Interdependent, multi-generational postnatal family support is as old as Ayurveda itself.
Yet this concept seems to have become as distasteful to modern women as the bitter herbs that are often the exact thing needed to bring balance and heal us from the inside out.
I write in my early forties on the sill of welcoming our eighth child. It feels a daunting and precious place to be. Our eldest is 21 and on the brink of becoming a parent himself, so my husband and I find ourselves in 2020 with feet in multiple camps; all-too-aware of the precariousness of generational relationships, as well as the priceless gift of family, and life itself.
So what HAS happened to multigenerational support?
And how can we all best navigate setting healthy, adult boundaries alongside welcoming in the kind of connection and care that as human beings we naturally crave, and which establishes the right order of things for not just the child/ the mother/ the family but the whole of society’s stability and wellbeing.
I want to consider the answer to these questions with a twist to the well-known adage: it takes a village to raise a healthy, well-balanced child. Please note these reflections encompass typically-bonded relationships rather than those under the strain of narcissistic abuse or parents with mental health challenges that impacted the usual bonding and caregiving process.
21 years ago I was becoming a mother for the first time, and I had Big Ideas about things.
I’m happy to report these were well read, well considered Big Ideas based on the long term goals we had for the kind of family we wanted to raise, and have almost all stood the test of time to be values and an approach we are committed to even today.
My husband and I were blessed too – we truly were on the same page for the big issues and had interviewed each other before marriage honestly and passionately enough to not have any major surprises after we tied the knot.
Navigating serious differences of opinions and expectations in the midst of becoming parents, especially alongside establishing new norms with parents and in-laws, is a dynamic that can take any relationship to a swift end unless there is a serious commitment to honest and continuous communication.
If you are settled and established as a couple when becoming new parents then you’re ahead of the game. If not, you’ve got some serious work to do within your own home to establish an equilibrium for your new child before you can realistically even get to discussing what your expectations are of your parents and in laws. Focus honestly on taking personal responsibility towards making your relationship strong with a solution-oriented attitude. It will be so worth it.
Why make life harder? A good dose of compassionate communication takes us further towards understanding and healthy relationships than anything.
Can’t believe your baby’s father can be as invested as you in positive outcomes, and feel he has a stinking attitude just because he holds different values? Remember he’s 50% of ‘your’ baby’s building blocks, and most certainly does care in his own unique way. Take that as your starting assumption to soothe the tone of your discussions moving forwards.
Can’t believe your wicked/ ugly/ fat/ interfering/ stupid mother(-in-law) actually felt the same love and fierce protection for her children as you do for yours?! It seems unreal that the dragon could have any feeling or emotion so pure and intense as the tender love that fills you right now, and yet, as sure as she was once a baby herself she loved and had hopes and dreams for her child as you do for yours – and that lasts forever. Experiment with letting that reality into your bigger picture to reframe the intentions that extended family have when wanting to be involved and see where it takes your heart and mind.
No matter what, we cannot avoid our genetic link to our ancestors. It’s utterly compelling, and when it’s broken there is a yearning to mend the gap.
Yes, when there are toxic dynamics sometimes we need to create space (a little or a lot depending on how serious the pathology), but the need to connect to our lineage is simply undeniable and HUGE.
We feel it, our children feel it, and the older generations certainly feel it, too.
How can you creatively and proactively honour this lineage on both sides to give your child a fully-fledged sense of belonging and identity?
One of the funniest outcomes of (family) conflict is that what would typically result in building allies for life is undermined in a climate of fear and misunderstanding.
Integrating everyone’s feelings and wishes can be so much easier than building a wall and shutting down. There is a flow of kindness and understanding that emerges from respectful integration that makes everything better. Win – win.
Conversely any (passive) aggressive behaviour towards shutting down what we dislike tends to escalate exactly the energy we want to avoid and are running away from. Lose- lose.
How can you lean into the aspects of your extended family dynamics that most bother you? How can you harness all the benefits there are to your life of letting people in without losing your own values?
On a recent birth group a woman asserted ‘it’s not about them, it’s about YOU’ in response to a mother expressing her desire to wait at least 2 weeks before seeing any family during her babymoon. She wasn’t the only one voicing this attitude, and I couldn’t help but wonder how she will feel when her own tender baby is bringing in a new soul.
Will she honestly suggest she waits at least 2 weeks before having any contact with her grandchild so that her daughter/ daughter-in-law can recover…or will she feel like reaching out to help, and to enjoy a snippet of the oxytocin and delight of the family line expanding?
What do you think will be the honest truth for you? How could you communicate your needs to your family and in-laws in a way that cultivates the nourishing touch, support and spaciousness that you are seeking during this window of your life?
WE ARE THE CHANGE
Here we are Mama at the centre of so many people’s hearts, hopes and expectations. Pulsing with genetic potential for the next generation who will shape our world physically, philosophically and spiritually.
With so much power to weave goodness, beauty and truth into the fabric of not only our immediate family, but also the structure of our society and world, may we gently rise to the task.
Let us harness and channel this sacred window to shape both our own health and vitality, and that of our community.
May we find ourselves striving to gracefully honour the generational continuum with full and kindly respect for all who have trod the path before us, and reap the rewards of this both now and in our future for healthy bodies, minds and souls.
Writing compliments of
Mother, Doula, Homeopath
Oum Ibrahim birthed joyfully into motherhood in 1999 and has been serving women as a doula ever since. A mom of many, homeopath and soft tissue therapist, she is drawn to the rhythm and respect that Ayurveda offers for all seasons of life.
Oum has a particular fascination with the formation of community and relationships and you can read some of her ponderings here on the Sacred Window Blog.