There are several blogs floating around the internet about how isolating parenthood is these days. How everyone knows “it takes a village” but yet, we are so alone. How we hide behind our social media, painting a picture of perfection, all while aching for real personal connections. This one really hit home for me when I first read it several years ago…I felt someone had finally explained how I felt and said it out loud – we are so alone! But…there aren’t any suggestions about how to change that.
As a new mom, I was quite literally drowning in the loneliness and isolation of motherhood. Although I have a performing arts background and I’m VERY comfortable being “on” in front of a crowd, when it comes to one-on-one interactions or integrating myself into a group...I’m actually a very shy, anxious introvert. The times I did put myself out there to meet new friends, I felt defeated, exhausted and kind of like a loser.
It seemed everyone already had a village and I was left to fend for myself.
Fast forward to today, and I can honestly say that I could text 20 people at a moment’s notice and ask, “Who can pick up my kids from school today?” And I can send that text without a twinge of guilt because I’ve picked up 20 people’s kids from school, too. But how did I get to this place? I never really thought about the process…
So I’ve been reflecting on my journey from “isolated introvert-momma” to “still-an-introvert but comfortably living in a village-momma.” All this reflecting has resulted in my first Top Ten List…Ready???
Top ten things you can do to build your village:
1. Don’t ask – just do
The old line, “Let me know what I can do!” comes out of our mouths in earnest on an almost daily basis. This well-intended affirmation of solidarity feels GREAT to say out loud, and we truly hope the person we’re saying it to will take us up on that offer, but…they never do. And when you’re offered that line, dangling in the air, do you ever take advantage of it? Probably not. Here’s an example:
A mom might vent and say, “Ugh – I’m so overwhelmed. I have 5 loads of laundry that are currently blocking the entrance to my laundry room. I haven’t cleaned the basement shower for like…a long time, and I finally got a hair appointment but none of my sitters are free – What a DAY!”
A ranting session like this is often met with the immediate response of, “Oh my GOSH, let me know what I can do!” To which we immediately feel stupid for having vented to a fellow busy mom who clearly doesn’t have any more time than we do.
But what if instead, we said:
“When’s your hair appointment? I’ll come over with my kids and we’ll play at your house while you’re gone – but then, will you do that for me next week?”
“I’m bringing my laundry basket to your house and we’ll fold together while our kids zone out to TV together – Do you have any wine?”
“I’ll throw your kid in my wagon and take a walk around the block for 20 minutes while you get that shower clean – go get your kid – here’s my wagon.”
Ummmm…I don’t know about you but any one of those offers sounds incredibly do-able…and not too much trouble…and also…even…kind of fun?
I think we sometimes don’t offer this kind of help for fear that we might be “butting in” or getting too personal. But, from my perspective, the moment I started accepting help like that, my life started to change for the better. And the moment I was able to reciprocate help like that, I started to feel empowered – kind of badass – that I could be someone’s superhero for the day.
2. Leave Your Baby in the Car (Or INSIST another parent leaves his/her baby in the car)
Yes – it’s against all the rules in the book – but if your baby is sleeping in the car seat and you have to drop your older kid off someplace, do you really want to wake that baby? NO WAY. Or, if it’s pouring rain and you have a toddler and an infant carrier – you are NOT bringing that baby into the rain. What if I told you that you could leave your baby in the car?? YOU CAN. Here’s how: Don’t leave your car either. Instead, let your big kid walk into the building with another grown-up from the class. Your big kid is going to need to start learning independence at some point and this is a SUPER EASY way to foster that independence.
Just make it sound fun and exciting – and if all else fails, bribe them with a little reward: “Hey buddy! You get to walk in with Will today – OH MY GOSH – your teacher is going to be so excited to see you! And if you walk in like a big boy, mommy will have your fruit snacks all ready when I come to pick you up!” This works even better AFTER class – if you have a napping baby at pick up – don’t go in – make sure the teachers are OK with the pick-up situation and then send in another parent to fetch your kid. They’ll be FINE. And if you have one of those kids who will simply NEVER allow this, ask another parent to camp out at your car with your baby.
And if you know there’s a family with a new baby in the car – DO NOT WAIT to ask if they want to participate in this “Leave your baby in the car” option – just insist that they do, and take their child into school. We just simply HAVE to do this for each other.
3. The Grocery Store Text
“Hey guys – I’m heading to the store – do you need anything quick?”
If you live in a close-knit neighborhood with neighbors who have small children, or if there are friends you know live on your route to the store, get in the habit of shooting them this text. I’m not asking you to do their grocery shopping – but how many times are you JUST out of milk, or JUST out of bananas, and you’re like, “I CANNOT GO THE STORE WITH THESE CHILDREN FOR ONE STUPID THING.” This is such a simple thing we can do to help each other – and it is really no inconvenience to just grab one extra thing. My neighbor saved the day with ranch dressing just yesterday. I mean – you could only understand how ranch dressing could save your day if you’ve ever been in one of those situations, right?
