The cliché is true: it takes a village to raise a child

annie ridout with her mum, sister and baby daughter

Until you have a baby in your arms, it is hard to know how you will take to motherhood. But one thing is for sure: you will need support – and lots of it. Here, Annie Ridout discusses the fact that it really does take a village to raise a child…

The old adage – that is ‘takes a village to raise a child’ – is often quoted by new mums. It will usually be preceded by a “pardon the cliché, but…”. The reason being that before becoming a mother, the expression probably meant little to her. But then she had a baby and it made total sense.

She realised how utterly lonely it can feel and how much support you need. And that it takes a village – or at least a decent group of friends and family – to get through those early months. And so she knows it’s clichéd to say it but the words fall from her lips…

It really does take a village to raise a child, doesn’t it?

Before becoming a mum, I loved being alone. I’d go to art galleries alone, to the cinema, I’d walk for miles across London – through Highgate Woods, Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park. I’d go shopping alone, have a coffee alone every morning before work.

I also loved time with family and friends; but only if it was balanced out by plenty of alone time. My husband enjoys time alone too, which is one of the reasons we work well together: we talk, lots, but also know when to be quiet – and give the other some peace.

Then children came along and everything changed. Having a newborn baby was the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me. It was like being a child and waking up on Christmas morning. The same excitement. It felt magical; unreal. How could I be so lucky?

But my body was fucked. I’d torn, been cut, had stitches. My back ached from hunching over to breastfeed. My arms weren’t used to lifting a 10.5 lb weight around at all times. I was tired. Like most newborns, she was feeding round the clock. Recovery was slow. My pelvic floor had collapsed. I had recurrent mastitis. We bickered. And shouted. People pissed me off.

And then my mum would come round and make me tea, bring fruit and biscuits, regale me with tales of the equally testing early days with me and my siblings. My friends brought thoughtful gifts, cooked us dinner, cooed over the baby; making me feel like they saw how wonderful she was too.

My sister came and held the baby for three hours when she was a few months old so that I could have my hair cut. She sent me a text to say everything was fine, so that I wouldn’t panic, but later admitted that my baby had screamed the entire time. My sister also spent many an hour stroking and rocking my baby to sleep. And changed her nappies regularly (a real treat for me).

People rallied around. None of my friends had their own babies yet but they still took my new role as a mother into account when planning meet-ups as a group. They’d ask if daytime was easier, so I could bring the baby, or evenings – after she was in bed. They were caring and supportive.

And that’s when it struck me that this was my ‘village’: my mum, my sister, my friends. These women who sent messages to check I was ok. Who asked for photos of my baby. Who told me she smiled more than babies usually did. Who gave us the quiet room on group holidays. Who said I was looking great when I was really looking shit. Who were always there to lend an ear or a hand.

It takes a village, it really does.

I still like to be alone. It’s rare – but I cherish those moments. It’s one of the reasons I love running: 20 minutes, every morning, pounding the streets. Going at my own pace. Thinking and not talking. Listening (to podcasts) and planning. Focusing on my breath, rather than what the baby’s putting in his mouth or the three-year-old wants to watch on TV.

But again, it’s about balance. Surrounding yourself with people when you need to. Surrounding other people, when they need support. And having times when you are alone. Still in the village, but having a quiet moment in your hut.

There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I claim alone time for myself but feel so lucky to have a support network who make sure I never feel lonely.

Do you have a village of women (and/or men) who support you in times of need?