When I left home for two weeks to visit Uganda, my wife Whitney and I spent a week planning to help her manage the house and two toddlers. We had to because, point blank, we're largely on our own.
To be clear, our parents drive the hour or so to come help if we ask. Our siblings are glad to provide a meal. Whitney is part of several women's groups at church and they do sweet things for her.
It's not near enough.
When I rolled into one village after another in Uganda I saw the women work together, pass babies, watch after the kids, even breastfeed the hungry together.
I'm not writing this to throw anyone under the bus, but to highlight an ill of our way of life in the United States. And provide a few solutions.
Look, my Mom and Mother-in-law can't help much, they work 9-5's, live an hour away, their pet's need care, and they have busy lives of their own. Most of our church family is a 15-minute drive, and they too work or have multiple kids of their own.
Despite living in a dense neighborhood, there aren't many stay-at-home Mom's within a walk of our house, in fact, there aren't any. Whitney mostly meets nanny's and grandparents at the park. And when she does meet a stay-at-home mom, they typically have an impenetrable routine of activities.
I don't know of any mom's who simply join each other in the monotony and mess of everyday life at each other's homes on a regular basis.
And that makes me really sad.
We work hard (both parents) to be wealthy, we're spread out, we've got all the gear, the activities, the outsourced child care--but @@we don't have the rich and authentic community with our neighbors that African's have.@@
As a result, I believe, we're eroding quality of life, especially for Mom's who bear an overwhelming burden, who dip in and out of loneliness, who have few places they can go without feeling like they have to "get ready."
I'm also saddened by how many people lack empathy for these mom's. Especially a generation of mom's who raised their own children in isolation as a single mom or as a result of living far from family.
The unspoken message is that moms need to suck it up and pull it off like they did it, largely alone. Their @@hearts have been hardened over years of separation from the type of community the Church is supposed to have@@ (read the book of Acts).
Now look, my blog is all about building up the Church, about solutions; here's what I've got:
- Family, make time. Do you really have to work, or can you make a lifestyle change to be with your family? Can you move closer, even for a week, a month, 6 months? It was a game-changer when my Mom came to California for two weeks when we had our 2nd. This will be one of the greatest mutually life-giving investments you can make.
- Learn a Mom's schedule. It can feel like everything revolves around mom's. Most just keep their head above water and a tight nap and feeding schedule greatly helps with child behavior. You've got to ask questions to understand their schedule and how you can help within it. And be flexible for changes.
- A regular presence is gold. Given that Mom's have tight schedules, its a great boost when you committing to some regular, a couple hours every Wednesday, for example. We just had a friend offer to take the boys every couple Friday's, now we plan on getting caught up on that day. It's HUGE for us.
- Give a Mom permission to be herself. In our society, Mom's often feel like they've got to meet a certain standard to even leave the house. The reality at home is much messier, and often they don't want to let others in. Let a mom know you're okay with her and her home, in any state, in advance.
- Look around your neighborhood. Proximity is EVERYTHING, that's why African's can be so available to each other, their village is small and they don't have to load up the car for a visit. Want to bless a mom? Look right in your own neighborhood to ensure you can truly be available.
- Look around your church. In my own church, I'm texting with a few other men who's wives are in the same boat as my own. If you see a young family with their hands full, ask how you can bless them.
- Be encouraging, and don't give unsolicited advice. It seems like where help is hard to come by, advice is aplenty! And for a mom who is struggling, the last thing they want to hear is how you were able to figure it out, or about some mom who has it harder. Best to say, "I think you're doing a great job!" or to just keep quiet if you can't actually help.
- Prayer and notes go a long way. Maybe you're too far away to help and can't move. I know Whitney has been incredibly blessed to get a text from a friend saying they're praying for her that day. One time, her own Mom sent a card saying she's doing a great job and when we read it we both teared up. It's still on our fridge a year later as an encouragement to us.
- Be a proactive servant. A lot of Mom's are afraid to ask for help. So initiate and stick with it. We have had two friends recently offer to watch the boys once a week. One came over and jumped in to take the boys to play and later asked if she could fold laundry. Such a simple act, but Whitney and I will never forget her desire to serve us in that way.
- Often help = holding a baby. Most baby's want to be held by a human, which is awesome, but it's hard to do other stuff like discipline kids, make a meal, etc. Holding a baby is one of the most peaceful, calming, quiet joys one can have in this frenetic world. I LOVE holding babies now, and I guess I'm just a little surprised there isn't a line of people at our door wanting to hold ours too. In summary, go hold someone's baby (just make sure you're not sick).