As the African proverb says, “it takes a village to raise a child”: so why are we leaving so many young mums to do it on their own?
Words by CIARA SHINE
In many countries and cultures, children are raised not only by the nuclear unit of parents and children, but by their extended family as a whole. In countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia, this means sharing the burden of childcare but more importantly bringing a community together to share wisdom and experience (Amos, 2013). Though this is rare in today’s Western culture, many women still rely on their partners, parents, grandparents and trusted friends to help rear a child – however, for a young single mother, this is not always an option.
Though child-bearing is usually celebrated, for young (or even young-looking) women their news is often met with judgement and scrutiny. Aged 18 when she found out she was 17 weeks pregnant, Pip told her own mother and was immediately given just a week to move out: with a baby on the way and nowhere to live Pip was forced to move into rented accommodation, eating quickly into her savings. “At the time I had been with [the father] for about two and a half years. He didn’t really react when I told him I was pregnant but said he would support me, move in and help me out with bills – he never did.” Now 21, Pip and her daughter live in social housing without any support from a partner or family. As most of her friends are away at university, Pip spends her time taking care of her daughter and can go for days without adult conversation.
So what about meeting other mums? Most local councils have children’s centres in place, running classes for parents, families and helping build the community, but these centres cater to so many it is difficult to single out one group over another. In recent years more and more new parents are using social media to connect, starting groups who meet regularly. Parenting is often the easiest topic to discuss as the most immediate link between parents meeting is their young child; this frequently leads to a competitiveness between parents. “I went to a few [groups] when my daughter was much younger, there was even one where we would meet up every Wednesday and go for coffee or to soft play areas, but they only ever lasted a few months before the mums became quite uptight. Someone always wanted to be the ‘perfect mum’ – never wanting to admit that they were tired, or that they missed adult interaction.” With social media playing such a large part in our interactions, people with and without children feel the pressure of constant analysis and critique (Boyd, 2014): in an environment based solely around their children, it is not surprising that many parents find themselves defending their parenting – even if they are not under attack. The result is that, by trying to appear ‘perfect’, many young parents are pushing others away and isolating themselves (and their children) even further (Small, 1998).
Similar to this feeling of competition from other mothers, many young women with children are often faced with an ‘I-know-best’ attitude from complete strangers: every outing from the home becomes an opportunity for outsiders to pitch in without invitation (Grant, Mannay and Marzella, 2017). “There was a time when my daughter was only a few months old: I was trying to do the weekly shop on my own and she was screaming her lungs out as babies do. Eleven separate women stopped me to ask if my daughter was alright – was she hungry? Was she tired? – I couldn’t even do a food shop without being accused of starving my own child.” When we see a young woman alone with a crying toddler, why is our first response to treat her as a damsel in distress rather than a strong woman doing her best? In 2016, 17.9% of births in the UK were to women under the age of 25 (ONS, 2017). Though far from a majority, this is still a significant proportion of women who are being made to feel isolated from our society. Even Ireland, one of the less progressive countries in the Western world, recently voted to legalise abortion, giving thousands of women the freedom to choose their future – so why are we still so judgemental when she chooses to keep her baby?
In the light of #MeToo and the rise of third-wave feminism, we should be doing everything we can to lift each other up, regardless of our personal choices. The design industry is 53.5% female (Design Census, 2017); let’s use this wealth of experience to provide women like Pip with the platform to connect with each other and with the rest of the world. The design opportunities do not lie solely with the child and the products it may need to grow, but in finding ways to enhance the child-parent relationship and bringing them a new community when their extended family is absent. It is our responsibility as creatives to desegregate young mums and the rest of society; if it takes a village to raise a child, let’s get building.
Amos, P. M. (2013). Parenting and Culture – Evidence from Some African Communities. Available at https://www.intechopen.com/books/parenting-in-south-american-and-african-contexts/parenting-and-culture-evidence-from-some-african-communities [Accessed 1 Nov. 2018]
Boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, Yale University Press
Design Census (2017) Design Census 2017. Available at https://designcensus.org/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018]
Grant, A., Mannay, D. and Marzella, R. (2017). Families, Relationships and Societies. Cardiff, Policy Press
Office of National Statistics. (2017). Births by Parents Characteristics. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/bulletins/birthsbyparentscharacteristicsinenglandandwales/2016 [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018]
‘Pip’. (2018). Interview with Pip, a young single mother, for Creative Review, 28 October
Shine, C. (2018). Header. [image] Small, M. F. (1998). Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. New York, NY: Anchor Books