Children of the Tribe by Teresa Palmer
One of the last times I saw my Nanna alive she said to me, “the greatest time in my life was raising my children”. My Nanna Dora had 8 children: Peter, Janet, Martin, Margaret, Christine, Andrew, Paula (my mum) and Cathy. Her littlest baby Elisabeth died at birth and would’ve been her 9th child. I grew up hearing stories of Nanna meeting up with her friends and their kids everyday, and spending time in the park together. Back in those days the mentality was: together we are stronger. Raising children in a tribe of other mothers was the norm. I remember watching my Nanna's eyes twinkle at those memories; she was so fond of all of her friends and was a beautiful social butterfly. I think raising her babies in her community of loved ones was her passion and what she excelled at the most
When I was little, all I wanted was to be a mother to lots of children, just like my Nanna. Her stories invigorated me, fueled my imagination, and inspired my play. I’d spend hours on my own in the playroom pushing around my stretch pram that mum had bought me from The Salvos. I had 7 dollies, all little girls and one boy - my Popeye doll that I called “Lachey”. I’d take my babies with me everywhere, and it soon became the running joke that whenever my mum would visit a friend, “Teresa and all her babies” would be joining. I wistfully longed for the day that my arms would be filled with real babies. Little did I know how drastically different life would be raising children then and now. Family life has evolved significantly.
My Nanna raised her children in the 40's, 50's and 60's when families were larger and women were more often than not the primary caretaker of the household and the children, pushing aside any desires for a career outside of the home. Days were spent outdoors, many big families looking after each other’s kids and hanging out together among nature until sunset. Nowadays, things have progressed in many amazing ways, especially in terms of how empowered women now feel to choose their own path, whether it be as a professional woman, a stay at home Mum, or a balance of the two. Families on average are smaller, women are having babies later in life and with the advances in technology, and overall family life feels very different.
In this modern world, it’s not uncommon to become individualistic. We spend time corralled in our own places with our families, living more insulated lives because our connections to the outside world can be achieved through handheld devices. Members of our local community could be the pillar of support that we need, however the way our societies are structured these days, our neighbors are more often than not, strangers to us. We don’t have to leave the house to network anymore, so we simply don’t push ourselves to make those face-to-face connections and we miss out on getting to know that family down the street.
I also believe there is an unrealistic expectation that women should be able to handle it all, without the support of their tribes. This “supermum” mentality is detrimental to the old ways of being in community. We put pressure on ourselves to be able to ride all the peaks and valleys on our own. I know some Mums who feel ashamed to ask for help. In the old days you wouldn’t even need to ask for help because the village was always united. You couldn’t tell where one family ended and the other began.
When I reminisce about listening to these beautiful stories that Nanna so dearly loved sharing, I think about her journey and how I really long to bring some of her experiences into my life. I’ve been making a conscious effort to include community, spending days with all my friends and their babies running around until sundown, playing outdoors, free to explore and wander. I adore spending time with just my immediate family, it’s so special to really connect with each other, but to watch my boys making memories with my friends children fills my heart with the pure joy. I sit back with my besties, chatting about life and all it’s many colours, as we watch the bond between our children blossom. We smile, the knowing smiles of mothers watching their children create their very own village; our babes blissfully unaware of just how meaningful these interactions are and just how important it is for our future to keep these tribes alive.