Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New moms network

We often hear about how women had it so much more difficult in the past, without the help of vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers, or even running water in their homes. Also, they typically had many more children than the average mom has today - and naturally, more babies means more work.

Still, women in previous generations had a huge advantage over today's women in the following: one, they weren't expected to "be it all" and "do it all". Once a woman got married, no one expected her to combine her natural duties of wife, mother and homemaker with a full-time career outside the home. And two, people often lived in close-knit communities, and a woman typically had a supportive network of extended family and/or neighbours, who could offer help and advice to an often overwhelmed young, inexperienced wife and mom.

My grandmother tells me that her mother received help from neighbours after the birth of each child. Women sent her home-cooked meals, home-baked bread, and helped her clean her house and do her laundry (which wasn't easy work back then) while she recovered. In the meantime, she could focus on taking care of the new baby. Because there were many neighbours around, it didn't take that much effort: perhaps a meal and a bit of help around the house from each one.

Because so many people had large families, the special period with a new baby was better understood and treated as a natural part of life. The ones who extended help a couple of weeks ago might have a baby themselves a short time after that, and they knew they would not be left without support.

Today, many people don't know their neighbours; in packed, crowded apartment buildings, it seems as though we are divided more than ever. Also, with most women choosing to have only one or two children, and those children being in daycare from a very young age while their mothers go out to work, a young mother who stays home with her children often feels isolated - especially if her husband works long hours and her family is far away.

Bethany, a young mom, recently commented: "I am so jealous that you have a neighbor with a baby! (And that you actually know your neighbors). We only know a few of ours, as people are typically very private in this part of the US and also very busy (ie away from home ALL the time). Not the best atmosphere for a housewife. It can get sort of lonely. I would love to have other women around during the day with little ones!"

Things are a bit different where we live. It's a small place where people know each other, and where women typically have more than the average number of children. I've been told that there's a group of women around here who took it upon themselves to organize the delivery of home-cooked meals to new moms in the first few weeks when they are home with their baby. Also, it is noticeable that women are around much more. Our quiet street isn't deserted in the middle of the day; women who live nearby smile at me, ask how I am, and offer encouragement. One stay-at-home mom offered me to call her in case I go into labor while my husband is away, and I want some company and support while he's on his way to pick me up.

I think it could be so wonderful if networks for the support of new moms became more common once again. I'm not quite at that point yet, but I've heard that a hot meal is invaluable while you are recovering from birth and getting used to taking care of a newborn.

Speaking of new moms: Mrs. W, a mom of two young boys, recently announced that they are expecting another little one to join their family! How exciting. Wishing you a safe, uncomplicated, easy pregnancy, and a healthy baby in his or her due time.


Heather said...

Anna~ Great post! Every woman should have a network of friends and neighbors to help out when needed. I live in a small community (I also grew up where I live so everyone knows me) so when I had my boys people dropped by with dinners and baked goods, and I in return do the same for them.

Slice of life said...

I think this is a great idea, but not only for after you have had a baby, but also just in everyday life. we have one very good neighbour (both italian and in their 70's), who have been on hand when there has been injury and upset. with kind words and wisdom, and a few very tasty home cooked delights.

Yes good neighbours are a blessing that is for sure.

Elusive Wapiti said...

"without the help of vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers..."

I actually don't think these are labor-saving devices at all. They simply enlarge the square footage that may be maintained by said domestically inclined person.

That said, families need help. The very mobile American society has resulted in fractured extended families and husbands and wives left to fend for themselves using only their resources. And grandchildren lack that thread to previous generations.

Family reunification, to me, would be the best gift I could give my wife and my children.

Anonymous said...

How lucky are you to have such network! In Southeast Asia where I came from, people are like that as well, and generally family help a lot especially after a woman's given birth. Grandparents, Parents, Aunties, Uncles, Cousins, Neighbors, Friends all come together and celebrate the newborn and help with the daily workload and cooking. I love the sense of collectivity and I truly do miss it dearly now that I am living so far away.


Mrs. Anna T said...


You raise a good point: people used to have modest requirements, compared to today, to the home and its upkeep!!

That said, a washing machine is... priceless. Sigh. A couple of weeks without it taught me the meaning of gratitude...

Kelly said...

Well said Anna. While I have a few wonderful neighbors they are quite old, and I keep an eye on them more than they can help me.
It's a shame that so many neighborhoods, including mine, are empty all day, except for me.
My hubby is about to go on a business trip for 45 days, ugh. All that time alone.

Bethany Hudson said...

Well, you already know how I feel, Anna ;-) Of course, I think my situation is slightly exacerbated by the fact that we live 3,000 mi from my family and 500 mi from the nearest of my husband's relatives. We feel blessed to be filling our tiny home with children so that we still feel that wonderful closeness of human love, even while our families and childhood friends are so far away. But, it can be intimidating to think of having a toddler and a newborn at home with no one but my husband to help me--and no one at all during the day, as all of my friends and neighbors are employed full-time.

Marianne said...

I'm a work-outside-the-home mom, but was on maternity leave for 6 months. I live in a large city, but my neighborhood has many stay-at-home-moms. Unfortunately, the isolation Bethany spoke of is true. People don't talk to one another, even at the park. The only interactions I had with any of these moms (I'd smile, say hi while passing, or compliment the cute children to no avail), was when I accidentally left the park gate ajar. This mom gave me a dressing down, much to the delight of her friends. I was a little flustered, being a first-time mom of a 4 month old, so I just took it and apologized. In retrospect, I realize that it was a sad commentary on what "community" means in the western world.

