By: Simona Fino
“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.” Margaret Mead
Most everyone acknowledges the importance of a village, yet our American culture places more value on the individual or nuclear family, which makes it difficult for many to truly believe our village is available. Women especially are encouraged to “do it all.” But can we do it all? Can we be expected to succeed as parents with such limited support? What would life be like if we had true village support?
The first step to building a strong community is to acknowledge that our villages are an essential component of a happy life. For many, this isn’t easy. In a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” society, asking for help is a sign of weakness, being indebted to others is a negative thing, and asking family and friends for support is encroaching on their personal freedom.
However, quite the opposite is true in many cultures around the world. Asking for help is a sign of strength and knowing your limits and being indebted to others is a positive thing creating a symbiotic relationship with people you love. Asking for support gives your family and friends the opportunity to feel useful and experience the joy of helping others.
Maintain Connections and Offer Support
A village is important for all phases of life but especially as families are created, because that is often when community is needed most. The next step is to build strong community, maintain connections and offer support. Below are some practical ways to maintain positive and supportive connections with friends and family:
- Call friends and family and make plans to spend quality, one-on-one time together such as sharing a meal or enjoying a walk or hike in nature. One hour of quality time is far better than several hours of Facebook check-ins.
- Offer direct support to those in your community when you see a need or even ‘just because’. Don’t wait for others to ask for help but instead make the first move. Offer to take their children for a couple of hours; call those going through rough times and ask them what they need; offer to grocery shop or bring a meal over to an elder or parents with a new baby; offer to weed someone’s garden or help them with a project (always more fun with help!). Should you receive an offer for help say “Yes, please!” and “Thank you!”
- Already have a baby or child? Encourage childcare trades with several nearby families and start by making the first offer. This is a great way to connect with other parents and get to know each others’ children.
- Ask Aunties and Uncles (aka friends you really love) to watch your baby from those very first newborn days. Nearly everyone loves to spend an hour holding a newborn and if they are spending time with your little ones consistently they will develop a sweet and special bond that is wonderful to watch grow. These friends will learn how to care for your little one, you will learn to let go and trust, and your little one will learn they have many loving adults in their world whom they can count on to take care of their needs.
- Maintain connections with friends who don’t have kids. Spend one-on-one time with them, letting them know their friendship is appreciated. Ask them to get involved with your family by spending time with your little ones – encourage them to be aunties & uncles!
- Demonstrate that you are taking care of yourself and then offer to support others in taking care of themselves. “Would you mind watching our daughter for a few hours over the weekend so we can go out on a date? We’d be happy to reciprocate so you can also get out!”
- Express gratitude! Everyone likes to feel appreciated and useful so let your friends and family know how much you appreciate them by telling them.
- Friends and family live far away? Send snail mail cards offering emotional support and love. A short but thoughtful card is usually more appreciated and meaningful than an electronic message.
Ask for Help
The third step to building strong community is learning to ask for help. This is a big challenge for most of us. But we can change our beliefs and come to understand that asking for help is a positive thing. Start by asking for small things from close friends and family and then, become brave, and ask for more. The more you practice, the easier it will become. An ask can also include an offer: “Might you be available to take my baby for a few hours so I can get some things done around the house? I’m free Saturday next week to take your little one if you’d like.”
The final step to building strong community is learning to let go. Allowing someone else to care for you and your child is important. Trust your friends and family can take good care of your little ones and they will. Hover over them and they will lose faith in their own abilities. They may not do things exactly the way you do and that is okay. Let go and appreciate all the wonderful things they bring to your child’s world. Personally, I like to keep in mind the simple fact I cannot teach my daughter everything. My friends and family have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom and I’m ever so grateful they are sharing it with her.
As you build your strong community and become part of giving and receiving support you will find parenting, and life in general, becomes simpler and more joyful. Remember, it really does take a village!
- Acknowledge the need for your village
- Build your community by maintaining connections and offering support
- Ask for help and express gratitude
- Let go and enjoy your village support!
If you’ve found these tips helpful, let me know! And I would certainly love to hear what has worked for you. Please share your tips by replying at http://wp.me/p5gqHr-4Q. To learn more about caring for your family naturally and simplifying your life, sign up to receive my newsletter and blog posts at http://www.simonafino.com
Simona is a certified Postpartum and Birth Doula offering families support through pregnancy and beyond. She brings simplicity into family life by offering organizational and de-cluttering assistance as well as help in creating family rhythms around food, sleep and play.