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Talking Point: Have we lost our village for raising children?

Ellie House
RGU research shows young mums in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are struggling with the cost-of-living and often go without food. Image: Shutterstock.
RGU research shows young mums in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are struggling with the cost-of-living and often go without food. Image: Shutterstock.

My son has recently turned five, but I still have vivid memories of our first spring together.

I pushed the buggy through what seemed like empty streets, and realised I had no one to call.

I had often been told that it takes a village to raise a child, but if this was the case, where was mine?

There was no ready made support network; I have since learned that in my experience, you have to carve out the village for yourself.

Ellie House, pictured here with her son in 2018, created a village by attending baby groups. Image: Ellie House.

‘The village we yearn for has changed’

I said hello to practically every mum I encountered, and religiously went to baby groups in the hope of finding my tribe.

I now have a strong and diverse community, from fellow parents to next door neighbours, early years practitioners and my son’s lovely childminder.

I am lucky in that my mum relocated from Wales to Scotland, and my in laws help out when they can.

But there is no denying that the village we all yearn for and speak of, has vastly changed.

Many parents now rely on those working in the childcare sector to help provide support for the whole family. Picture supplied by Shutterstock.

With families more likely to be spaced out geographically, you can’t just knock on someone’s door for a cuppa and reassurance.

Post-pandemic and the landscape of motherhood is even harder to navigate.

This isn’t about childcare on tap, although that would be nice.

In my eyes it’s about learning from those who have once been in our shoes, while enabling our children to get different perspectives on life by meeting different people.

I’ve spoken to a Playgroup Leader and a Baby Carrying Consultant to find out more.

Jess Hippey: ‘You have to intentionally make your own village’

Mum of two Jess Hippey has helped hundreds if not thousands of parents over the past eight years, having trained to become a baby-wearing consultant.

This means she can provide expert advice as to the best carrier, fit and positioning with one on one appointments.

She also travels the UK to help train neonatal staff so they can advise parents about the most appropriate carrier prior to discharge, and learn about skin to care.

She believes that parents must now make their own village.

Jess Hippey provides expert advice so parents can safely carry their babies. Image: Jess Hippey.

“The fact that my job even exists, when centuries ago mothers would learn from mothers about baby carrying,” said Jess.

“Now you have to find and build your own community.

“The rewards are huge, but you have to put in the effort.

“You have to very intentionally go to baby classes or the library every week, the village isn’t just there.”

Jess also believes that support from the older generation can be hugely beneficial, but it isn’t always easy to find.

Including the older generation in your village can be hugely beneficial. Picture supplied by Shutterstock.

‘Having that support is important’

“My 90-year-old neighbour is teaching me to knit, I could just go online but she can show me,” said Jess.

“There was once a time when we all learnt from each other, but the streets seem more empty now with people at work.

“Going to baby groups can be expensive, I think there needs to be more free things like group walks.

“Going to the library or playgroup, and coffee mornings at church can be fantastic.

“Events like that can sound boring, but it’s always amazing to see an 80-year-old who will tell you she remembers when her children were that age.

“Those first few weeks are such an adjustment, and having someone tell you that it’s completely normal.

“Having the support of that village is still really important.”

Karen Mellis: The village is part of the early years experience

Karen Mellis has worked in the childcare sector for more than a decade, and is currently Playgroup Leader at Midstocket playgroup.

She believes that the concept behind ‘it takes a village’ will always stand, even though the dynamics have changed.

Karen Mellis believes the concept of a village is still just as important when raising children. Image:  Karen Mellis.

“When my kids were little, there was just me and my husband,” said Karen.

“My parents did help, but they lived 55 miles away.

“I think nowadays with parents working more, it takes more people to help raise children.

“But since Covid, some parents are scared to ask other people in the first place.

Those who work in childcare can help form a village for parents. Picture supplied by Shutterstock.

Karen believes that the “early years experience” is now part of that village, in part due to the bonds which can be created.

“Certainly in my job, you can build a rapport with the parents,” she said.

“I think a lot of people need that extra help, we’ve had people tell us that we’ve helped them through a difficult time.

“I’m not sure children grow up calling lots of people ‘aunty’.

“But the early years experience becomes part of your village, and I think a lot of parents would agree.”

Safety first

If you are looking for support and guidance on slings and carriers, you can find resources online, speak to Jess at Close and Calm, or visit your local sling library or Baby Carrying Educator.

It’s vital you learn how to carry your baby safely when wearing a sling or carrier. Picture supplied by Shutterstock

All of these places promote TICKS guidance,  designed to help mitigate the risks that are associated with using a sling or carrier, such as asphyxiation.

There can also be risk of overheating, so do seek advice.

Since there are still carriers made in the UK that do not offer safe positions, if a carrier has instructions or positions that do not align with the TICKS guidance – please seek further guidance from a trained professional before use.

If you are struggling with low mood, contact north-east charity, Latnem, the GP, or NHS 24.