There is something I hear far too often. A quiet, frustrated cacophony of the mothers and fathers I see going about their days with their children.
Holding too much stuff and too many hands. Spending too much time just getting from Point A to Point B. Eager for conversation at the playground with other parents, wanting to share their stories of life in the trenches with kids.
We were not meant to do this alone. There is truth in saying it takes a village to raise a child.
Our kids need the village. We need the village.
We’ve taken a very drastic wrong turn and family life has suffered immensely. It’s no simple feat, but to be successful in these trenches I’ve come to believe we must try to create the village we both so need and desire.
So, my first piece of advice is to:
Put Yourself Out There
This was and continues to be a tough one for me. I am an introvert by nature. I am happy to go to various activities and events that are family focused but to really connect with someone does not come easily. But I’ve had to just keep going and keep trying.
For our family, we made the (life changing) decision to move cities. A fairly big part of this decision stemmed from wanting to find ‘our people’. Our people didn’t really live around us in our previous town. My daughter was already nearly 5 when we left and I had yet to really connect with a single other parent who lived in my immediate vicinity.
So, we moved. We chose a city that we knew fit our lifestyle and our values and beyond that we were careful about the neighbourhood we picked. We really didn’t want to always HAVE to go places but at the same time wanted close access those places when we did want to venture out. We really wanted a neighbourhood, a true neighbourhood of people and kids and COMMUNITY.
And we were lucky. We found it.
Our neighbourhood hosts a weekly family dinner. It’s put on by our (very active) neighbourhood association. They ask for a $2 donation per person, if you can afford it. The food is cooked fresh and everyone is welcome. It’s hosted in the community hall and it’s a bustling, crazy room full of families: parents eating and talking, and kids too busy playing to eat very much. It’s kind of awesome.
Our community association hosts multiple events a year, the biggest of which is a two day festival in our neighbourhood square. This amazing blend of music and artisans and family events. Everything is free, the entire neighbourhood is encouraged to come out and participate and everyone does.
Maybe you could start a dinner in your neighbourhood? You could start small. Invite a few people on your street. Make it a potluck. Make it something regular. Let it grow over time. See what happens….
We also made the choice to share a home with my sister and her husband. This type of living situation would not work for everyone but for us, it’s been one of the best choices we’ve ever made. We aren’t just family but friends too. We each have our own separate living spaces in the house but we also have each other closer than ever. We share many meals together; we spend time together as a family nearly every day. And we will be here for each other whenever someone needs something.
If you have the opportunity and inclination to move closer to family in this way then I urge you to give it serious consideration. Yes, careers and personal life choices are always important but having people in your corner who love you and respect you and will always help you when you ask is something that makes me feel fulfilled deep down in the soulful sense of the word.
Sometimes creating your village in your neighbourhood is impossible and if this is the case then you could try to find your tribe in other ways.
When my daughter was about 8 months old I desperately needed to talk to other parents. I needed to hear stories about what they were doing about their babies not sleeping, ever. I needed to know if they were transitioning them from the family bed to their own rooms. Really I needed to hear that what I was doing was not damaging my child. So I did what you do in this day and age and I went online. I read blogs and eventually looked on Facebook until I found the group I was looking for. At that point I had not met another attachment/gentle parent in the wilds of real life but low and behold, I found thousands of them online!
For those of you who may be looking for such a tribe, you could try what has been my ‘parenting safe place’ for many years now. I now help admin this group and I can vouch for its tact and careful screening process so that the community and the conversation is respectful and full of good advice. No group of 5000+ people is every going to be perfect every day but this is one of the good ones.
I’m not a religious person but I often find myself thinking that religion has its perks. Namely, that your church often becomes your community. People you spend time with, can depend on and share your joys and sorrows with. People you can call when you are in need and they will help. I am willing to be this type of person for other parents. I just don’t want to have to go to church to do it.
So instead I’m trying to create my micro-village, perhaps I should call it The Church of Parenthood.
When I meet parents in my city and in my neighbourhood I try to really talk to them. To get past the questions of how old our kids are and where we work and find out more about them. And I push myself (and believe me when I say that for me I have to push myself) to set up seeing them again. I invite them for dinner. This is all very much still a work in progress but I know it is important work. I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to. My kids don’t want that.
Imagine a re-defined commune of sorts. Neighbourhoods where families have their own homes but they share outdoor space. Where you don’t spend life shut in your own house or yard. Where you help each other prepare meals and someone always has their eye on the kids but no one needs to hover, because the older ones and the younger ones spend time together. Where you never, ever have to organize another playdate again.
Did I mention that I detest the culture of the playdate? Scheduling short periods of time our kids can play together often feels forced. While I do plan them (since that’s the way most families work these days) I much rather let play and time together organically emerge from just being around our other people in our neighbourhood. And don’t get me started on the seemingly new trend of high rates of people cancelling out on planned activities at the last minute.
These neighbourhoods do exist here and there, you’ll find pockets of community in apartment buildings and on city streets but I hope one day they become more of a norm, that city planners and developers take hold of the idea of micro-villages and design urban spaces with it in mind.
For the health of families, I want this to be the future. For the present, I will keep working on creating my own.