4. Trader Joe’s Impulse Buys
You know what I’m talking about – those little baskets at the front of Trader Joe’s with the chocolate-dipped-nuts, or the tiny $1.99 flower pots? Imagine if one of those ended up in your mailbox with a note that says, “Hang in there momma!” I’ve done this to many women on a hard day, and I’ve been the recipient of them as well – it’s kind of the best thing in the world – to both give them and receive them. It makes you feel like we really ARE all in this together. And it just takes ONE person to start a kindness like this, and then the recipient will feel so good and do it to someone else and it just keeps going. It’s up to you whether you sign your note or not – I’ve done it both ways and felt great either way.
5. Tag-on activities
So I opened my music class business next door to a coffee shop ON PURPOSE. It makes it SO easy to walk next door after class and grab a coffee with another parent. But…do you? As your music teacher, I’m going to start reminding you all to go next door more often. Every week, you’re surrounded by a group of parents/caregivers who are doing the exact same thing as you – you already have something HUGE in common! At the very least, you can go next door and talk about what a crazy spaz your music teacher is. Don’t make elaborate plans – just announce – “Who’s going next door for a treat?” Whether it’s coffee after music class, or a park after swim lessons – find something to tag-on before or after your activities with the families you see each week.
6. Turn Your Phone Off in the Hallway
How often do you drop your child off for an activity and then sit in a hallway, surrounded by other parents, staring at your phone? It’s silent. We appreciate the silence and the moments to ourselves, but…could that time be used to build your village instead? Be brave and say something OUT LOUD in the hallway, “Hey guys – would anyone want to walk around outside while our kids are dancing?” or “I’m not sure I know everyone’s name – I’m Kristen.” For an introvert like me, this kind of thing requires, heart-pounding, palm-sweating courage, but…it’s ALWAYS worth it.
7. Host a Playdate
Don’t wait until your living room is painted. Don’t wait until your house is clean. Don’t wait until you have time to bake. Go to the grocery store, buy a bag of mini-bagels and grapes (and maybe some champagne and OJ for mimosas) and text everyone you know to come over NOW. Especially now that the weather is nice – there can be a row of babies sleeping in carriers inside while the big sibs play outside. One momma can nurse while another changes a diaper. And the one of the best parts of hosting a playdate?? Everyone cleans up the toys (further impetus to NOT clean your house).
8. It’s OK to not be “best friends”
You might be looking for your new “best mom friend” or “Dad bro” to hang out with. That might not be what you find in “a village” – at least, not at first. You just need to find bodies, at first. You need like-minded, good-valued people who live in close proximity to you. You need people who do the same things as you and cart their children to the same places as you. To find more than one person like that who is ALSO your newest best friend is going to be hard. When you think about your best college buddies, you shared YEARS together, building a history and laying the foundation of your adult lives together. You had nothing but TIME and YOUTH to spur your friendship. Now – we are all frick’n exhausted, distracted, un-showered and carrying around a shield of insecurities. NOT an ideal “let’s become best friends” scenario. But you will come to love these people – in a “villagey” sort of way. They are your “village people.” You may not confide your deepest, darkest truths to them, but…you trust your child’s life with them as they walk her into ballet for you. And I can wager, over time, that some of your village-people become your best friends. In fact, I can attest to that personally. But don’t expect that, at first.
9. Don’t assume ANYTHING
I used to be the mom in the preschool hallway, making up stories in my head about how everyone in the hallway knew each other from high school and I was the only one on the outside. I used to be the mom on the block who was SO insecure about my rabid, biting toddler that I felt certain I was being judged as a failure by everyone around me. I used to be the mom who burned crimson with shame every time I ran into that mom who always had a pressed shirt on with perfectly applied make-up (and lipstick?!) and gorgeous hair.
Two moms knew each other from high school in that hallway – the rest were strangers, like me, too afraid to speak up.
My neighbors LOVED me and supported me and reassured me over and over that I was a good mom – I just didn’t believe it myself, and so couldn’t accept their support.
That mom with the make-up? I once heard her say, “You know? Make-up is my THING! It makes me feel SO good to get fixed up – I wake up early every day and it’s my little treat for myself.” Uh-oh…was I being the judge-y one? YOU BET I WAS. Who am I to make presumptions about what makes another tired, stressed-out mom feel good about herself?!
All that assuming I did – all those stories I made up in my head to explain away my insecurities – all that did was waste precious village-building time. It held me back from diving into my community.
10. Start TODAY
This list shows you that VERY SMALL CHANGES in your daily interactions can build the village you seek. It’s not going to happen unless you make the effort. But – I hope you can see that the effort doesn’t have to be tremendous.
Pick one and do it tomorrow. TOMORROW. (Or even today if there’s time.)
I can’t promise it’ll happen overnight, but when I look back and think about how I transformed from a lonely, insecure, isolated parent to a “village-person” it’s these kinds of gestures that made all the difference.
And it’s this community-building spirit that inspired me to start Music Together North Shore. It was probably 40% "love of music/children" and 60% “OH MY GOSH I need to help my fellow parents build a village!” I am SO passionate about this, now that I’ve come out on the other side, and I want to be here to help you all find your village people.
I always say – people who sing and dance together can go get a coffee together after class. At the very least, start with that. If there’s a mom/dad/caregiver that you’d like to connect with, but never got their information from class, just let me know and I’ll connect you. Just start connecting. TODAY.