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THAT Mom: Creating My Tribe

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 26 Comments

As discussion continues on the original post in this series, I’ll admit I am more than a little intimidated to share my strategy with you. Ya’ll are smart mommies . . . you don’t need my silly plan! But I do. Writing it down and sharing the results makes me more accountable to stick with it. Even if I fail completely you can still read the comments . . . that’s where the good stuff is anyway (not that I agree with every perspective shared.)

Step 1: Create My Tribe

I keep reminding myself that though I believe in many of the attachment parenting ideals, we do not live in a tribal society. I don’t have numerous people living a stone’s throw away to help me with daily tasks. It’s just me and my husband. Our families live far away and we can only ask so much of our friends. We have to adjust to our situation the best we can.

~ Comment from Pippi on THAT Mom

So where were we? It’s hard to remember since I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. Hmm . . .sleep. Something about that subject seems vaguely familiar. Were we talking about sleep? Ah yes, I remember now! This series is devoted to avoiding THAT Mom. (If you don’t know who THAT Mom is, start here. However, if you don’t already know you probably don’t need to read this post!)

As Pippi duly noted, we don’t live in a tribal culture. Few moms have an extra pair of hands to hold baby and help with dinner while momma catches up on much needed sleep. Sadly, most of us moms have come to believe that help isn’t there because it isn’t necessary. We believe we should be able to do this all by ourselves.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. WRONG!

Nuclear Meltdown

The saying, “It takes a village,” wasn’t created in a focus group. It comes from experience. The nuclear family arrangement works in many ways when it comes to housework, but the fact remains that my toaster cannot supervise Katie while I crash for a few hours with Micah.

With few exceptions, most of us don’t have a tribe. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need one . . . it means we need to create one. Krippendorf did. And so did I.

For Daniel and I, creating our tribe meant intentionally living within five minutes of extended family. You are probably trying not to hate me right now. I get that.

What am I talking about?

You may be thinking, “Wait a sec, I thought this was supposed to be your plan to get sleep without letting Micah cry it out. Why are we talking about tribes?

Good question. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few weeks, it’s that there’s a learning curve associated with this experiment. I tried the 90 minute sleep cycle for a few days. At first it worked beautifully. Then, disaster. Overtired baby. Overtired mommy. Maybe I should have actually READ the book before trying to implement it!

No matter how knowledgeable I become, there will always be an “experimental” factor with each new child I welcome. There are going to be failed attempts, missed naps, and meltdowns. I need some margin for error. If I try something new and it BOMBS, my tribe sometimes (but not always) helps out by watching Katie while I grab an extra nap. It helps me get back on track. The setup is not perfect and we make compromises where necessary, but it helps.

If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re working on your own sleep experiment. Maybe you don’t have family nearby and you’re thinking this step is totally impractical. Maybe so. I debated writing about it for that reason, but since it’s part of my strategy it felt like the honest thing to do.

Wondering if there’s a way to make this work for you? In my next post I’ll share some ideas that may help. In the meantime I’d love to hear from you!

What Do YOU Do?

Question #1: What are some of the creative ways you’ve pulled people into your tribe for additional support? I know some of you have gone it completely alone, but others have leaned on relatives, friends, neighbors, or others.

Question #2: When family lives far away, can you lean on friends, or do you worry too much that they’ll think you cannot handle mommyhood?

Check Out Other Posts in This Series:


THAT Mom: How I Got Here

THAT Mom: Creating My Tribe

Ideas for Creating Your Tribe

THAT Mom: Understanding Sleep

THAT Mom: 90 Minute Sleep Miracle

5 Reasons to Sleep With Your Baby

The Safe Co-Sleeping Checklist

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26 Responses to THAT Mom: Creating My Tribe

  1. Angelica Biernat via Facebook says:

    I am so thankful for your posts lately! I recently found your blog, but it was just in time! I have been THAT mom since my third baby’s birth a little over 5 months ago. We are just starting to come out of it, but I am loving your new series. Thank you!

  2. Mae says:

    Ok…I was hoping NOT to be the first to comment, but I guess I am.
    As someone with no family within 6 hours in any direction, and someone who has very few friends in her circle of people that she trusts, I must say- MY lack of not having a tribe has nothing to do with an unwillingness to have anyone think I “cannot handle mommyhood.”

