Rebuilding parenting from the ground up

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

When I had my first child five years ago I found parenthood a fairly lonely and isolating experience.

And that’s coming from someone who had a fabulous Mother’s group that met regularly.

Perhaps it was because I went from being surrounded by people every day at work, to just one gurgling non-verbal baby being my constant companion.

I’m told that humans are wired for connection, and I would argue that we need different ‘types’ of connection. That is, we need more than just our love bubble with our baby. We need connection and sometimes we need help. To buy the groceries, to get the kids to sport, to have one hour of sleep.

The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” describes something we all know, but on our path to becoming more evolved, our villages have disappeared. We have moved past our more communal roots of village life and interdependence to a more individualistic society. Blame the industrial revolution. Or Instagram. Either way, the idea of having a collective of people helping with your kids is a bit like imagining you’re Kim Kardashian with your own tribe of minions to command at will.

But having lots of helping hands doesn’t have to be only for the rich and famous. It doesn’t have to be a fantasy.

Alice Duff has seen firsthand what a ‘village’ really looks like.

As a child she grew up in war-ravaged Liberia. When she emigrated to the United States with her mother, they had to leave her father behind. Alone and without family her mum reached out to a small group of Liberian women and together they built their own collective.

“What they did, is what they did back home in Liberia. They essentially formed a village around each other. I had a group of about five women… each woman would take turns. When it was my mum’s turn she would be the one to go to school and then work, and I would always have a play Aunt or Uncle to look after me,” Alice says.

Even when Alice was in college her play Aunts and Uncles would be there if she needed a place to stay, or had no money left for food.

Listen to Alice on Kinderling Conversation:

Then Alice met an Australian man, and moved to the other side of the world.

Landing in Maroubra, NSW with no network of family or friends of her own, Alice tried all kinds of ways to make new friends.

“If there was a way to make friends I did it. I’m talking I went to ‘meet-ups’, I went to this thing called friendship speed dating. I went out on all of these multiple, multiple dates. At the end of it I had five or ten girlfriends.” 

But when the time came, at seven months pregnant, and she needed help - no one was there. She put a call out on Facebook for some help moving house when removalists cancelled at the last minute.

“It was depressing and eye-opening because I got a lot of likes, I got a lot of sad faces but not a single person offered to help,” Alice explains. “Back to the village that my mum had, there were times she moved and she never paid for a mover. Because literally a village of people came, it’s like we’ll get it together and you always paid them in beer.”  

After that experience, Alice decided to pave the way for families to build their own communities.

Born by One is a website that aims to connect families online, though the key point is to get people to meet up off line. Part of the name comes from the African proverb “If you want to go fast do it alone. If you want to go far, do it together.”

Alice with her son and Shevonne.

The website is set up so you can fill in your profile. They will match you with another family based on geographic proximity and the age of your kids.

“Once you develop that friendship, it can take months, or it can take weeks. But the goal is for you form a co-op. You have a group of families who are working together to help make life easier for themselves and for their kids so you’re sharing the parental burden,” Alice continues.

Alice says that the most common example is a babysitting co-op. If shared within five families, you look after a bunch of kids once a month, and all the other parents get a night off. With that many children parents might pitch in $10 for pizza. But it’s a very communal, inexpensive way to get time alone with your partner.

Alice has big dreams for just how supportive each connection can be. She imagines that it can spread out to car-pooling, looking after kids instead of using after-school care and even shared lunch making duties.

For Alice it’s a no-brainer. 

“That’s the whole goal, to do the shared economy. Why not do the exact same thing as parenting with a group of people you trust.”