9 Ways I Survive as a Black Woman Mothering Without a Village

Carrie Mae Weems : The Kitchen Table Series,  1990

Carrie Mae Weems : The Kitchen Table Series, 1990

From seeking advice about teething and feeding,  to getting help with the laundry and babysitting,  family members and friends make up the village most women depend on to help them bring up their child(ren). But, the reality for some of us is that we have made our homes in foreign countries or other locations that make it hard to see our loved ones regularly. Some of us are in this situation because we wanted to raise our children in a different environment than we grew up in,  others moved for academic pursuits; some of us relocated to the place where our partner grew up,  and still, others left home because of our jobs. We all know that it takes a village to raise a child, but when a mother lives far away from her ‘village’, how does she survive without the family and friends that most parents naturally rely on? What does a mother do when she’s living in ‘isolation’ – cut off from her basic support system and caring for her child(ren) in a far away land?

1. Accept Your Reality

It is important that you understand that you won’t benefit from constantly mourning the support system you left behind. When you move away from ‘home’, the first thing you will need to do, is to accept that you are ‘on your own’ and realise that it’s okay. The world will not come to an end! Every village was started with the building of the first family; so, this is your chance to create your own village and build a new community – on your terms and in your own time.

2. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

As you create your own family and build a new village, you need to understand that you will make many mistakes. All pioneers do. In the process, you might get burned and you may break a few things – that’s why we call pioneers ‘trail-blazers’ and ‘ground-breakers’. So, once you realise you have failed at something, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again. When you feel like you’re incompetent,  just remind yourself that some lessons are best learned first-hand.

3. Ask For & Accept Help

The truth is, when you’re in a new or unfamiliar environment, it can be difficult to get the simplest of things done. Having a big ego or a fear of rejection will just make a rough journey even rougher. The best thing you can do – for yourself and your child(ren) – is to be willing to ask for help. You’ll come to see that people are more inclined to go out of their way to assist a child,  so even when you feel uncomfortable or don’t want to be a ‘bother’, please ask for help. Just because you’re an ‘outsider’ you just may meet ‘neighbours’ who want to adopt your family – helping you during emergencies, bringing gifts (baby gear, toys and treats),  and helping you figure out complicated procedures. These people who offer to help you out may become the first members of your new village.

4. Seek Out Others

Then there are those times,  when we think that we’re the only ones who are alone or out-of-place. But, more often than not, there is someone else who needs a Mommy friend, just like you. But, you will never meet each other,  if you stay locked away in your homes. You can meet other Mommies online (in location-specific groups/networks) or bump into them at your pediatrician; so,  don’t be afraid to start a friendly chat. Plus, if your child is in school,  goes to daycare or is in a playgroup,  this is a great context to build your Mommy network. You can invite another Mommy to join you for lunch or to share snacks while the kids romp in the playground or yard. You may be amazed at how easily you could arrange for the other families to meet up for a cook out or to relax at a park together. Soon you could have your own Mommy group or circle of friends.

5. Set Up Routines & Systems

But don’t assume that the key to having a well-run home and a happy family is the amount of friends and relatives you have coming around. Like any other organisation or institution in society, your home and family’s needs have to be managed efficiently and effectively. So, you will need to develop some routines and implement some systems to make your days productive and positive. Strategies that are as simple as scheduling bath times,  designating grocery days,  setting alarms,  posting reminders and maintaining ‘to-do’ lists will definitely make your life less stressful. You will have to assess your situation and develop a game plan that works for you and your family. Whether you want to use money envelops to stay within your budget or you want to cook your meals in batches,  a habit of planning, preparing and following through makes sure you don’t get overwhelmed.

6. Stay In Touch With Your Village

Then if and when you do have a bad day, a quick chat with your mother or a friend from back home may be just what you need to de-stress and feel encouraged that you’re doing a good job. Whenever the feelings of homesickness start to wrap you into a sorry mood, connecting with your loved ones is the perfect way to forget that home is 10, 000 miles away. That’s why it is so good that we have cell phones that allow us to make and receive those heart-warming calls; and video-calling services that allow us to enjoy real-time face-to-face conversations with our loved ones whenever we need to. Since we have these means of staying in touch with family and friends around the world, you’ll have no excuse for anyone missing out on important moments or losing touch because you’re far away. For example, when our daughter became a one-year-old, Skype allowed our family in Jamaica to join in on her birthday party; being able to chat with her and watch her open and play with the gifts they had bought for her. These geographical distances can seem non-existent through the wonderful world of telecommunications so, we should try to keep our loved ones involved in our everyday lives.

7. Keep Track of Your Blessings

I know that even with smartphones and webcams, it’s still very easy to allow homesickness and loneliness to blind us to the things that are going well in our lives. So,  I won’t fail to remind you that the benefits of having an attitude of gratitude are many and invaluable. All you have to do is to take a moment to search each day to identify a few things that you appreciate. The more you practice being grateful,  the fewer moments you’ll find to complain and the more reasons you find to be happy wherever you are. So, whenever you begin to miss all the conveniences you’d grown accustomed to having back home or you start misunderstanding the way things work in your new home, it helps to make a list of all the things that you do like, and to remind yourself of the things you still have to enjoy.

8. Know When To Retreat

One of the most overwhelming challenges that you may face while living far from your people is lack of assistance: no doting grandparents to help with dirty diapers and giving baths, no eager friends lining up to babysit or to do the grocery shopping. The days will be many when you just want to eat a proper meal undisturbed,  when you daydream of using the toilet without a curious toddler hanging around or just take a leisurely soak in the bathtub. That’s why on some days you will need to drop everything and remind yourself that you are human! It may mean you ignore the clutter and leave the dishes piled up. Or that you leave the little one(s) with your partner and head off to a quiet spot. Sometimes, all it takes is a long soak that leaves you smelling like a rose garden or a full-on dance session with your favourite beats turned up loud. Whatever you do, it is very important that you regularly step away from the hectic and demanding world of being a Mommy to off-load, exhale and rejuvenate.

9. Kickstart Your Dreams

The next thing that you will find is that as you regularly make time for renewal, you will begin to get inspiration for living out your own dreams. Do you remember those children’s stories that talk about young adults who leave their friends and family then travel to distant lands to ‘find their fortune’? I think this imagery is symbolic of the freedom we have to explore our interests and potentials when we step outside of our comfort zones. So, this time when you’re in ‘isolation’ is a great time to start testing out your ambitions and working on meeting some personal goals. By taking on a project, a part-time job or even a new hobby that you can put some of your creative energies into,  you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose (that is separate from your role as home and family manager). Going after your dreams is a great way to define your identity as a woman,  distinct from your role as a mother, as well as a great way to become involved in your new community.

It is no secret that the journey of motherhood has many hurdles and that our daily routine can be even more demanding and strenuous than a 40-hour work week. But, when you are a mommy away from your village, it can get a little more fatiguing than usual. That’s why we need to build up a strong and reliable support system, made up of our loved ones (from a distance) and our new friends in your home away from home. Getting sufficient support is key to our success and sanity as Mommies. So, don’t stay in isolation. You don’t have to do it all on your own. We all need a little help, so don’t be afraid to ASK!