    When we were having our sleep issues I was surrounded by lots of women who thought like I did, were in the same situation, and lived life similar to me. But that doesn’t mean they could lend an extra hand. If they’re just as sleep deprived as I am….how are they going to handle watching EXTRA kids? And the stigma is not all in the mom’s head. I’ve blatantly heard sleep deprived moms who are currently watching other worn out mom’s kids and say “Yay…I’m watching So-and-so’s kid right now soo…..” and roll their eyes. Needless to say I knew that I did NOT want to be So-and-so and that God forbid this woman be the only person I could get a hold of if I needed that kind of help! Just because there are people WILLING to lend their efforts to the village, doesn’t mean they’ll be happy about it, lol :]

    I think the best way for me to lean on my friends: is to gather evidence-just like you’re doing.
    I’ll admit, I live on the same block as your family, seconds away in fact, but that doesn’t mean I’m as readily available to play with Katie as they are [THOUGH I WOULD!! ;] What I have to offer you is my experience. So now that I’ve narrowed down my tribe of women to those I know I can trust with anything, when it comes to asking about something like sleep issues, it’s easy for them to give me answers and easy for me to accept them and pray about how to incorporate them into my life.

    • Heather says:

      Mae – I have thought and felt exactly what you described. It seems like a lifetime ago, but during the first year and a half of Katie’s life I was juggling a career in public relations while adjusting to motherhood. At that time Daniel’s family lived 4.5 hours away. My mom came over and helped out while I juggled conference calls and naptimes from my home office, but she also had her own job and her own home/life to tend to. It was a difficult time.

      Do I want to watch everyone’s kids while their moms nap? No, but there are times when scheduling a playdate for Katie helps everyone involved. I get free entertainment for Katie while another mom gets an hour or two to catch up on whatever she needs to. If a tribe is going to work it needs to benefit everyone. I just recently managed to shed my martyr complex with respect to my children . . . I don’t need to get that dynamic going with my friends!!!

      Have you seen “A Perfect Storm”? I’ll never forget the scene where the husband and wife are out in the ocean amidst HUGE waves. When the coastguard arrives to rescue them they find the husband in such a panic that he is trying to use his wife as a life raft. Under the water she goes again and again. If they don’t stop him she is going to drown.

      There was a point when I thought asking another mom for help was the same thing as being that guy. Would my panic pull someone else under? It can happen for sure, but that is not at all what I am proposing. That guy was in a reactive state of panic. I’m shooting for a proactive cooperative of shared support. It takes some work to orchestrate, but I’ve found the payoff to be worth it.

      As you’ll see in Friday’s post, I think what you’re doing is really smart. When I see a mom that’s got something going with her kids that I want, I always ask her to share her secret. Sometimes it’s consistent with my parenting philosophy . . . sometimes it isn’t. But it never hurts to ask :)

      • Mae says:

        What is it about the first year and a half!?!? 😀 And as soon as Lily gets past that-BOOM Baby #2 will be here and we’ll start AAAAALLL over, lol!!!
        This “I just recently managed to shed my martyr complex with respect to my children . . . I don’t need to get that dynamic going with my friends!!!” is beyond perfect. I want that. I want my friends to have that too. And I guess you’re right, I definitely think my fear of “reactive panic” outwieghs my ability to ask for some help every now and then ;]

        • Mae says:

          So I forgot to say two things yesterday:
          One, while yes, this tribal community IS very unrealistic for many families…if you can make if work for YOU, DO IT!!!! From what I’m reading I don’t want you to get the impression that we’re all saying, “Nope, can’t be done. Boo on you for trying” This is a documentation of YOUR trial and error period, not ours :]
          Two, every time we hear this song on the radio we do our best Mark Walburgh impression from The Perfect Storm when he sings it :]

  3. Mommypotamus via Facebook says:

    I am so glad to hear that, Angelica! This series has been so challenging to write but SO WORTH it just for the comments and ideas that moms are sharing. It’s comforting to know that we are not in this alone AND get some help troubleshooting, don’t you think?

