A few decades ago, Beth Berry lived in Austin, Texas with her four children. The pace of life in that big city eventually caught up with them and they decided to move south to Mexico to find something different.
"We were [...] blown away that it was even possible to slow down to that pace," she explains. "It really is different. People don't have the same expectation of constant striving for productivity and sense of accomplishment. [...] When everybody else is moving fast, you assume it's normal."
Beth started writing, cooking, walking and observing the family-centric life around her. "I was learning to not have an agenda and let curiosity lead me," she says. "The culture shifted my perspective on what I needed to do to be okay, to be worthy, to be successful by some measure."
Since then, she has moved back to the United States and begun working with mothers who share similar concerns about the unceasing pace of American life, and the burdens and impossible ideals it lays on women.
In previous generations, parenting was a simpler matter where discipline meant spanking a kid and sending him outside. Today, the expectations for parents are so much greater: they must be creative in their parenting, providing healthy food for their kids, maybe even affording a private education and both parents are likely working. What's more, parents today must do it all on their own, with no community support system. The "village" is completely absent, and the traditionally standard model of intergenerational families living together and sharing childcare burdens is no longer the norm for many Americans.
"Kids need a sense that they're held within a community, not just a household," Beth explains. "Their sense of safety and security in the world largely comes from knowing that there's a greater container that holds them and loves them and supports them as they grow."
Parents, too, would benefit so much from a wider community of support and mentorship that would enable them to take breaks from being in the trenches of childcare and gain a healthier sense of balance. Yet, today's parents often pushback against the advice and guidance of the previous generation because they don't agree with that style of parenting.
The car-based nature of modern communities is also draining parents of their energy and time by requiring them to cart their kids around to numerous sports practices, music lessons, dance classes, etc. all over their cities — not to mention trips to the grocery store and doctor's office. Now the children that used to play in the neighborhood together are at soccer practice halfway across town, or summer camp in the suburbs.
Rituals, traditions and myths that center on the female transition from girl to mother to older woman have also been lost in the last century. Rites of passage around menstruation for instance have completely disappeared and those transitions have become completely private (even from fathers). Furthermore, today we expect mothers to look as thin and wrinkle-free as they did when they were 20, instead of embracing the new phase of motherhood in body and life. "There's [no longer] a recognition of the power we come into when we become a mother and the wisdom that motherhood helps us to acquire," Beth says. "Instead, I would say most mothers feel less empowered than they did before they started having children, because we don't hold motherhood in reverence in this culture." (And that's just as true of grandmothers, too.)
So what's a 21st century parent to do? Beth suggests that parents start by letting go of the need to control every aspect of a kid's life — where they play, what they eat, what they watch, what activities they participate in. Parenting from a place of fear will only create stress and anxiety. Beth also wants parents to give the older generations a little more credit, and certainly take grandparents up on an offer to care for the kids, even if it means they end up eating some junk food or watching some television. Creating a new, more celebratory narrative around women's transitions would also make a difference (although that's a broader cultural shift).
Additionally, Beth believes that a decrease in car reliance would go a long way toward making the lives of parents easier. That's the responsibility of the people who design our cities. "Have the grocery stores and the coffee shops and the playgrounds and the green areas be within walking distance to neighborhoods, so that we're not having to get in our car and drive 20 minutes across town to meet these basic needs," she says. The intangible sense of community that grows from seeing your neighbors as you walk somewhere would also have a deeply positive impact on families.
Costco and Walmart might feel like they make life easier for parents, but in Beth's experience, those stores only make life more efficient. "The opposite experience is what I found when we lived in Chiapas [Mexico] where they were all mom-and-pop shops and you walked through all of them," Beth shares. "That was meeting needs that were much more important than efficiency when you're talking about people thriving. [...] There's a human interaction throughout the whole thing. There's a quality of experience that's happening instead of just the quantity."
If we want to get mothers' perspectives on local issues and community design, we need to make it easier for them to share their input, and not judge them when they show up at a meeting with their kids in tow. "There's got to be safe places for mothers to be mothers," says Beth.
Beth Berry runs the website, Revolution from Home, and is a life coach, writer, and mother of four. Listen to this engaging conversation with Beth, hosted by Chuck Marohn on the Strong Towns podcast for more insights and thought-provoking dialogue.
Mentioned in this podcast:
- In the absence of ‘the village,’ mothers struggle most (on Motherly)
- Revolution from Home (Beth's website)
(All photos from Beth Berry's website, Revolution From Home)