I grew up in an extended family. At our busiest, our household was made up of 7 including two grannies, an uncle, my parents, my brother and me. At times I felt suffocated by the lack of space to be alone, or the constant annoyance of an elder urgently knocking on the door when you were on the loo. On the other side I loved having the warmth of a family, and the unconditional love that comes from grandparents who have far more time on their hands than rushing parents.
As a British-born, Indian woman, I feel the weight of one foot on each side- the Western drive towards independence, as well as the Indian value of nestling into family and community. It’s changing but it was traditionally the norm to live in a large family and leaving the nest was never the aim. This setup meant care for young and old. No need for baby sitters or nursing homes. Everyone mattered.
This split often comes up in my work.
I work in integrated healthcare and my deep passion is treating women during and after pregnancy. It’s the norm for most of my clients to invest in courses such as NCT (National Childbirth Trust) or equivalent, both for birth preparation but also to make local mum friends. I am all for support and community, especially when faced with the modern myth of trying to do everything yourself.
I see how immersing yourself into a group where everyone is at the same stage can heighten feelings of stress and inadequacy. Online forums and What’s App groups further exacerbate feelings of ‘not being good enough’ especially when accessed in the middle of the night whilst struggling trying to feed an unsettled baby.
Call me an idealist, but I yearn for the old days, or the era of Call the Midwife at least, where there was a strong community of people of all stages. A community with wise elders who could offer their experience and patience to the younger members.
Lately I have been volunteering with a great initiative in my local area that connects elderly neighbours with younger people for conversation, connection and shared experiences. It’s such a simple idea, but it opens up the mind and heart and combats the feeling of loneliness that is rife for young and old.
What I’ve been contemplating lately is how do we create trans-generational communities? Instead of a mum’s group, how about a group which knits together pseudo- grandparent and child relationships? Imagine how mutually beneficial it would be for an older person, a new mum and a baby to be in close connection with one another. Or a group where older people could teach skills such as cooking or DIY whilst learning tech or digital photography from their younger counterparts? Instead of different groups living different lives in the same area, imagine if there were was conversation, interaction and even friendship? So let me be honest to say I am for mums’ groups. And on top of that I can see an additional support structure across the ages.