By Jenni Pertuset, parent consultant, API Leader in Seattle, Washington USA, http://apiseattle.org
The life of a parent can feel very isolated. Warm relationships with caring adults can sustain us when we’re struggling and help our children feel at ease when they’re away from home. So, how do we build the village we need to raise our children?
What is a Village?
My working definition of a “village” is that it is a connected community of caring adults who support us in nurturing our relationships with our children. A village isn’t just a set of friends. It is those friends, neighbors, extended family members, and acquaintances who, whether it’s intentional or even knowing, help deliver us as a parents to our children. We are of course not just recipients of support, but full participants, offering our caring and support to others.
Building a village requires effort and persistence. It is rare to stumble into a ready-made community where you are and feel immediately welcome. Even in inclusive and inviting organizations, it takes reaching out, showing up frequently, extending invitations repeatedly, and having patience.
It also requires vulnerability. This is apparent in the effort itself — extending ourselves and making invitations that may not be accepted can be challenging. And the challenge doesn’t end once we’ve established relationships, either. Opening our homes and our lives to other people also opens our heart to hurts, but we can hardly find genuine relationships without that willingness.
Building a strong village also requires accepting differences. While we’re all looking for people who share our values or who are otherwise like us, true community allows for diversity, where our connection is deeper than our similarities. (Although there is of course a point at which we will not sacrifice our values for the sake of connection.)
A village is built one relationship at a time. Three major attachment rituals described by author and renowned developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld are instrumental in establishing and maintaining all relationships. These are:
- Collecting — a greeting ritual that extends throughout our interactions, not just the opening, in which we establish a meaningful contact by getting in another person’s space in a friendly way, meeting their eyes, and engaging their smile.
- Bridging — the goodbye ritual that is meaningful beyond the moment when we physically part. It sustains us through felt separations even when we’re together, including feeling that we’re unimportant or unseen or different from those with whom we’re in relationship. By bridging, we focus not on the separation but on the return and the ongoing relationship.
- Matchmaking — the introduction ritual. Here too, it is an ongoing interaction, and doesn’t end after the first encounter. The intention of matchmaking is to foster a working relationship through an existing attachment. We help endear two people to each other, making it easy for them to like each other.
Being aware of these tools and our use of them can improve our relationships and expand our villages. For example, matchmaking a student and her teacher can bring another caring adult alongside a child to support her to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
Following are suggestions for building a village, offered as inspiration, not prescription; the best actions will always be those guided by your own objectives and your own consideration of how to meet them:
- Pick a recurring event in an established parenting community and attend regularly.
- Include caring adults from outside your nuclear family in rituals, traditions, and celebrations such as holidays, birthdays, or regular meals.
- Create or participate in events that allow long stretches of relaxed time together, such as camping trips.
- Play outside your house, increasing your opportunities for encountering neighbors.
- Take dog walks, even if you don’t have a dog. Take treats for your kids to give the dogs (check with the owner first) to meet the dogs and owners in your neighborhood.
- Participate in or start a neighborhood online discussion list and use it to create opportunities for meeting in person.
- Frequent your neighborhood farmers market.
- Attend or organize your neighborhood’s annual Night Out Against Crime.
- Open your house, or just your yard, to your neighbors. Some families host Flamingo Fridays, a weekly gathering of neighbors signaled by plastic flamingo on the lawn. A few willing families could circulate host duties.
- Ask for help. People respond when families are in need. This is especially apparent in a crisis, but also true for less urgent needs.Although we may be reluctant to ask for fear of burdening others, we sometimes forget that it feels good to be able to give support.
- Offer help when you recognize a need.
Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld
All Kids Are Our Kids by Peter Benson
Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand by James Vollbracht
Connect 5 by Kathleen Kimball-Baker