I’m constantly amazed at the size of the families here in the Middle East. I don’t know the average, but I can confidently say each family would have at least 6-8 kids. At times, I wonder why I feel overwhelmed with four kids, ‘how on earth do they do it?’ As any mum does, these insecurities cause me to observe and compare what our family does differently.
By observing these amazing families, I’ve come up with some thoughts, some of which are making me feel more at peace with my feelings of inadequacy.
Gaps between kids
While working out in the gym, I once met a Jewish mother of ten kids, yes TEN! Once I had regained my breath from what she had just told me, I asked her how she did it. She quickly went onto explain that she had five close together, then she had a break, then had five more. She did it this way so the older kids could help out. Village theory no 1 – a village in amongst the immediate family.
Families live with each other
It’s very common in the Middle East (well, from what I’ve seen in Jerusalem and Jordan), for families to live in the same apartment building. My address in Jerusalem was the name of the family whose building I was living in. I would simply instruct the taxi driver or home delivery person to come to the house of Smith (I’ve changed names obviously to protect the privacy of the family where I lived). Half the time you can tell when a family have an unmarried child living with them, because there are foundations on the roof ready for an extension to be built for when a son marries and his new wife moves in. There’s an expectation that the family will stay together. I guess you could say families are close in this country, as they all live together and spend a lot of the time in each other’s apartments. It was inevitable when I’d visit a neighbour, the house was often filled with sisters, sister-in-laws, and cousins, all there having a cuppa, or Grandma had a pile of grandkids playing together at her house. It is really special and unique, but I guess it would be tough if you couldn’t stand being around your family. Village theory No.2 – the village lives together.
Families live life together
Families do live together, but they also do life outside the house together. If you visit the doctor, mum will be there with her daughter. Visit the shopping center, it’s rare to see a woman on her own. They support each other taking turns in carrying the baby, they do most things together. This togetherness starts from birth. Aunty, Grandma, Uncle, cousins, Grandad, they are ALWAYS there, physically there, feeding baby, pacing with baby. I used to watch my neighbour, a Grandma, pacing for hours with a baby or standing outside watching the toddler play. This family is a village. Village theory no.3 – the village does life together EVERYDAY.
This entry is not written by someone who doesn’t feel supported, I absolutely do. My parents and In-laws are wonderful grandparents and loving aunts and uncles to my kids. But, I did have the wonderful experience of my parents staying with us for the first two weeks of Laila’s life. It was an amazing blessing and gave me a glimpse of what parenting was like living amongst a village. It gave me a chance to heal, establish feeding, go on outings leaving baby with a loving grandparent, something I could do last minute with very little organising. It was amazing and I cried big tears when they had to go. Having the opportunity to experience this way of bringing up kids and being a family was insightful. It sure does take a village to raise a child.
So my question is, where are the villages in the western world? Our idea of village involves fences and lives that are seperate to each other. Our families do our best at making a loving, supportive village, but it is very different to the Middle Eastern village. Whose village is better? Are you happy with your kind of village? If not, what is needed? I wonder if incidences of postnatal depression are lower in the Middle East. Is the western kind of village enough for child rearing? I don’t know if I can even make that call seeing I’m living over the other side of the world, far away from my village. Think I might be doomed. I’m missing my village!