After a lengthy war with infertility treatment, I convinced myself that getting pregnant and having kiddos is the hardest part of parenting. How naïve could I possibly be? After the twins were born at 34 weeks gestation, I quickly discovered how wrong I was.
There was a lot I didn’t know about parenting. I didn’t know that plastic nipples need to be sterilized and that real nipples need to be moisturized. And while I did know that babies eat every two hours, I wasn’t aware that it takes each of them 20 minutes to eat. Add the twin recipe on top of that and my new parent, breastfeeding, energetic world got rocked.
Just about the time we got the twin baby routine down, the third kiddo made his unplanned appearance. We were outnumbered and so tired that we could fall asleep sitting upright. Much of those baby years was a blur. We had the help of our mothers. We slurred words to each other. Again, I was certain that this was, without a doubt, the most difficult season of kid-rearing.
And then they got older and started walking. I didn’t know that kids stick things in light sockets and pick up poo poo. That they run everywhere: in parking lots, down steep hills, and into poles. That they stand on top of furniture, break Limoges bowls, and are always naked. Kids drain bank accounts and energy, and one morning you look in the mirror to wonder how your rested, optimistic self disappeared.
The yin yang of parenting is enough to drive the most level-headed, mild-tempered individual to the nut house. But it’s not just the challenge of raising kids that sets a person over the edge. It’s the combined pressure of work, marriage and cultural demands. Child rearing happens at a time in life when we’re finding our adult way on this planet. This is the sink or swim time of life, and we have no idea what to expect or how to navigate. The clichéd “it takes a village” mantra of these parenting years applies as much to our need to be raised as parents as it applies to our children.
I can’t trace back to how it happened exactly — how I found a tribe of women who walk with me on this daily trek of life. We weren’t raised in the same town. We aren’t the same age. Some of us work outside the home. Some of us stay home. We are from different Christian denominations. Our personalities are as varied as a box of rainbow Skittles. We’re different, but we’re a team.
Together we’ve survived: medical school, election campaigns, birth, loss, cancer, open-heart surgery, unemployment, broken bones, traveling spouses, shift work, new business start-up pains, marriage, depression, bullying, hormones, and grunting teenagers. And that’s only been in the past few years.
A few weeks ago, our newest village member was born. Her big brother brought RSV home from school and graciously “shared the love.” As I drove home from work, I turned the familiar route to Willis Knighton South. As I drove, I recalled that the last time I drove this route, it was Stacey who was calming me down. Stacey’s my first call when my kids are hurt. In her level-headed ER physician voice, she assures me that all will be OK. It works. I stop crying, and then listen to her directions. Today, I was headed to see her sick baby. Life comes full circle. Stacey is one of seven in our tribe.
Heather has mental health radar on me. Somehow the universe sends her a notification when I have reached the end of my rope. She buzzes my phone and calls me out. She delivers dinner and the book I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t made the time. And then she shames me into calling in sick the next day.
Donayle observes and encourages my efforts. She texts me words of affirmation, my love language. What she doesn’t know is that I go back and reread them when I need a pick me up.
Mia puts my physical and emotional self back together in her salon chair. Her costume box is the reason my kids haven’t disowned me for my failed attempts during Homecoming and Red Ribbon dress up weeks. There’s nothing that intimidates me more than well-executed kiddo costumes.
Teresa nourishes my soul with humor and cupcakes. Her courage and capacity for forgiveness encourages me to keep going when I want to quit.
Shannon’s going to be the reason I get into Heaven. She’s my nonjudgmental spiritual counselor who allows and helps direct answers to my crazy questions.
Laura is my sounding board on all things work, kiddos, and marriage. She watches over my household with love and zero judgement. She also helps me raise my chicken village. That includes 13 feather babies and the occasional 6-foot chicken snake.
If it feels like I’m bragging, I am. I hit the friend jackpot with these ladies.
We buy extra meat to feed each other’s kids. We bandage boo boos and share hugs. We bonfire, sled on old car hoods, and catch moles. With a watchful eye, we give the kids enough room to create and learn. Sometimes that means that they bathe in the chickens’ water trough in the front yard. Our parenting strategy is that as long as everyone is safe and loved, it’s allowable.
Don’t get me wrong, we have bad days, too. There is the occasional text, “Could you hear me yelling at your house?” Or, “I quit. If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be at TJ Maxx spending their college tuition.” It happens. We have bad days. We make parenting mistakes. Sometimes we cry big and ugly during Bible study. But it’s always met with grace and usually tears of empathy because in life there are no original problems. Our tribe carries the burdens of the others and sits patiently with us in the mess until the storm clears.
If you don’t have a girl tribe, I implore you to pay attention to the relationships in your life. Tribal relationships involve no judgement. They want to see you win. Not sure if your relationships are tribe-worthy? Here’s the litmus test… does an unexpected drop-in, when your house is in the shambles, make you feel shameful? Or can you invite her in for a glass of wine despite the mess? There are the societal rules and then there’s the real stuff. Tribal relationships cut straight to the core of authentic. Build your team around that, so when the structure of life around you comes crashing down, your search and rescue team knows how to dig you out.