How I Found My Parenting Village

by Ann Douglas

It’s one thing to want to have a baby. It’s quite another thing to become a parent. I learned that lesson the hard way within weeks of giving birth to my first child.

Julie was everything I had dreamed of and so much more: a picture-perfect newborn who also happened to be colicky.

I would plead with her. “Just take a short nap. Please. I need to get some sleep.” But she was too little to understand and too wired to succumb to sleep herself. Each time she would cry, I would join in.

Image: Shutterstock/Anatolly Samara

Image: Shutterstock/Anatolly Samara

One night I was bouncing her to the beat of Dirty Dancing. (Being in motion was the only thing that soothed her.) A mother in the neighborhood dropped by to offer to fold the baby laundry that was sending out an SOS message across my backyard. She turned down the volume on the stereo—“You might want to put on something a little more soothing,” she suggested—and told me about a local parent-child drop-in center where parents with preschoolers could hang out in the daytime (the loneliest hours) for free.

We were there the next morning shortly after the center opened its doors. One of the staff members offered to hold Julie while I helped myself to a cup of coffee. She wasn’t in any hurry to hand Julie back—and Julie wasn’t crying.

That center became my home-away-from-home while my first three children (who arrived at 19-month intervals) were young.

I took (and eventually taught) parenting courses there.

I participated in parenting support groups.

I formed friendships with other parents who were just as passionate about (and just as exhausted by) parenting as I was.

I learned which types of behaviors were typical for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—and which ones might warrant a check-in with the pediatrician.

I tapped into the wisdom and experience of other parents.

And my belief in the importance of community, as a support for parents, was born.

Each time I hear that expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” I think of that much-loved place: how it nurtured both the children and the parents who passed through its doors. After all, it’s not enough to care for the child: the village needs to care for the parents as well, by creating a place where support can be offered and information can be shared.

It’s such a simple idea: investing in parents and children. And the dividends are incredible: brighter futures, happier families, stronger and more stable communities.

I will forever be in the debt of that former neighbour. I am the parent and writer I am today—and I have the family I have today—because of the information she shared with me while folding my baby’s laundry at my kitchen table. Because she helped me find my parenting village.