I’m building a family, not a village

A friend recently shared this blog with me, “In the absence of the village, mothers struggle most. It is so deeply relevant to my current stage of life, and yet I felt so torn with my own emotions regarding this modern-day crisis. I do call it a crisis, because I think it’s such a widespread issue that brings tangible hardships to families. We need people. 

IMG_6402I was privileged to be born a mother in a community that was going against today’s norm and had established a grassroots effort to empower one another. We all met as “bump buddies” through a prenatal yoga class, and our connection grew off the mat through brunches, meal trains, care packages, and an online page where we turn to each other 24/7 for support. It’s ever-growing as new moms join the class and experienced moms linger for mentorship. This tribe impacted its respective community so much that it was part of an inspirational TedTalk, “Helping New Mothers Find Their Voice Through Community.”  

And to think this beautiful community was born from just one person – one person who said enough to this growing trend of isolation. She was our yoga teacher and doula. She broke the silence. She changed our course. She modeled community. So we all followed because we needed it – the advocacy, the guidance, the friendship. And we all became stronger women and mothers because of it.

Recognizing that this wasn’t the norm left me heartbroken and inspired. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay in this community, but I was determined to keep this life-changing experience as a lesson that I could pay forward wherever we go.  The greatest irony of all this is that I am a total introvert, but that’s the thing with motherhood. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you value, or how you fill your cup. It is just a universal need to give and receive help and companionship. 

Fast forward to this fall when we moved halfway cross-country to Texas. It was a rude awakening when I realized that this larger-than-myself village mentality isn’t something I am just born into again. It’s something I would need to build myself. Ooof. Add to this reality that I am in a different stage of motherhood  – one in which time is not on my side.

It has been four months since we moved and my two biggest accomplishments are sending my oldest off to preschool while also navigating to the nearest grocery store without entirely relying on the GPS. I’ve been hosting family back-to-back, unpacking boxes, decorating a home, coping with the fact that my husband is now always traveling, and googling facts about venomous snakes and coyotes because holy Texas wildlife.

I am craving home and routine more than ever, as time with my own husband is a rarity and the exhaustion of solo parenting two toddlers under the age of 3 has me knocked out by late afternoon. But dinner needs cooked, bubble baths need drawn, bedtime needs enforced. For now, my idea of self-care is having the opportunity to rally childcare for dentist appointments or just sit in my room and breathe (no seriously, breathing is my hobby), and my first “friend” is my new therapist who is helping me kick anxiety’s ass to the curb.

I am new. I am tired. I am technically, in the physical sense, village-less. My door is often closed. And yet … I’m kind of okay with this. I am so often asked by well-meaning loved ones if I have yet made connections. If I’m doing enough on the self-care front. If I want to be matched up with otherwise strangers so that I find people and find them fast. If I answer true to my heart, my answer, right now, is no. Not yet.

My social capacity is less than it has ever been, and I kind of also need to honor that. I’m a military wife and stay-at-home mom who sometimes forgets to feed the two dogs breakfast and goes to the store for trash bags but returns with everything except the trash bags. I log on to social media where I am bombarded with all the mommy blog headlines that remind me of all the things we could say better, do better – one of which is this concept of building our village. Sometimes this gives me added guilt as if I am supposed to be spreading myself further and wider when I am just trying to remember the trash bags.

The problem with chasing the village in this larger context is that sometimes it becomes one more thing that we as women are failing to better manage in the era of doing it all. Am I doing enough? From talking to other moms, military or local, working or stay at home, this is a common stressor we feel.

And sometimes we go through these chapters village-less because we’ve pursued modern-day opportunities that women never had before, like being more than homemakers and also juggling careers, or venturing out beyond the town where we were raised, foregoing the built-in support of raising kids near family. These choices, as we know too well, come with sacrifices, and these sacrifices can seriously exacerbate our isolation. But, what do we do? The blogger referenced above nailed it when she concluded:

“… 

When we frame this task of bringing the village back as something we must build ourselves when we are weighed down by trying to build our families, as I was doing, it becomes another thing to exhaust ourselves chasing. She’s right. In just losing my established village and starting over from scratch, it really does simply and courageously start with me, myself and I. My one voice. And in slowing myself down in this way, I have gained important perspective – acceptance. Not in the sense that I’m accepting of going it alone, but in the sense that finding community is a journey that ultimately can’t be forced or rushed.

Acceptance that my motherhood won’t always be this lonely and exhausting. Acceptance that my toddlers won’t always demand this much of me.  Acceptance that I won’t always be the new girl. Acceptance that my idea of self-care won’t always be as grim as going to the dentist. Acceptance that it’s okay to be exactly where I am at in this stage of life without feeling like I must be missing something if my motherhood isn’t always perfectly organized and socialized.

So maybe let’s not worry about building a whole village. Build your families, unapologetically, and drop that guilt of needing to close your door when there is more work than hours in the day, because that is unfortunately part of our reality today. But we can’t under-estimate the power of leaving room in our circles. That is something we can actively practice no matter the stage of life we are in. It can be as simple as a passing smile, an offer for coffee, lending words of encouragement.

It comforts me to remember that the established village I was born into as a new mom really did just start from one person; one person who kept her circle open and created a ripple effect in which we all began keeping our circles open too, until it just grew and grew and grew. Even the biggest communities start small, and even the smallest communities can make the biggest difference.

I may not be able to build a village right now; maybe I will be a builder someday when my arms free up and my babies outgrow them. Right now I am a builder of family. But I will keep my circle open. I will seize opportunities to grow this circle, even if it’s one small connection at a time.

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