Photo: Rawpixel.com (Shutterstock)
We all got the memo that “it takes a village.” It’s easy to imagine raising your children in an idealized community full of elder villagers who nurture and watch out for them; skilled villagers who teach them skills, sports, and arts; and other parenting villagers who listen to your frustrations and offer support and solutions. Wow, that sounds nice.
But the reality is that some of us are village-challenged. We don’t live near family, are new to the area, don’t have outgoing personalities, or have social anxiety and neurodivergent traits that make connecting with other people difficult. Where’s our village?
Don’t panic if you find yourself villageless. It is possible to build a village to support your family, and you can also figure out how to contribute to your village in ways that work for you. Here are some tips for filling the gaps in your community.
Be intentional in building your village
For many of us, that village is not going to just suddenly appear around us. Unless you have lived in the same community your whole life and are surrounded by family and trusted friends, it will take some effort to find people you can count on.
In her book Chaos to Calm: 5 Ways Busy Parents Can Break Free from Overwhelm (out in April), Jenna Hermans writes about community as one of the five pillars of being a calm parent. Her advice is to start seeing the people you interact with regularly as potential villagers.
Make a list of everyone you are in contact with over the course of a week (or month), from the teacher who helps your kids get out of the car to the neighbor you see walking their dog every day. Maybe you get a semi-regular text from the PTO parent who plans all the events.
All of those people have potential for growing into a stronger connection. Identify anyone who gives you good vibes, and look for opportunities to extend the conversation or let them know you appreciate them.
Check in with your connections
If you already have a spreadsheet of all your regular contacts so you can keep track of when you speak to them, I see you. This is a solid way to support your social engagement when it doesn’t come easily to you.
Connections grow communities. Try once a month to reach out with a text—send a meme, ask how they’ve been, or share a “did you hear?” with some light gossip. The worst that can happen is they’ll be too busy to respond and you’ll try again next month.
Keeping in regular contact with family and friends who don’t live close to you can also help build your community. You never know when someone in their circle could live close enough to join your circle.
Let your own interests lead the way
Don’t sign up to coach soccer if you don’t love soccer. You’ll just be stuck spending time with a bunch of people who like something you don’t care about. Make it easier on yourself by joining groups or online communities and volunteering for the things you feel most passionate about. You’re way more likely to connect with people there who may eventually become your local support system.
Show up in your neighborhood and community
Anne Helen Petersen wrote about taking action to build community in a recent issue of her Culture Study newsletter. She wrote that “a huge part of the problem is good old fashioned social anxiety, nervousness, and fear of awkwardness…all the stuff that looms large in your head when you’re trying to convince yourself to show up for something and it’s a lot easier to stay put.”
Just by showing up at a community event, you exponentially increase the chances of making a connection that will support you in the future. Try showing up in one of these ways:
Attend an event or activity you see in the community calendar.Sign up for a class (and show up).Be present and visible in your own yard or neighborhood.
Because showing up can be extra hard when you have social anxiety, Petersen recommends writing down your intention to show up and share your plan with someone else so they can support you. Sometimes a little encouragement is enough to get you out the door.
Once you are (sort of) comfortable being out in the community, the next step is to speak up. Say hi to those people you see every day. Look for opportunities to offer help, compliment something small, or listen to the conversation you would normally nope your way out of. This is not to be schmoozy, but part of building your community is being a good villager yourself.
In extended conversation, share something you need help with like finding a pediatrician or a place to get your oil changed.
Find an emergency friend
Building a village can take time, and your baby steps may not have you instantly swimming in a sea of chosen family. But eventually, bad days and literal emergencies are going to happen. Identify the person in your life who lives within 30 minutes and would take your phone call in the middle of the night. Is there someone who will watch your baby if your partner is out of town and you have to take your toddler to the emergency room? Make finding that friend a priority; offer to be that friend to someone, and you automatically earn a gazillion villager points.