Building a Village

So far this year has been nothing short of an epic disaster. The washing machine broke, the car broke, Starman ended up in the hospital, the other car broke, I managed to give myself a concussion in an embarrassing miscalculation of the spatial relationship
between my head and the top of the girls' bunk bed, and last but not least, The Husband ended up in the ER with suspected heart issues (they run in the family) not once, but twice in one week (still no definitive answers, but we have ruled out a few things).

The good news (there really is some, I promise) is that all these things are irrelevant. Money is just money, things are just things, and everyone is recovered and healthy (for the moment). The best news, the thing that struck me as I was first trapped for three days in a hospital room with my little Starman, and later when I was stuck on the couch for three days post-head injury is this; I couldn't have pulled it all off without my social support system, and I am blessed with a fantastic one. Taking the main caregiver out of the equation throws everything off kilter (I would say taking "Mom" out of the equation, but that would downplay some awesome Dads who are excellent primary caretakers). After all, when one person is in charge of feeding the animals, the kids and the plants, medications, transportation to school, appointments, extracurriculars and keeping track of routines it makes it very hard for someone to step in and hold the fort down. It would be like an accountant stepping in for a baker or a baker stepping in for an astrophysicist. It is a tough job that requires a delicate balance of multi-tasking, hard work and organization.

That is the moment when you need a support system. But, as I was laying on my couch post-concussion with a throbbing migraine and gut-wrenching vertigo I realized, it isn't just the big crises that require a social support system. It is little moments as well. It is having someone to commiserate with on the day when nothing seems to be going right, or the kids won't stop fighting. It is someone to call and check on you when you haven't shown up to morning drop-off at school, or you have been MIA on your usual social networking site. It is the person who shows up at your door with soup when you have the flu or who picks up the kids and takes them back to their house when you are late getting home from an appointment. These people are the key to keeping your life lubricated and running smoothly, like the cogs in a well-oiled engine. These people can be family members, yes. But since so many people do not live in the vicinity of family, and even if they do family is not always sufficient alone, it is crucial to expand that network to include friends and neighbors.

Without a sufficient social support system, in the event of an emergency, the machine of the family comes to a grinding halt. For example, when a baby is hospitalized they cannot be left alone. Someone has to be with them at all times. Nurses aren't babysitters, so what happens if you don't have someone to help out at home? If you have other children? A hospitalization could be a devastating event to a single mother, or dual-income family with no social support system to fall back on. What do you do when one person is taken out of the equation? You turn to the village around you. But, what happens if there is no village?

We spend so much time as parents researching and participating in our children's education, their social and emotional development, their medical care, their nutrition, and yet, we spend very little time on building our own friendships and relationships. However, if we think about it, social networking is a critical component to creating a safety net for our children. It is also one that many parents find that they have little to no time for. It takes time to build the kinds of relationships that could be called on in a moments notice. We need to, as parents, allow ourselves to see our friendships and relationships as vital and crucial to our children's development and give ourselves the time and permission to pursue them.

So, how in our busy, busy lives do we take the time to find and create relationships that are deep in quality? I have spent a lot of time thinking on that. How have I met the fantastic people in my life who hold me up when chaos reigns in my life? What allows us to stay friends when I don't always have time for them when my life gets crazy? What holds people together? How can you make deep connections in America's fast-paced, over-scheduled lifestyle?

My conclusion is this; you pay it forward first. You make deep connections by seeking out needs in your community, neighborhood, school, or church and filling them with your own unique abilities. If you like to cook, you deliver food to people going through difficult times. If you are good at organization or cleaning, you offer to help out the pregnant woman at church or at your local PTA. If you are an accountant and you know someone who needs taxes done and can't afford the help, you offer to help for free. You seek out needs that you can fill and as you fill the needs of others you embody the grace and kindness that people value in a good friend. When people speak, listen. Remember the details. Ask them about their child's accomplishments, their grandmother, their father that just got out of the hospital. Don't be afraid to share part of yourself if they ask. Be authentic, not what you think they want you to be. Use your manners and follow etiquette protocol, not because it is convenient, but because it is the right thing to do. Before long, you will be seen as a kind person, someone who may be busy, but is worth getting to know. These things will lay the solid foundation for your own personal village. You can build it brick by brick. It takes effort, but not monumental amounts of time. If you are authentic and kind it will come together.

Building a village is a gift to yourself and your children. Having a large circle of friends and family has given my kids a strong sense of community, a feeling of safety, the knowledge that many adults love them and are safe to turn to. It has given me a sense of peace as well. Even when the things around me seem to be coming apart at the seams, it never feels like the world is ending because I have so many wonderful, caring, fantastic friends and family members who hold us up in the midst of the chaos. Also, it sure is nice to have someone to call when I have had a day that leaves me wishing I could sell the kids down the river.