In a world in which individualism is celebrated, it can be scary and vulnerable to admit that we need other people. But I believe vulnerability can be a strength, and so I would like to openly share that since becoming a parent I’ve never needed other people more. Without family and friends I am not sure how I would have coped with the intensity with which I have experienced the transition into motherhood.
It is strange that there can be a shame attached to needing and asking for help. Social interdependence is a self-evident truth of human life: relationships are the strongest predictor of our longevity and loneliness is as damaging to our health as being a heavy smoker. So why do some of us find it so difficult – embarrassing even – to rely on others?
The need for community
A certain emptiness results from a culture that celebrates shallow individualism, while all the while knowing that human connection is central to our wellbeing. An old University friend of mine, Adele Jarrett-Kerr, recently shared an excellent blog post about how experiencing a big life shift – such as (but not limited to) becoming a parent – can make us more aware of this emptiness:
“Becoming a parent is just one major life event that cracks you open and maybe slows you down enough to notice that there is void where something we evolved to expect is no longer. That thing is the village, the kind of community where our needs are seen and met – where we are seen and met – and where we draw life from living alongside others.”
Many of us feel encouraged to live our lives as if we don’t need each other, but at some point we get a wake-up call to show us how hard it is to make it alone.
Needing others: Shame or belonging?
For much of my adult life I have prided myself on being independent. I’ve felt successful when I have been able to support myself and meet my own needs while relying on others as little as possible. I found asking for help difficult, and when it has been unavoidable I’ve found what I perceived as my neediness to be a bit shameful. However, this approach to life resulted in a kind of isolated independence. My successes and failures seemed to be my own; people close to me were happy or sad for me, but I somehow feel that I didn’t make enough space for people to share these ups and downs of life directly with me.
Becoming a mama has blown this way of being in the world wide open. I can no longer make it on my own; I need help from others all the time, just to meet the needs of my everyday life. My partner, Thijs, is a very loving and active papa but he is away half of the time for his work as a captain of a tug ship. In a way this has been a blessing in disguise, forcing me to go beyond the nuclear family model and draw on my other close relationships – my own village – to help care for my daughter.
One big shift that I have noticed as a result of this new situation is that I am no longer ashamed to ask for help. I am actually now somehow quite proud to need others, as it has given me a new sense of belonging and a deeper sense of connection in my life. It has strengthened existing relationships and offered me the opportunity to make new friendships too. I do not want to paint a completely rosy picture here: this shift has been very challenging and, at times, deeply painful for me – but then, personal change and growth often are painful. As Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us, “no mud, no lotus”.
Different forms of community
One of my best friends, Mirjam, has often told me that I taught her you don’t need to live together to be part of a community. This makes me smile because I don’t actually remember having ever said this to her, but I find it a very helpful lesson myself.
Community looks different for everyone: some people live in intentional communities full time, but most of us use a combination of different forms of relationships and connections to make our own ‘village’ – through family and friends, voluntary groups, colleagues, shared hobbies and via those who live close by.
There are many options and no right or wrong way, but having some sense of community is undoubtedly good for us. And the big life transition of parenting has shown me just how important it is not only to have others in our lives, but to rely on those that we care about.
Deep gratitude to those in my village
I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child. I know I am very lucky to have access to such a big community of people offering love and support to me, my partner and my daughter. I am deeply grateful to my family, my partner’s family and all of our lovely friends. We honestly could not do this without you all, so thank you so much.
Image used at the top of post is a mural designed by artist Betni Kalk.