Enlightened Parenting: Create Community

Parenting, CommunityMy kids and I were doing puzzles together on the patio floor when it dawned on me: I was lonely. They were joyous companions, but I needed more (and likely so did they). My closest friend had moved far away, and like most of us in the suburbs, I barely knew my neighbors. Our family life was filled with play, work, chores, activities, and love, but we were missing a sense of belonging to a larger whole.  

Generations ago, no one needed to think about community. Friends and extended families lived in the same neighborhood for decades, so everyone knew everyone. Although I’d never experienced this—and I imagine there was some claustrophobia involved, and at least an occasional wish that people weren’t privy to all of your business—there’s also something profound in knowing that your family has a place where it belongs. That there are people outside your immediate clan who cheer you during your triumphs and cherish you when times are tough. And who might treasure your child in a way that today is largely confined to his doting parents and grandparents. 

Communities are especially important sources of nourishment for kids, who thrive in knowing that everyone around them cares about them, not just their mom and dad. When I was a child, my family used to go to a bungalow colony in upstate New York every summer. The same families came back year after year, so we got to be close. It was such a thrill when another kid’s parent remembered what I liked to eat for lunch or what group games I enjoyed playing. And when I fell off a monkey bar and broke my arm one wretched July day, I went to bed feeling awful but woke the next morning to a towering pile of gifts—compliments of all the families in the colony who’d joined together to boost my mood.  

The kinship that naturally forms after years of living in the same place, working the same job, or attending the same religious organization is gone for many of us. But I have learned that, with a little effort, anyone can create meaningful community. Building such a tribe for your family involves more than surrounding yourself with a lot of people; you can be in a bustling city or a busy park and still feel alone. And it means going beyond the groups that most adults rely on for communal sustenance before we had kids (gym or yoga class buddies, 12-step meeting attendees, office pals), which may nurture us as individuals but don’t do the same for our families. 

Here are ways I’ve made community happen for my family over the years, and that could be valuable for yours: 

– Take the lead with your neighbors.When I moved into my home a decade ago, the first thing I did was design a flyer inviting families in two dozen nearby homes to come to our house on a Sunday afternoon for pizza and cake. Over the years, this group has continued to socialize at potlucks, pool parties, moms’ nights out, and sunset gatherings on someone’s driveway or yard. At some point during each get-together, I call the kids from their impromptu games and the adults from the food and drink tables and encourage everyone to participate in a round of out-loud sharing. This is how we learned that a neighbor got a long-desired job promotion, that another had been fired, that kids won their sports leagues (and where their games were so others could attend) or were having trouble with their homework (more than one adult has volunteered to tutor), and, sadly, that someone had been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer (prompting a call to arms among the neighbors to drive her son to school or summer camp, among other assistance). There’s nothing like knowing the people within walking distance who can take in a package and lend you eggs, or pick up and feed your kid in a pinch. And who make everyone in your family feel like they are home as soon as they enter the neighborhood. (When my car was in the shop, one neighbor even lent me hers for the week to shuttle my kids!) 

– Gather regularly with like-minded new friends. Make a list of other young families you particularly like or with whom you share common interests and invite them over. I did this years ago with families from my alternative Jewish congregation, and it was from this group that a lively spiritual parenting discussion group evolved. (The adults talked while the kids played in the other room.) Worried you don’t have enough space in your home? Take it outside, as I did with a different group of families that assembled for “family soccer” at a local park. Or as I also did when my kids were older and several families met every full moon for a sunset potluck at the beach.  

– Look into cohousing. Cohousing is a unique housing concept that combines private and communal living. A typical community has families owning their homes, either apartment-style or tightly spaced houses or townhouses, while sharing a “common houseResidents hold group dinners, movie nights, football-game watching, and other events in the common house, and they play group games and sports in the shared yard. Unfortunately, with only a few dozen cohousing communities currently built in this country (Denmark has hundreds), your chances of finding one near you are small, although the number is growing. My family participated in a group trying to get one developed in South Florida, but we ran into problems—the housing crash of 2008 didn’t help—and it never happened. (It was through this effort that I learned the value of reaching out to my neighbors no matter where I lived.) Find a list of built or forming communities in each state at the website Cohousing.org. 

 

Meryl Davids Landau About Meryl Davids Landau

Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the book Enlightened Parenting: A Mom Reflects on Living Spiritually With Kids, named a finalist in the Indie Excellence Awards. She also wrote the spiritual women's novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog, a fiction book of the year finalist in the Foreword Reviews Awards. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Parents, O: The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Prevention, Huffington Post, Vice and more. Meryl is a certified yoga teacher and Reiki practitioner, and is the mom to two kids, now young adults. Learn more at www.MerylDavidsLandau.com