Parents today are overwhelmed, exhausted, and under-supported as they struggle with the unanticipated needs of young children. The difference between what is needed and what parents can manage on their own can be painful, as evidenced by postpartum rates of depression and anxiety (in mothers and fathers). Human history offers insight into the remedy: community care.
Mothers shouldn't be isolated with their babies. They should have someone around to lend a hand—partner, baby’s grandparent, older siblings, or neighbors, when they need a break. Parents need a safety net of caregivers who also cares about and knows how to emotionallyregulate the their child's emotional states. This model of multiple mutually-responsive caregivers, or what scientists call “alloparenting,” is critical to optimal child development. Anthropologically speaking, humans are designed for alloparenting. Raising a baby within an isolated nuclear family is biologically unnatural. That’s why it’s so hard.
In studies of small-band-hunter-gatherer societies, half the time alloparents were caring for a baby, but the mother was nearby, so if the baby became distressed, couldn’t get to sleep or needed to nurse, mom could step in. Toddlers and older children continue to be seen as children of thecommunity rather than just as children of their parents. Elders, young adults, and experienced parents are all invaluable teaching resources as well, for children of all ages. This community sort of environment allows a child to become more comfortable away from mom while also developing a secure attachment, because mom is alwaysthere when she is needed.
How to Give Care within a Community
Foster relationships with other parents who are like-minded and have shared values.
Make it a priority to get together and connect face-to-face with these families as well as your extended family, regularly. Avoid isolation.
Offer to care for others' kids when you can and ask for help with yours when you need it.
Participate in community organizations at schools, churches, or with other groups.
Offer childcare yourself during volunteer activities so more parents can participate.
When you are pregnant, begin gathering your "alloparents" around you and make it clear what help you will need from them and how important they are.
Hire as much help as you can afford for the early months, then fill in with family and friends.
If help is not in the budget, arrange a childcare trade or cleaning/cooking trade, with another parent or family once or twice a week.
Host outings and gatherings for other kids, so their parents get a break and you all get more social time.
Express gratitude often and passionately when other people pay attention to, teach, or care for your child.
Praise older children for their valuable contributions to the enrichment of the younger ones.