Love, Life, Loss and Everything in Between
To the Migrant Mothers without a support Village
During that time of mothering without a village, I found the strength I never knew I had while battling postnatal depression and learning how to take care of a newborn.
Enda Gilbert is the Founder of Enda Gilbert Coaching and Consultancy and she writes about her journey through motherhood in a new country.
As an English literature student, I studied the book “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, and this was the first time I came across this well-known African proverb now ingrained in so many societies. “It takes a whole village to raise a child”. Growing up on the beautiful island of Seychelles, I lived and experienced firsthand how it feels to grow up in a support village. My grandparents and aunties served as backup plans for my parents: stepping in to babysit, especially during the school holidays or occasional sleepovers, so our parents could socialise, wind down or simply breathe. As a result, I thrive in my Village with my two sisters.
When I became a mum six years after I migrated to Australia, I realised that the parenting village I grew up in is somewhat of a romantic idea that doesn’t exist for everyone here. It hit me so hard for the first time that I now live in an individualistic culture, where individualism and independence are glorified over the community. So the idea of my son growing up in a support village with so many aunties and uncles(non-consanguineous) as I did suddenly was a distant memory. It was clear that it would be extremely hard for me to find that support village and form meaningful connections.
Maternity leave was an isolating time for me, with our family a thousand miles away, a few busy friends working full time, and a husband working extra-long shifts to make ends meet. I am not sharing my story to complain; I am at peace with our lifestyle now; credit to social media and zoom/skype for the power it has to connect us with our loved ones. My husband and I had to reconcile our idealistic view of parenting with the reality of managing it without the extra hands around. We are our son’s world, and he knows we love him unconditionally. But it leaves me wondering how many migrant mothers are in trenches without “my tribes or my riders for life”. Just going through the motions and hoping to God they get to take a nap today, or maybe they can wash their hair, or someone will call or drop by or perhaps today the toddler won’t throw a tantrum in the supermarket attracting evil glare.
So many migrant mothers are not resilient enough to survive the excruciating loneliness and sadness of raising kids without family nearby or a support village. If that is you right now, I see you. I understand how lonely you might be feeling right this very second. I know how you long to connect with other parents, but it seems to always fall short of making those deeper connections. I know what it feels like to cry alone or the stress that arises when your responsibilities outweigh your strength and mental capacity. I see how hard this is for you because I’ve been there.
My son is fourteen now; looking back over the years, I am proud of what I’ve accomplished without much help. Do I wish it had been different? Of course. But I would’ve missed out on this life-changing journey that gave me many memories and lessons. I’ve learned a few things while finding a support village as a migrant woman.
My biggest lesson learnt is that if I were to find a village, it wouldn’t come knocking on my door, so I had to shift my mindset and remind myself that asking for help is not a weakness. Sometimes, you have to be vulnerable and say you’re struggling and need help.
Exchanging numbers is not creepy. It’s a sign that you’re open to a conversation or a coffee.
Your accent is your pride and cultural heritage. If someone makes an effort to understand you, it is worth keeping them in your Village and disregarding the apathetic ones. There is a significant difference between showing interest and rudeness.
Sometimes, you have to work hard to find that Village, but if you’re determined and really want to be part of one, you have to be willing to participate in community activities like storytelling in your local library, baby swimming classes, getting together with one or two mums and organise a picnic at the park; eating outside and connecting with nature is great for the soul.
Joining a mother’s group provides you with the emotional support that only mums can offer. Trust me when I say I understand the level of courage it takes to join a group of strangers who don’t sound like you. The fear of whether they will get you or not is profound. Rest assured that most mums are facing the same parental issues, so keep the conversations centred around your babies and parenting challenges to start with. Give yourself time to get to know your villagers and embrace the support.
It’s better to focus on what you can control versus what you cannot. While it might be difficult, it is possible to control an attitude or a mindset. So, write down gentle reminders of what you’re thankful for every day. On the days when you feel like you can’t go on anymore or you’re feeling nostalgic. Add a little sparkle of creativity just to change the tone of your day, such as painting, drawing, listening to your favourite radio station and singing out loud or dancing with your baby ( no, you’re not a weirdo, I did that a lot). Remind yourself that your best is enough.
The journey to find your Village is not going to be easy, be confident that you will get there and your children will thrive. Your love and support will be the catalyst for their confidence. Your children will eventually find their Village, and you will see yourself socialising and building healthy adult connections and lifelong friendships.
My journey on how I raised my son without a support village while still achieving my career goals is published in ” Undefeated”. A collection of stories from 90 migrant women who, against all odds, overcame the challenges and barriers of living in a foreign land. This book is a celebration of all the resilient migrant women worldwide who refused to be defeated.
Wherever you are in the world Happy Women’s Day
Contributing Author and Founder of Enda Gilbert Coaching and Consultancy. Join my private Facebook group Burnout Proof Lounge