In Praise of the Village: How My Children Helped Me Connect to My Community

Our Village
Our Village (Homeschool Co-op, 2013-2014)

I am by nature a private person. I do not quickly or easily invite into my personal life the people around me. Given the choice, I would keep most of the world at arm’s length. In another era, I would be the crone who lived in a tiny, tidy hut at the edge of the village, emerging every so often to collect water or forage for berries. Other villagers would see me when I opened the door to sweep the threshold. Broom in hand, I would smile at others in the town, give a friendly wave, but probably would not strike up a conversation.

I’m not antisocial. I don’t dislike people. But I’m a textbook introvert, and I like my tiny, metaphorical hut. It’s safe here, and I’m in charge.

Enter, children.

I have four. That’s a lot of people sharing your hut, and with alarming frequency. (Funny thing about kids, they like to interact with their mama. Go figure.) They complicate, well, everything, and the hut becomes less neat and organized. But this is not unexpected. When I decided to have kids, I knew that would mean letting them into my personal space, both physically and emotionally – messing up the hut, if you will. It’s not always easy, but it was a choice.

I was less prepared, though, for the way having kids would require me to interact with the wider world. Mom dates and play dates and classes and groups of people who share my interests – suddenly, there are always people to talk to, plans to make, visits on the calendar. We’re leaving our hut, spending our days in the village center. My friendly, awkward smile blossoms into lengthy conversations with the other villagers. My tiny hut has become a hubbub of activity.

Turns out, it’s not so bad in the village after all. The villagers are friendly, and I often find myself surprised by the things we have in common.

In real life, of course, there is no village square, no tiny hut. Real life is one floor in a turn of the century house at the edge of a mid-size city, shared with best friends on the floor above. Some days the front door might as well be revolving, there are so many people in and out.

Real life is requesting childcare when I get called to a birth, via group text. It’s knowing my kids might get passed from one family to another by the time baby arrives, but resting in the assurance they will be safe and loved no matter how long I’m away.

Real life is spontaneous play dates arranged through one brief status update. It is chatter in social media groups as we guide one another through diaper choices, beginner wrap carries, pediatrician selection, and where to buy the good honey.

Real life is a potluck dinner, doulas seated on the floor in a circle, describing the experiences, high and low, that brought us all to birth work. It is a post on a network, seeking tips on how to help a client with a malpositioned baby.

Real life is spending an evening with another couple, simply because our kids are friends, and saying as we drive home, “Oh my gosh, honey – they’re so much like us!”

I owe it to my kids, forcing me to leave my little hut and join in the life of the village. In the village, my friendships are richer, my business is stronger, my marriage thrives. I may retreat to the hut every once in awhile – it’s a calming hut, after all – but I’m learning things about the village I never knew before. It can be overwhelming at times, but underneath, it’s a very good place.

Here, perhaps, is the best kept secret of my village, and maybe of yours as well: Many of the other villagers share my preference for a quiet little hut at the end of the road. Left to our own devices, we would be a bunch of tired, lonely parents living in small, well-kept huts, lined up neatly in a row. We would smile and wave, but rarely speak. Inside the huts, our children would tug at our legs, ask many questions, and make the same mess again and again. We would cope alone, each with our doors closed, opening them only when the sun was out and we were prepared to smile.

But the children, they want to play in the square, so we set our jaws and we walk into town with them. And in the square, watching our children play together, we chat, and we connect, and we remember: even those of us inclined to live in quiet huts are better off surrounded by a village.


6 thoughts on “In Praise of the Village: How My Children Helped Me Connect to My Community”

    1. Helen, thank you for your honesty. Since this was posted, I have heard comments like yours more than I expected to. I’m working on a follow-up post with a few details about my own experience, as well as practical tips on how to get connected with others when it doesn’t seem to be happening naturally.

    2. Helen, I can understand your loneliness. When my oldest was born 11 years ago, it was hard. The first few months I sought out people. I went to La Leche League meetings and posted in the Mothering.com forums. Someone on that forum posted a meet up. I went, and I started to help plan outings. We would visit our local zoo every other week. Those visits with other mamas sustained me. Eventually we started a book group and moms’ nights out. We held each others’ hands. We attended each others’ births. It was incredibly scary at first to go meet someone I didn’t know. I told my husband I must be crazy taking my new baby to the home of someone I had never met. I am so glad I was brave and pushed outside of my own comfort level. Those women I met that day and many since have become my soul sisters, my support, my confidants and my dear friends. I could not do this journey without them. I hope you can find these people for yourself. My only advice is to go to parenting groups, like La Leche League or Attachment Parenting Int’l. Try out your local MOMS club. Go to the park even if you have a small baby. Other parents will be there. Try to talk to them. It may not always be a match, but you may be surprised to find a gem. And know that you are not alone. That other parent probably needs a friend too.

  1. Anytime you want your quiet hut back, feel free to come live in mine! Good news is, eventually the kids will be able to talk in complete sentances, and then I will have friends again. Otherwise, not really feeling the “gee the whole world wants to spend time with me now” vibe that the blogosphere exudes. Thanks for commenting Helen, its nice to know I’m not the only one.

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