Three days into the V is for Village campaign and it's been heartwarming (and also a little surprising!) to see how far it's spread. We started at 8am on Monday morning, spreading peace signs all over Instagram. I'm writing this 48 hours later, and there are 400 members of this Village and counting! It's spread to the US, Denmark, New Zealand and included mums and dads from many different backgrounds. To me, this is an amazing show of solidarity - the peace sign was chosen to symbolise that, as parents, we need to support one another open-heartedly. So 400 people are on Instagram saying to other parents, 'I'm here, I support you, wherever you are and the situation you're in, I'm with you'.
As the campaign grows, there's always a danger of that original message getting lost somewhat so I thought it would be helpful to put the original V is for Village posts here in one blog, which you're welcome to share. At the same time, it's YOUR village so if the message changes then that's entirely up to all of you!
One of the dangers of a campaign like this which has grown so quickly, is that there is always the capacity for people to feel excluded. If you're coming across a load of peace signs and haven't been party to the original 'conversations', you can feel like you're out of the loop. Social media has such a potential to do that - to polarise, to create in-groups and out-groups. As people are also sharing their experiences with their own villages, there is also the possibility you might feel more isolated when you are in different circumstances. And of course, you might not want a village!
What the campaign was aiming for was to break through those in-groups, the potential for competition and comparison that becomes so stark in these little squares. And say that, in the end, we're all up to our elbows in pooey nappies and toddler tantrums. We're all in the same village - you're in mine and I'm in yours.
Here's all the original info in case you missed it:
In the UK, in 2018, we're in a pretty unique position as parents, in that we're parenting largely in isolation. The saying 'it takes a village to raise a child' is a poignant one for the many parents who don't have villages around them. We raise families far away from our own (if we even have families, or families who are able to offer support). Having other carers around isn't just good for the child, who learns about how to relate to and learn from people other than those in their immediate family. It's of particular benefit to parents, in getting an extra pair of hands, the wisdom of experience and much needed tea and chats. Instagram has had some criticism for causing negative comparisons, and the impact this can have on our sense of self and confidence. But those squares aren't just about hotdog legs and handstands. In these squares there's also a huge, supportive parenting community. In here you can also get the encouragement, wisdom and praise you need as a new parent. There are parents talking about their ups and downs - finally we get a glimpse into life behind closed doors, which helps us all feel more normal. There are parents talking about dealing with particular struggles. And there are tons of parents telling each other every day 'you're doing you're best, just keep going'. And if you can't keep going, there are also parents telling you where you can seek help.
Why do we need a parenting village at all? Well, one of the biggest surprises of parenthood is how very lonely it can feel. This happens for various reasons, many of which are very important for your baby but can have an impact on you. First is primary maternal preoccupation - the pinpoint focus you have on your baby which will help you tune in to their needs. This is necessary for bonding and survival, but leads you to forget about yourself. It's pretty common to experience that weird feeling, when you finally have a moment to yourself, when you look around and wonder where everyone has gone.
Second is that looking after a baby provides the very unusual experience of being both bored and stressed at the same time. It becomes hard to connect with people, especially in real life, when you're learning how to be a parent - but of course you need that connection more than ever.
And the cherry on the top is that all this loneliness and isolation is happening within a context that is telling you to cope alone - so all your feelings become invalidated as you're meant to be fine with it all. Nice little vicious cycle there, eh?!
One of the brilliant things social media (and text messages) has offered then is the chance to have a village that fits around your life as a new (or old) parent. There's no pressure to be anywhere at a certain time, no need to get dressed or have a shower. If you can't finish a sentence because you're suddenly needed, you can pick it up and carry on hours later. If you're up feeding in the middle of the night, someone will be there to chat to. If you have a question, there'll be replies (Facebook parenting groups seem to be pretty much made for that! Although that's another story...). Plus, because it's online, you can ask questions that you might not dare to if you had to look someone in the eye, and admit to all the struggles you might feel you have to hide in the real world. And - although there's a lot of criticism of the Instaceleb side of social media - actually it's a society that is far from hierarchical if you want it to be. Here, you can speak to a GP, a dietician, a physio (and more) to find out if you need to get further advice. You can ask a question to a psychologist or a psychiatrist without having to join a waiting list. You can message the author of a parenting book to clarify a point. You can ask a question about sleep, or feeding, or crying, and often get well considered expert replies. There are negatives too, of course, but if you choose carefully you can create an online community of friends and supporters. The only thing is they can't actually hold the baby while you take a nap.
But just like walking into a baby group for the first time, Instagram can feel a bit cliquey when you first enter. You see the groups of mums and dads who already seem to know each other. You realise that there's already a connectedness between people and that you're on the outside. In those baby groups, you always need just one person to smile at you and let you know you're welcome. And that is what this campaign is all about. Saying loud and clear that we're here to support one another on this rollercoaster ride of parenting (and life in general) and that everyone's welcome.
So what am I asking you to do?
1. Get your V's out. Nooo not like that. I'm talking peace fingers (which happens to symbolise V for Village). Take a selfie with your peace fingers. By doing that, we're saying there's no competition here, we're all mudding along the best we can, and we've got each others' backs.
2. Next up, I'd love to hear about what a parenting village means to you - virtual or otherwise. Hashtag #iminyourvillage so we can see our community growing. And tag a few people in your village if you want to, to spread the word and share the love.
V is for victory, V is for virtual friends, V is for validation, V is for very thoughtful advice, V is for valued, V is for varied, V is for vulnerability, V is for vibrant and V is for village.
If you have found the campaign difficult for any reason, you are welcome to get in touch with me.