It was 2004. I had a new baby, my partner was traveling a lot for work, we were all on a special diet, my oldest was having a very hard time with life and I was pulling my hair out. My neighbor told me that I should just go get McDonald’s to make my life easier, but that wasn’t really what I really needed or wanted. I needed help and I needed community. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation yourself?
Around this time, a group of friends came together because we all could really use some support around food. Most of us were on some sort of special diet and we all had small children. How much did we really have to give? We brainstormed together to come up with something that would work for all of us, something that felt like we’d be doing LESS if we worked together.
This experience was life-changing for me. It was the first time that I felt my efforts were being duplicated and I didn’t have to do it all. Every week, I’d make one big meal and divide it up. In return, I’d receive 3 other meals ready to assemble with all the ingredients. Heaven.
We all showed up with what we had. We took the things we didn’t mind doing to prepare our meals- shopping, cooking the whole chickens, grating the cheese, doing the hosting to assemble foods.
Community for us was the lightening of the load. It didn’t make our lives more difficult, but made the load spread out over the group and it was easier for all of us. That’s what community needs to be. As a bonus, we got to spend time with other grown-ups and our kids got to play with one another at least once a week.
So what can you do to create more community from where you are? Without moving to Portland, as Scott half-jokingly suggested in our last series. Today, we explore simple steps you can take to open yourself up to more community right in your own backyard by showing up with what you have.
Notes from this episode:
I’m traveling in Mexico right now, living in a community of expats and indigenous people in the hills outside Oaxaca City. I wanted to study community. I want to understand how healthy communities work. I expected to go up into the hills somewhere to find indigenous people who were still living in their old traditions to really see community, but I was shocked to find it greeted me when I arrived.
What I’ve seen is that everyone here shows up with what they have. Nothing more. Nothing less. My neighbors, Lucy and Mike from Texas, have a car and they’ve offered to drive us places. My neighbor, Mary from Chicago, has a casita and good internet, so she offered keys to her casita and an open invitation so I could come here to work in a quiet space. They simply are showing up with what they have. I like to cook, so as soon as I figure out what ingredients are available and what I can make well here with what I have, I’ll be cooking for these neighbors as a thank you. I don’t have to create a new skill or struggle to think of something to repay their kindness. There isn’t an expectation that I do. But I will show up with what I have and it will become clear to me at some point how I can contribute to this community.
My friend, D’Anne, is the one who brought up this idea. She’s a widowed mom with two kids and a house she’s remodeling on her own. She doesn’t really have a lot of extra to give. She ends the day tired, but really needs community and support. Like so many of us, she didn’t want someone to do something for her that she would feel like she needed to reciprocate when she could barely do what she needed to do for herself. Maybe you can relate? But she noticed when she shows up with what she has to give, all sorts of opportunities have been opening up that don’t feel like just one more thing added to her to do list. She gets to share her gifts, others then share theirs.
Scott talked about a fabulous idea called Playborhood where families move their play equipment to the front yard and create a space for kids and parents to gather. This works great for those who have the space, the time, and the desire to do something like this, but it isn’t for everyone.
If this works for you, do it! It would be super awesome in the right location with the right people. But I encourage you to think of this- what can you easily do from where you are right now? Rachel has a lovely space to offer where others can gather together. She’s also really good at holding space for conversations. If she shows up and offers this to the people she knows, they might just show up with a casserole and a guitar to share their music.
Maybe your gift is helping people feel welcome. Consider inviting other parents to meet at a child-friendly place- a park, a restaurant, or the beach, and talk about what you are all needing. You might just find a way to help each other just like my friends who cooked together. Begin by asking what each person can easily share- nothing more and nothing less. And just begin. It’s as close as a case of apples, a spiral peeler, a dehydrator and a space to gather to help with the kids.
What do you have to share?
What are the things that come easily to you? Do you like being with children? Do you like to cook? Do you have space in your home for gatherings? Do you know of a good spot? Are you good at organizing? Are you a teacher? Do you love to garden? You begin to create a space for giving AND receiving when you start with this question.
What do you need?
What would make your life easier? Maybe it’s food like it was for me when I had a new baby (and frankly, it is always something that makes my life easier!). Maybe it’s help with the kids. Maybe it’s a date night with your partner. Maybe it’s adult conversation. Start by identifying what YOU need or what could be helpful to you. Name it, if only for yourself.
What can you do that will bring even a small group of people together?
I have a long history of starting groups to gather people together. That’s what I have. I’m good at it and I really like creating those kinds of spaces, so it’s what I’ve done over and over again, from my own little group, The Babies First Supper Club, Attachment Parenting International to La Leche League and now The Consciously Parenting Project. And we’re about to start a project to help bring us all together from wherever we are in our corner of the globe to connect with one another, so watch for that. I answer the question with a big, bold statement and organization, but that’s what I have to give.
Maybe you have a small garden where you live that you could invite others to visit and learn how to plant or care for green things. Maybe you love camping and would love to organize something for others who like to camp.
One last word before I close for today.
When you begin to look at what you have to offer, consider that there may be people who aren’t parents who would love what you have to give. When we find only other people who are in the same or similar parenting phase that we are, we are trying to draw upon others who are similarly depleted and challenged. By opening up that circle to those who don’t have kids or who have kids who are older than ours, it opens us up to a whole other set of resources, gifts, talents and time.
I recently sat with a dear friend’s mother whose husband had just died. As I listened, she shared that her grandchildren are her life and that they are all in different phases where they don’t need as much anymore. She actually said she would love to adopt another family or two so she can help out. So I want to leave you with that thought. There are people out there who would LOVE the opportunity to spend time with you and your family and that helping you with what THEY have to share would be a great gift to everyone.
I’d love to hear your stories of community. How have you come together with others right where you are with what you have to share? Feel free to email me at Rebecca@consciouslyparenting.com or add a comment on this podcast post on my website. I’d love to hear from you!
Next week, we’ll be back with a new series on the Consciously Parenting podcast. Hope you’ll join us!