My friend Bec has been spending a lot of time trying to pick up chicks in playgrounds lately. But as the weather grows colder, her pickings are getting slimmer. She is disconsolate about this. “Where’s my village?” Bec asked me plaintively last week. Except she used an adjective before the word village and it rhymes with shmucking.
We were talking about the challenges of being at home alone with small children and she was referring to the famous African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”. It’s a beautiful saying that refers to the positive impact individuals and groups outside the immediate family can have on a child’s wellbeing. ‘Many hands make light work’ is a more flip way of putting it, but in truth it’s more than that. It’s not just about helping hands.
About a year ago, Bec’s husband took a new job and their family moved interstate. There’s a name for people like her: “The Trailing Spouse”. It refers to a person who uproots their life to follow their partner’s career in a new city far from home. You both leave behind family and friends but only one of you is immediately absorbed into a new job and all the structure that provides. The other is….trailing. Without a network of support and without the distraction of a career to help ease the transition.
On paper, The Trailing Spouse agrees the move is the right thing for her family, often for financial reasons. But practically, it can be a rough ride.
In almost every case, the Trailing Spouse is female and not in paid employment, not after the move anyway. Usually she is (or becomes) a stay at home mother, left alone to build a new village of physical and emotional support for herself and her family. From the ground up.The thing with villages though is that they can take years to establish. Decades. A lifetime. When Bec had a baby a few months ago, this became woefully apparent. Her husband was working long hours in his new job and without family or close friends to help her, she found herself home alone with her three year old and a newborn. She is still working but from home, further limiting the daily contact that leads to new friendships and connections.
Bec has a rock solid support network – a raucous, loyal, village of women (and a few men) she’s accumulated since primary school. But they’re all a plane ride away. Hence the loitering in playgrounds, hoping to strike up a friendship and create a building block in her new village.
You don’t notice your village until it’s missing. And so it was one day last week when Bec and I were chatting on Skype. I was at work, she was home juggling a newborn and a preschooler with sleep deprivation and a book deadline.