Laura Ashley said...

I have to disagree with Elusive Wapiti. I have done laundary in a tub. Washing machines do make life easier. The first time you have to wring out denim or a large blanket you will realize that. I would almost say doing laundary by hand could be dangerous for some pregnant women because of all the bending and stretching involved. Washing clothes in a tub is time consuming and takes some serious muscle!

Anonymous said...

In "olden days" women used to take eleven days for recovering from giving birth. I imagine that was the time period when help was specifically provided, either hired help or family and friends helping out.

Your post about being pregnant and elderly ladies offering to help carry your groceries reminded me of the shopping and carrying that I did in my first pregnancy, that I think helped put me into labor a month before my due date.

Also, a midwife told me not to lift anything heavier than my baby for six weeks postnatal, not even the baby in a carseat. Better to be careful than to risk a prolapse.

Lady M said...

I have to agree on all of what you said today. It is so very sad to see your neighbors from "afar" and not really know them. Thankfully, when we lived in our 2 different apartments, the majority of the residents around us were elderly And, we had a common hallway (this is WI - and in the winter, those are good thing - mostly). So, I did get to know most of my neighbors. But, I am a chatty person by nature and cannot stand to not know who is living around me. I would have been terribly lonely.

That said, having moved first to one duplex and then to another, it is much different. The one in the city, I only knew the 94 year old lady next door and the children & I raked her leaves & shoveled her sidewalks for her. Hmmm - seeing a trend here on the age thing, lol!

Then we were back out to the suburbs. This is both good and bad, I guess. I now have to contend with neighborhood children (that is a challenge at times to be sure). But, I am blessed that one of our neighbors, we attend church with. The other one has 2 lovely children that play with mine.

So, when I was on bedrest, I did not have to worry so much about where the children were (our yard or the neighbors). And the one I attend church with would help my dd hang out the wash after she did it, baked us bread regularly, grabbed things at the store if I needed her too, etc. My church also stepped up to the plate to help out in that area by supplying meals 2-3 times a week. That was such a blessing. There is nothing worse than feeling like you cannot care properly for your family. My home is still not perfectly clean, but getting better, lol! The baby is almost 3 mos old now and we are all settling back in.

The interesting thing about the church helping out, is that had we not been attending such a wonderful family oriented church (lots of homeschool families, traditional values, majority of women are not working outside the homes, etc.), we probably would not have gotten that help. So many women work outside the home that they are too tired to even try to help out others. Often, I think they are the ones who need the help, KWIM?

I also think, that long ago, young women would not have been quite as overwhelmed as we tend to be now. After all, they had been trained properly for the job of wife/mother/homemaker the entire time they were growing up. I am glad to see so many families at our church training up their children that way (hoping I can get it right myself for my dd). My dd (age 10), knows how to do the laundry than many, many people who are in highschool and college! That's a scary thought.

Anyway, this is getting long - oh - and I LOVE my washing machine, lol and hate my vacuum cleaner....

Walters Inc said...

Great post again Mrs Anna.
Meals and help with the house are very valuable. I have a group of 4 couples and we are very close. (Babies born within months of each other) and we rotated meals and help as each child came into the world.
As Proverbs says "A friend loves at all times" what a great time to be loved and love in return. Welcome soon, to your new little girl :)

Kittee said...

This is so very true.

In the US I feel as a woman it is expected of me that I work a full time job outside of the house and continue to do my "womanly" duties in the home after work. I've tried to explain this to my husband about how this is entirely unfair and unreasonable. No wonder the divorce rate and occurrence of family problems is on the rise during the past 30 years (Post womens lib.)

And besides that- Yes we are rather divided in the US. I live in an apartment complex and I do not even know a single neighbors name. Heck it's all you can do to coax a smile or a wave out of them in passing. Very sad.

Hope you're having a good holiday!


Becca said...

Being a member of a small church is a great way to have a wonderful network of supportive moms. Mega-churches tend to further alienate us from each other since it's so hard to get to know others in such a busy environment. We love our small church!

Definitely take the meals your neighbors are sure to bring by....it is a blessing! (I have five blessings! :-)

God bless you,

Anonymous said...

Well, I certainly would not want to be without my washing machine. The dryer is a great help....but I don't mind hanging laundry (alright, I'm not excited at the thought of doing that when it's 30 below zero!), but some other so-called "labor saving devices" are anything but!

Anyway, I was so glad of all the help I received in the first weeks after my children were born, particularly the first one. I knew nothing! It didn't seem to matter that I'd read up on things a bit. I just needed to glean from more experienced mothers some of their knowledge. The meals that people brought, the help tidying up, washing dishes...with no family around, I really don't know how I would have managed without these kindnesses. I felt so blessed to have such caring friends! :o)


Coffee Catholic said...

It's true. It *is* lonely being a housewife these days ~ all of the other women are gone during the day! The neibhorhoods end up like ghost towns. And then my fellow women are too tired and too busy to get together and sew or knit. I can't help but daydream about "the old days" when women would be home and they had a thriving community of wives and mothers to enjoy.

MarkyMark said...


This is an interesting post! I know that in our cities that the neighborhoods were very tight knit communities. My former doctor grew up in an Italian section of Brooklyn, NYC. He told me that ALL the mothers could and did discipline others' children they saw misbehaving; then, they called the child's mother, so the kid got it AGAIN when he got home! My Doc said that he and his friends knew to behave themselves, because the neighborhood mothers and grandmothers were always keeping an eye on things, and they were ready to mete out discipline when needed. It was the kind of extended community you were writing about, and it I think it worked well.