It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
The lion is the king of the jungle. It’s an apex predator with its raw power and strength alone. How does something become such an optimal creature? Well, let us look at its journey to adulthood.
The Life of a Lion
Lions live in groups of 15 to 40 other lions, called prides. In a pride, lions share the work of hunting and rearing cubs. Lionesses often give birth around the same time and thus have their cub rearing months at the same time.
It is not uncommon for lion cubs to nurse from multiple females, and for multiple females to teach and keep cubs safe. These are animals who have been around for roughly two million years, and in that time have fought for their place as the ultimate animal.
Only humans pass them in the food chain, but maybe we can learn something from their childrearing habits.
The Life of a Human
If we look at the way we raise our kids in the United States, like most things in the U.S., it is largely individualistic. We live in isolated homes in spread-out communities and we’re lucky if our kids make it to a couple of birthday parties for classmates in a year.
For those with large families, things are easier. With cousins, you have a built-in social cushion, but for those with small families, or families who are far away, raising children can be lonely.
In my practice, I hear many stories from families of young children who say that not only is it difficult to cope with parenting without social support, but they report that their children are suffering too.
Parents state that they notice their children are more reserved, cautious, shy, and anxious around children as they get older. This can happen if they haven’t had exposure to kids and social experiences consistently.
With these families, the treatment is simple: Go find friends. They don’t like this advice, and I understand the challenge. On top of all the parenting tasks that get heaped onto young families, if they don’t already have a strong social network, they balk at the idea of trying to create one.
On the Hunt
For this reason, the best way to prevent these issues and create a helpful environment for both parents and children is to find your tribe before you even have kids.
This is more than just going out and finding friends. This is a specific goal of looking for the kind of people that you would be able to depend on and lean on for support.
For couples who are wanting friends who will be there in the “family life” years, look for friends who either have children or are open to it at some point.
Keep in mind, to make a friend you have to be a friend. Are you in a place where you can offer up the same kind of support? Do you feel up for that kind of intimacy and vulnerability in a friendship? It feels like a high risk, but the reward can be even higher.
This is not to say you cannot have friends who don’t have kids, nor want them. In fact, you should have those friends too! Keeping our social circles varied makes our life rounded and meaningful. But there is no denying that when you have children, your friendships will change.
It just happens and that is ok. To help you in that transition, having a net to fall into where other parents with open arms (covered with jam and peanut butter) can catch you is a wonderful relief.
I have clients on both ends of the spectrum. Some have worked very hard to maintain relationships with others who have kids the same age, and in time, lifelong friendships at the parent level (and at the kid level) are formed.
These families vacation together, plan their kids’ parties together, give each other breaks with babysitting, celebrate their highs, and grieve in their lows.
They live a life that is full and supported. They have developed a healthy tribe and are raising their cubs in kind. Without fail, these kids are usually healthy, happy, and doing extremely well in terms of social adjustment.
On the other end, I have parents that feel increasingly alone and frustrated with all the pressures that life (and parenting) brings. They worry for their kids who are suffering from anxiety and low self-esteem. When invites to parties come, their children have a hard time because it is such a foreign and uncomfortable experience. These parents have a lot of hope, but there’s a lot of work ahead of them.
For couples preparing for a family, I can’t stress enough that finding a good, solid, dependable group of people to gather around you will help you in the parenting jungle. You can raise your cubs together, protect each other, and be the mighty, confident parents that you are.