When You Don't Have A 'Village,' You Become The Village Yourself

by Cassandra Penney
Originally Published: 
People standing and applauding on a street
Thomas Barwick/Getty

It’s 4:21 am and my two-year-old wakes up crying beside me, for the eighth time tonight. My five-year-old is on the other side of the bed, in place of my husband, who has taken shelter in hers to maybe capture a few hours of sleep. I finally give in and take her to the couch, turn on The Incredibles 2 (the movie we watch on repeat literally every day), give her a few snacks and seek respite back in bed.

Shortly, she comes back in need of more food, and demanding my presence on the couch with her. Of course, her sister gets up now too, and here we go again — exhausted and up at 5 a.m. By 6:30 a.m., I’m contemplating a third coffee, and the only reason I don’t do it is because I think maybe she will nap today, and I can try laying down too. What a magical thought!

They say it takes a village to raise a child, so what happens when that village does not exist in your world? You become that village. You physically and mentally are the two people in your child’s life that they depend on for food, love, shelter, playtime, sleep and literally every other part of life. Our family has moved a lot for our businesses and love of skiing, so we have not been able to form long-lasting friendships and have not met sitters we know and can trust with our kids. Overwhelmed yet?

When you are the village, you do not get a “break.” You definitely do not get a day or night off. Date night does not exist, and we don’t have friends to come over and break the cycle. Exhaustion eats you alive and your biggest dream is to have a full night of uninterrupted sleep. You fantasize about it, then realize it is a fantasy, and drop the delusion and accept that you will be getting up at some point through the night, and you’re actually dreading it so much that you lie awake in bed, overtired, just waiting to hear her cry.

We live a life that strays from the “norms” placed on society. We just got married last year after being together for seven and having two children in that time frame. We do not own a home, we do not have careers with RRSP’s and pensions, and we do not have grandma a phone call away to help us when we are falling apart. We have moved 11 times, through nine cities in Canada in a short eight years, and for five and a half of those years we have had children in tow.

It is human nature to focus on what you don’t have, and the constant focus takes over in our heads on how to obtain those “things” that will somehow make you normal and fit into society, therefore making everything okay. What we have to stop doing is just that. You lose presence, you focus on past choices and future consequences of where you are, without taking action because the dwelling is so intense. Don’t get me wrong, reflection is crucial to growth — but unless reflection is accompanied by action, nothing happens but thought and loss of the present moment.

It’s time to shift our mindset. If we threw our problems into a pot, chances are we would pick our same problems back out in a second when you see the problems others face. For real. When you start focusing on what you do have, and what is good in your life, the internal storm settles and you actually feel good about the choices you are making — because guess what, this is you, and that is OK. If you do not like the choices you are making, it’s time to self-evaluate and make the changes you want to see happen. No one else will do that for you. Not your child, husband, mother, sister, friend, brother — no one but you.


This concept has taken us to a very critical realization. We have started focusing on where we are and where we can now go. We are not “stuck” unless we choose to be. We can respect ourselves and the strength we have exhibited by raising our babies almost entirely on our own, whilst experiencing some of the most beautiful places in Canada, and creating/operating/managing businesses. The relationship my husband and I have is passionate on all fronts — parents, lovers, partners in business and creation. The village we carry is each other, and our babies. And that is beautiful.

When you are the village, you have one choice. You can feel sorry for yourself because you are overwhelmed, or you can choose to see the greatness and strength in what you are doing. Some days, it is so hard to see it this way. I have faltered before, too many times to count. So impatient because you’re lacking sleep. You feel like you have lost yourself because you’re so busy doing things for everyone else, propelling them forward while you cook, clean and care. You question your purpose and don’t know how to get your break, and even the thought of this overwhelms you.

Motherhood and parenthood change your life 360. Instead of focusing on how it was before and your “freedom,” focus on what you can do in your situation now to help yourself feel better. Focus on the little wins. Focus on how great your little humans are doing, and know that all of your efforts are paying off. This is not a permanent stage, so although some days it feels impossible, you have to somehow embrace it and own it.

It is time to make the choice to embrace the life we have and recognize how much worse it could be. Stop letting the norms of society define your life success. Everyone has different cards, and it’s what you do with those cards that can determine your outcome. If you have a great hand at crazy eights but keep trying to play poker, you will not succeed. Find how you can make your cards work for the win. Play that game. Make the changes you require to feel better. Change your mindset, change your actions, change your life.

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