  4. Angelica Biernat via Facebook says:

    Absolutely! I haven’t dealt with a newborn that doesn’t. ever. sleep. until this one, and the sleep deprivation really is something else. I didn’t realize that was why I was being so crazy until I read your post. For some reason, just knowing the cause of the craziness has helped me to control it a bit. :)

  5. Sarah says:

    My husband and I have been trying to move nearer our families for about ten years now, with no luck. Sounds far fetched, and it is. Part of the reason is his job. There are just no good jobs in his field anywhere near the family we would live near. And, we are addicted to his job–in the sense that it is paying two sets of law school loans, which we can’t just opt out of! (If I had a time machine, I’d go back in time and opt out of law school all together–but that’s another story.) Anyway, we currently live on opposite coasts from my family and several states away from his. (But, his family uses nannies and so is not likely to be the support factor we’d look for!)

    So, I have two outlets/systems of support. One is that I run a meetup group for other attachment parents and families. This helps me connect with other people who are going through the same thing. Most of whom have no family nearby. I also have a mother’s helper who comes once a week to give me a two hour break. That’s it. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes it’s not. Occassionally my husband takes over after work or on a weekend and I get caught up on sleep, or reading, or just being me. Oh, and we have TV, which I swore I’d never do, but sometimes I just need my babe to sit and watch a program while I get something done! (That’s actually how I get my exercise in… she watches one of our few approved shows and I exercise without also being a human jungle gym.)

    • Heather says:

      Sarah – Wow! Sounds like you have not only created a support system for yourself but for other moms, too.How did you get the meetup started?

  6. Crystal - Prenatal Coach says:

    As I start preparing for pregnancy and motherhood I realize that the thing I am most worried about (quite possibly the only thing I am worried about at this point) is the sleep deprivation. In all honesty, right now I get 9 hours of sleep every night. I just don’t function well on any less and I’ve set up my lifestyle and business to support the amount of sleep that feels best for my body. I’ve experimented with sleep and this is where I am at right now (my adrenals are likely still recovering from a long period of severe stress and adrenal exhaustion.) As I work diligently to optimize my health before I become pregnant, maybe my sleep needs will change but right now I can’t imagine having a dramatically lower amount of sleep, plus having it be interrupted. This is something that I am exploring now because my husband and I don’t have any family that live close (they are all at least a 6 hour flight away) and we would be the first of our friends to have a baby so they’re not likely available to help :)

    I’m looking forward to this series Heather as I still have a lot to learn about motherhood and sleep! I grew up in a family that let babies cry it out (they likened it to training a dog) and that just does not resonate with me so I’m on the search for a different way :)

    • Heather says:

      Crystal – Based on the care with which you are preparing for pregnancy I can make you a book recommendation with confidence. “The No Cry Sleep Solutions” presents a lot of valuable information on newborn sleep (and sleep in general) that will help you evaluate whether certain methods work with/against our biological rhythms.

  7. Sarah says:

    I for sure understand what you are talking about! 18 months ago I found myself with 3 children. My oldest had JUST turned 2 and I had 2 newborns. With zero family near by, a husband with a very demanding career ( that is why I decided to stay home) and not enough cash to pay for the help we needed it was a RUFF time. Sure I had friends who very cheerfully offered to help but when I asked they were ummmm lets just say, not knocking the door down. So in theory I think having a “village” of friends around to help out is great but not realistic. Like the second commenter said they have there own mess at home too. Advice from other moms really did help. The best advice I remember at the time was. You will get through it. sometimes its important to realize that there isn’t the perfect solution to make this time in life easier. Infants are HARDWORK! Be true to what you value and do the best you can. Sometimes a chat with a friend/ family over the phone about something non-child related is even better than a nap:)

  8. Leah says:

    We also live 4.5 hours away from one set of family and the full length of the East Coast from the other. Family help is not an option unless it is well planned and in advance. And, yes, the newborn sleep exhaustion was SO draining. Like Crystal, I am someone who requires a lot of sleep. That coupled with the fact that I am a night owl with morning bird children, I felt like I spent the fist year of their lives living for the next time I would get to close my eyes. The biggest thing that helped is remembering that THIS IS JUST A SEASON. As certain as I am that the long dark days of winter will end and those little crocuses will pop their heads up, the sleepless nights and tantrum filled days (when 36 months hit!) will end and a new season will begin. Sometimes, you just need to ride through it.
    As far as having a tribe, what I have found most helpful in a soul care way is to schedule child-free spaces with a friend every so often. Whether it is an early morning breakfast on Saturday or an after-the-kids-are-in-bed dessert at a local coffee shop or those times that DH is willing to go into work a couple of hours late, there are few things that rejuvenate me more.

