Asked how many hours of adult interaction they got per week – not including their spouses – one in four stay-at-home moms said ZERO. The isolation of modern motherhood is driving more and more of us to figure out how to recreate the tribe
The vast majority of stay-at-home moms surveyed in Facebook moms’ groups say they get little-to-no interaction with adults other than their spouses and grocery store clerks on a weekly basis.
Of the 52 moms who responded, nearly 90 percent said they had no local family or friends (other than paid babysitters) – to help them raise their children.
Nearly half (46 percent) said they spent an hour a week or less in the presence of other adults, and more than 80 percent said they spent less than five.
The average amount of time spent interacting with other adults (including grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, mailmen, waving neighbors, and strangers at parks) was just under 3 hours per week.
Only 7 respondents said they had a sense of “tribe” or “village” – and most of those said their “tribe” consisted of one or two extended family members or friends.
Many of the moms used words like “sad, depressed, lonely, overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, bored, stir-crazy and out-of-touch” to describe how they felt about their lack of a tribe and adult interaction. Other answers included:
“I hate it.”
“I’m always sad.”
“I feel sad. A lot.”
“I never leave my house.”
“My mental health is dwindling.”
“Severely depressed. Alone. Useless. Helpless.”
“My biggest insecurity is that I have no friends.”
“I want friends, my toddler needs friends.“
“Friendships are not a number one concern for me right now.”
“Adult interaction without kids? None. Wait, actually 1 hour a week if you count my therapist … with kids? 2 or 3.”
“None unless you count occasional text messages.”
“Does Facebook count? … Then no. None.”
“I get one hour a week with my mom, as she comes on her lunch break to eat dinner with us. But that’s also spent preparing my kids plates and answering to a dozen demands by them, so it’s hardly enjoyable.”
“Zero… seriously zero.. for weeks or months at a time… I feel like I am drowning… like I cant stay afloat… like my cup is so empty that I feel it will never fill up…”
These responses came from women in “attachment parenting” and “crunchy/hippie mom” type of groups. If there are any type of moms that would be more likely to have a tribe, it would be these moms. But many said their “peaceful” or “natural” parenting styles alienate them from their neighbors.
The results also may have been skewed by a few polyamorous friends of mine, who are more likely to have multiple adults living in the same house.
Someone took an informal survey in another private moms’ group a few weeks ago and got even more depressing results:
Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture?
This is insanity. Modern American mothers are having to choose between taking part in raising the children they created in their wombs and having relationships with other adult humans. This is not a fair choice.
Humans obviously did not evolve to live this way – in nuclear isolation. It’s tragic for children, who often have few playmates other than siblings. It’s tragic for fathers, who often work all day with adults they probably don’t like. And it’s perhaps most tragic for mothers, who often end up carrying the bulk of the burden of trying to compensate for our hectic modern lifestyle, as is pointed out in this excellent blog post – “In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle Most.”
Since we are no longer born into tribes, “we are forced to create them during the seasons of our lives when we have the least time and energy to do so,” blogger Beth Berry says.
“Our children’s natural way of being is compromised, as most neighborhoods and communities no longer contain packs of roaming children with whom to explore, create, and nurture their curiosity,” Berry Continues. “We run around like crazy trying to make up for the interaction, stimulation and learning opportunities that were once within walking distance.”
As far off as it may seem, there is another way. For millions of years, our ancestors lived in egalitarian, hunter-gatherer tribes (of a few hundred people), which were often broken down into tighter-knit bands of a few dozen people. They shared everything they had, worked very few hours, and had plenty of leisure and social time. The children entertained one another and rarely needed adult intervention. The men hunted together and considered it fun more than work. The women gathered berries and nuts and roots at a leisurely pace while gossiping about the men.
Until the advent of agriculture – about 10,000 years ago – it was unfathomable for children to be raised by only one or two adults. Every adult member of the tribe – not just aunts, uncles and grandmothers – acted as mothers and fathers to every child.
If you don’t believe me, check out one of the following books or articles:
Sex at Dawn
The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost
Agriculture: “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”
The Wisdom of Hunter Gatherers
Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter Gatherers
Raising a Baby Hunter-Gatherer Style
Parent Like a Caveman
I understand we won’t be going back to a tribal hunter-gatherer lifestyle anytime before the world ends, but there are plenty of steps we can take to form our own modern tribes, which we’ll talk about further in future Return To Now posts, but here are a few quick ideas:
1. Do your best to not have kids before you’ve found a tribe – at least a handful of adults with similar values that you trust to help raise your kids. A tight-knit tribe you can co-parent with would be awesome, but if that’s not your style, at least a few close friends you can do childcare trades with.
2. Live communally. This isn’t an absolute requirement, but I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to have other mothers, fathers and children in the same household, on the same property, or at least within walking distance. If you have to pack up your things and drive to visit friends, it’s probably not going to happen that often or for many hours a day. Most stay-at-home parents have household work to do that’s not going to happen if they spend all day at play dates at the park or across town.
3. Consider polyamory. This one is totally optional and definitely not necessary, BUT… for me it’s helped. We now have four adults and four children living in the same house, and several other poly friends who visit regularly. We’re not all having sex with each other, but we all love each other and are not freaked out by the possibility that any combination of us could end up having sex. This really helps with suggestions 1 and 2, as I would imagine strictly monogamous couples might struggle to live in such close proximity with other couples/single adults.
Good luck! More ideas coming soon!