who we take our children to to make sure they are developing properly, we have groups we take our children to so they can play with other children, we have help doing many things that used to be part of village knowledge. And then we scurry back to our houses and do not talk to our neighbours. I’m not saying that things were all rosy when we lived in village community groups and had a better sense of community, but because civilization is becoming more isolating we are working harder to ‘do right’.

What was socialization like for children historically? Looking beyond nostalgic images of some (most likely imaginary) halcyon time we can see a few constants: Children were part of two main social packs.

Pack 1: the family unit, in which the child is a lower ranking member of the pack. This might have consisted of parents, extended family including uncles, aunties, grandparents, cousins and siblings.

Pack 2: the child pack in which the child will have a variety of rankings, generally based on age but potentially influenced by familial social status. This might have consisted of neighbours, cousins, siblings, playmates or schoolmates.

Now compare this with the social groups mothers may have historically found themselves in:

Pack 1: The family pack in which the mother is a high ranking member. This pack will consist of the mother and her children as well as any other family members in residence.

Pack 2: The community pack in which the mother may have a variety or ranks based on any number of factors, including but not limited to age, familial or partnership status, number of (living) children and so on.

What these two sets of packs have in common is that one set has a politically derived hierarchy based on social jockeying and the other  has a more fixed structure. As the child ages they develop skills to increase their standing in their social pack and learn to be a higher ranking member in the familial pack. However, where the familial pack meets the social pack is something that is lacking in our current lifestyle. In our current lifestyle we still have our familial packs and many of us have some form of social pack, whether it be friends, workmates or so on, but they don’t often mesh.

So is this really a big deal? I tend to think it might be. I say this as I, as well as many other people of the past several generations have been brought up with our packs increasingly separated. I certainly witnessed my parents having friends, but I was the only child for many years. If children aren’t seeing adult, or at least emotionally mature, social interactions how will they develop socially within their child pack? When they become adults how will they know how to manage their family packs? How will adults know how children act? How will children know what ways are available for them to act as adults? I feel that because we are isolated that it takes more effort and conscientious  thought to learn to do things differently than our parents.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve thought a lot about this too, especially as we’re moving to another state and I’m losing the community I became apart of through my birth center. It was still isolated in that we didn’t physically see each other, but I loved having that community of like-minded people that I always knew I could find help from. I can list off a million things that I think have contributed to the isolation of modern people, but finding a way to help make that better is something else entirely. It’s especially difficult because both my husband and I have thrived with online communities – the internet was and in many ways still is our only social interaction. I’m hoping to change that with my daughter and any other children we might have by trying to fix bad family bonds and teaching what it means to be a strong family.

    My husband grew up with a huge family all living relatively close to each other, had two family reunion type things every year, etc. But the problem is that although they saw each other, there was no real bonding happening. Everyone came together because of the partriarch figures, who both died, and the leftover matriarch figures had created too much ill will within the family to keep holding things together. My family never had anything like that at all after two generations of parents not having a desire to keep in touch. My goal is to restart those strong family bonds and bring people together over nourishing food, spiritual traditions (that aren’t necessarily religious) and good times together.

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  2. Both our families certainly had a family glue, or central person. Made sure birthdays and important dates were remembered and people gotten together or meaningful gatherings. But after they died no one was able or willing to step into that role. It’s more awkward for us as we chose to move to the other side of the world from all our family. Some of them are resentful, but most fairly indifferent so I don’t think it was a bad choice by any means. I have, I guess what I think of as, a high betrayal index, so after a falling out with a close friend over 10 years ago I’ve not made much effort to make any more. And it’s been ok. I have close acquaintances, and manage social appropriateness outwardly. But I do worry about how our lack of friends is going to effect our children. Our goal is to build our own clan as our child(ren), on top of us not having any friends, don’t really have any family anywhere nearby either. So-our house will be the one that sleepovers happen at, and family gatherings and so on. We hope anyhow. I just need to work on this crash course in making other mommies like me.

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