    • Heather says:

      I loved this line “As certain as I am that the long dark days of winter will end and those little crocuses will pop their heads up, the sleepless nights and tantrum filled days (when 36 months hit!) will end and a new season will begin.” So true. As I go through my day with my almost three year old it’s hard to imagine she was ever as small and helpless as Micah. I remember wondering with her if the sleepless nights would ever end. Now that I am sure they do I have found it easier to embrace this season :)

  9. Kimberly says:

    My Mom moved in with us when I wat almost 6 months pregnant since I knew I would not be returning to my (evil) full-time job, and she was having double knee replacement in 2 weeks. I love my Mom so much, but this has been by far the biggest challenge of my life!
    There is quite a bit of a back story, but lets just say, my Dad died the day before my 21st birthday and I’m an only child. We were a VERY close and tightknit family unit, so his death was so hard on us. My Mom really hasn’t “gotten over it” and has almost reverted to childhood or something. She doesn’t take care of herself or her posessions and basically doesn’t care to really socialize or help out around the house.
    Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to helping me at night when Weston would be screaming due to illness, she is awesome. And there are times she will take him and let me sleep, but there is such a riff between her and my husband, and I feel like I’m put in the middle by both of them. The pressure and stress has really affected my marriage, and things are only getting worse. We can’t afford for her to move out, but I feel like my home life is CRAZY.
    I hopd I don’t come off as ungrateful, I love my Mom so much and it kills me to see her this way, but I also feel taken advantage of and constantly stressed.
    All this to say, ideally they tribe is a good idea, but I think everyone needs to be on board and expectations definitely need to be laid out. Or at least that is how my situation currently is (and no, I don’t have the guts to talk to my Mom, the last thing I want to do is hurt her anymore than she already has been).
    Sorry so long, just wanted to share my thoughts :).

    • Heather says:

      “All this to say, ideally they tribe is a good idea, but I think everyone needs to be on board and expectations definitely need to be laid out.”

      I totally agree, Kimberly. Living with extended family has its unique challenges and LOTS of opportunity for hurt feelings and resentment. We have experienced our fair share in this home but fortunately we are able to talk through it. (My mom was a social worker when she was my age. She loves to “fix” things, especially relationship tensions:))

  10. Pippi says:

    I think there’s a difference between friends and family. I’m very lucky to have friends living right upstairs with a son the same age as my older and parenting philosophies the mirror my own. It’s been wonderful. When I was in labor and my daughter needed another space they invited her up. They’ve invited us up for numerous playdates before and after the baby was born to give me a break. They’ve brought us down food. Before the baby was born we traded childcare once a week so we could have a free date night for each couple every other week. It’s fabulous having them so close.

    But they’re still not my mom. They have commitments to work and their family that my mom doesn’t have. They’re in the trenches of early parenthood, too, and cleaning my kitchen while I nap isn’t feasible because they’re trying to keep on top of their own dishes.

    What we need close by are older people who’s children are grown who have time to help us or people who haven’t had kids yet. If family isn’t close that can be hard to come by. That’s the beauty of a real tribe. It’s not just other mothers and other young families. It’s several generations of people who are close and interconnected. For those of us with family far away that’s very difficult to recreate.

    I’m not against reaching out and making connections. I think we need more of that in society and the more we reach out the better. In the meantime, however, at bedtime it’s just me, my husband (though not always) and the kids. We need to find solutions that work for that model and it is challenging!

    • Heather says:

      Pippi – First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on the birth of your new little girl! You make some excellent points in your comment. I agree we need to be more comfortable reaching out and making connections as a society. One of my hopes in writing this post is to challenge the attitude that parents should be able to do everything on their own. Before becoming a parent I certainly believed that. I thought being a SAHM was about lounging around and playing all day. HA! You know where I got that idea? From the way I heard professionals talk about SAHM’s. I know I am preaching to the choir here, but I just wanted to reiterate that this is a tough job and support REALLY helps. As moms we know that, but I personally tend to accept the message that my inability to “do it all” is a personal failing instead of an idealogical one all too easily. I’ve found that it’s just not helpful to hold myself or anyone else to that kind of standard.

