Creating a Community of Friends and Family Can Help You Raise Your Children and More
My sister recently wrote a blog post about mothers who struggle in the absence of the “village.” And, although I consider myself luckier than most in the sense of the village because I live next door to my sister, her words resonated deeply with me. I’ve lived next door to my sister only for the last three years. Before that, I lived across the country, and before that, across the state. When my son was born in San Diego, I had various friends I could call on to pick him up in case of a late meeting or emergency. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I knew no one. I dropped my son off at daycare on that first day, using my sister in Colorado as the emergency contact. She would probably know someone, or at least know someone who knew someone in D.C., if there was an emergency.
Now that I live near my (other) sister, I rely on her considerably. I’ve also worked hard to develop relationships with other parents during my son’s preschool years; not just for the friendship and enjoyment, but because I know there will be times when I will need help, and calling on a classmate’s parent would be ideal. Last year, a friend told me the key to fostering preschool friendships was to first ask in which school district the family lived, because you want to build relationships that will last through elementary school!
It’s sad, but true–and efficient. Efficiency is critical to everything we do now. Because life is so crammed with responsibilities and activities, we must be efficient even in our friendships. I’m lucky to have a few people I can call on when I need help. But even with the support of my sister, a helpful neighbor, a niece, and a handful of friends, it can be difficult. I feel terrible asking for extra help because I know these women are just as busy as I am. Some are even busier, because many of them have more children than I do.
What Happened to the Village?
The community of friends and family that formerly served as our village may have disappeared because we were not willing to contribute to it. A true village goes beyond the needs of the individual; it also includes the needs of the community. We sometimes are hesitant to ask for help from our community members because we know that we will be asked to return the favor. I resist asking a friend to pick my son up from school because I know that it will be unlikely that I can offer her the same courtesy, because I work full time. I don’t want any friend or peer-parent to feel I am taking advantage of her flexible schedule, especially when I know my schedule is not. I wouldn’t ask a friend to help me with some significant weekend task– moving, for instance–because I know that my own weekends are so fraught with activities that when I get a free one, I cherish the opportunity to finally tackle some chores I haven’t had time to complete, like doing a load of laundry.
The concept of the village has disappeared because we feel we cannot contribute to it. So instead, we buy the services in the form of day care, babysitters, movers, housekeepers, meal services, grocery deliveries, Uber rides, and TaskRabbit errand runners. And as we are forced to buy these essential services that the village once provided, we must work harder, longer, and smarter to accommodate those rising costs. That often means we must be even more driven at work so that we can make the money we need to purchase these services. We are exchanging money for the freedom once offered by the village.
More Than Raising Children
But there’s more. The village is not only about raising children. It takes a village for us to thrive at work, too. It takes a great team to succeed, and amazing business partners to start and maintain a successful business. Sometimes those business partners are our spouses, siblings, or parents. It also takes great employees who are willing to take the time necessary to create a productive work environment: one villager taking time to review another’s proposal before it’s submitted; another designing a logo for a friend’s side business. One villager editing a new blogger’s post, and another giving feedback on someone’s resume. A villager commending another’s work in a staff meeting or to her boss. All these things help make us more successful at work, at business, at our hobbies and passions. We speak often about mentoring and the importance of being both a mentor and a mentee. That’s essentially the definition of a village.
Create Your Village
Here’s a suggestion: make the village, be the village. Talk about it openly with people who you want as part of your village. Be honest about your limitations and assets. The village isn’t just about taking care of children anymore. Being successful in business, being happy in your marriage and partnerships, being healthy and well–these are benefits of being part of a village, too. If your village consists of a work mentor and a mentee, someone who can trade you date nights once in a while, someone who has an artistic eye you might call on for work or for a home project, another friend who loves to arrange flowers or maybe one who loves to sew, one who has an empty nest but a plethora of parenting advice, and one who knows something about investment and finances, you are ahead of the game. Any friend who can offer knowledge on something you are not experienced in will save you the time it takes to research and investigate. And that saved time can be dedicated to your children or spent doing something you enjoy. If you have a doctor and a lawyer in your village, you are way ahead in the professional advice area, too!
Think about your current village and what you’re lacking, what you aren’t utilizing, and what you can offer to others. Let your village (or people you would like to invite to be a part of that community) know that you would love to help in the areas where you can. Ask friends to take advantage of your resources and be free to take advantage of those they can offer. Once you start doing this, the friendship and trust deepens, each party feels less nervous asking, and everyone ends up with more help and more nurtured relationships.7