  11. Pippi says:

    Ack!! Just noticed numerous missed words and grammatical mistakes. Clearly I also am THAT mom :) I also want to add that for me and for other people I know it’s not that we’re worried that people will think we can’t handle mommyhood, it’s that it’s become very difficult in our society to reach out and ask for help period. For me it’s the fear of imposing that keeps me from asking.

    • Heather says:

      Ha! I was just envying your ability to make such insightful comments with a newborn in the house! I didn’t notice any mistakes so I guess I am THAT Mom today, too. :) I, too, find it difficult to ask for help. One of my best friends has almost had to fight me to convince me that she really wants to help. Realizing that she was sincere was one of the best things that has happened to me since I became a mother. It’s rare to find that kind of friend, but I am trying to make a conscious choice to BE that kind of friend to a few moms.

  12. Joanna Moore says:

    I can’t answer #1 because I’m not very good at pulling people in!

    #2- We have some family here, but certainly not all, and the closest ones are a 25 min drive away. I’m really bad at asking people for help. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, I think they’re too busy to help me, when people come over I want the house to be clean and welcoming and if it were I probably wouldn’t need help in the first place, some of them have kids of their own that are enough to handle, etc. I usually don’t ask for help unless I’m absolutely desperate. I’ll be the first to admit I shouldn’t let it get to that point and I need to work on dialing they’re number and letting them be the one to decide whether or not they will come to the rescue, instead of assuming they can’t/won’t. I don’t even like trying to find a sitter for a night out with Riley, which is absolutely acceptable, so how much more difficult is it to try to find one just to get a break?

    I would almost always be willing to help a fellow mom who asked in her time of need, barring any prior commitments at the specified time, so it’s fair to say that it must be my own pride to think that no one else is as nice as me to do something like that.

    It’s so easy for me to just be the victim and blame it on the fact that my mother lives on the other side of the country and other family issues, but really it lies with me. Maybe I’m just afraid that if I try to pull someone else in to my tribe, they’ll feel used, or they’ll never ask me to return the favor, so I’ll feel bad.

    I look forward to hearing your and other readers’ answers!

    • Heather says:

      I have trouble asking for help, too. For me, it’s usually because by the time I realize I need help things are so chaotic my brain goes into panic mode and I don’t think of logical solutions (like asking for a hand). I’m much better at asking for help now that I plan some “cushion” times into my week. Basically, I assume that a certain number of things will go wrong and I have an hour built in here and there to deal with life’s messes.

  13. Ideas for Creating Your Tribe « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] thing I regret about my last post is that it seems like I am saying it is possible to fully recreate a tribal dynamic. I am NOT […]

  14. dianthe says:

    ahhh – the tribe!! i know it well! at least about trying to develop one – Kelley and i are fortunate that both Kelley and my parents live close – we almost never have problems finding a babysitter when we want to go out – but finding someone during the day or when i REALLY, REALLY, need a nap is our (or really my) challenge – when i went back to work after Sydney, we hired a nanny – partially because of my crazy work schedule and partially because i wanted my child to have the same type of dedicated attention that i gave her when i was home – we were blessed to find EXACTLY what i was looking for in a caregiver – she loves Sydney like her own and some days i feel like she’s a better mom than i am!

    after i got laid off, we considered letting her go but i realized that if i was going to grow my wedding planning business, we would still need her and decided to keep her part time – when i was pregnant, there were many days i used the time that Sydney was with the nanny to sleep and often times just run errands – i struggled with that from time to time because i felt like one of THOSE moms – the kind that has kids only to hand them over to someone else to raise – but eventually, i realized that even though i pay her she is still part of my tribe – now that Myles is here, she allows me to really enjoy Myles and concentrate on him during this short season while he is so young – she also allows Sydney to have that one-on-one attention that she is so used to and i feel like it’s truly helped us avoid some serious jealousy issues

    now that Myles is a little older, she keeps both kids on days that i have appointments and i try to get in a little errand running on those days as well – i wrote all this to say that your tribe doesn’t just have to be friends and family – it can be anyone that helps keep your home running smoothly and that as moms, we shouldn’t feel guilty for building the tribe that works best for us!

  15. THAT MOM: 90 Minute Sleep Miracle « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] a previous post I wrote about the disastrous results of attempting the 90 Minute Baby Sleep Program without, ahem, […]

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