I see it every day. Throughout my Nolensville neighborhood, grandparents walk their grandchildren to and from the neighborhood playground, or drive riding lawn mowers around their yards with a grandkid on their lap. There is one resident family who is blessed to have both sets of grandparents not only in the same neighborhood, but across the street. The kids get off the bus at the end of the school day and run in either direction to find close family nearby.
I’ve spoken with several grandparents who moved to the area as soon as they found out their kid or kids were expecting and a few who retired early to be full time grandparents. I’ve met siblings who live on the same street and their kids spend weekends surrounded by cousins. All around me I see extended families who, with very little effort, prepare and enjoy meals, go on walks, complete projects, play with, and watch out for each other.
It’s hard not to be envious when my own nuclear family exists as a little suburban island. My parents are in Texas. My sister and her family are in Oklahoma. My in-laws are scattered from Arkansas to Colorado. My hometown of Spearfish, South Dakota, feels a million miles and a lifetime away. Almost every single person I interact with has known me less than 10 years. These facts create significant barriers to my ability to create and live in community.
In my head, community means having people around me who care deeply about my family and share the burdens of everyday life, as well as the big moments, side by side. It would mean a mutually intentional relationship in which our doors are always open, the schedule is always flexible, and our kids are always welcome. Community would mean I have someone I can ask to water my plants while I’m out of town, or I could confidently drop my kid off at their house so I could run an errand. Community would mean that there are other people looking out for, instructing, and shaping myself, my husband, and my child into better, kinder, stronger human beings.
I believe I am not alone as I wait impatiently for the arrival of the village that is supposed to be raising my child – or raising me.
Ideally, this community would come from a church, synagogue, mosque, neighborhood, Mommy and Me, what-have-you. But several recent factors have all but completely dismantled the ability of these institutions to function as hubs of community.
First, we have that pesky little pandemic. As community centers, churches, gyms, schools, etc., closed their doors, we were catapulted into a world run in virtual meetings, with no handshakes or hugs, and full of insecurity. The pandemic brought about new, and shed light on old, uncompromising divisions, and “camps” were established, mostly online. With most interaction taking place on mass communication social media platforms, without human interaction to balance the scale, soon it started to feel like we couldn’t trust anyone. We pulled deeper into our little home havens, hyper-connected to everything going on in the world via our screens, and growing lonlier by the second. While the world is gradually re-opening, some of the damage is irreparable, or at least unbelievably slow to bounce back.
Second, those screens and apps that keep us hyperconnected, as well as the general shift in American culture, has pulled us more tightly into our homes to marinate in our own insecurity. We have tall privacy fences and rarely talk to our neighbors, all the while pining for the close friendships or families, gorgeous travel locations, and general happiness we think we perceive in others. Everyone seems to already have “their people” and “full hearts.” Everyone else seems to have somewhere to be and someone to be there with.
Not to pine for “the good old days,” (there were actually a TON of messed up racist, sexist, harsh realities in the “good old days”) but there was something to be said about a world less connected by “communication” and information and more connected by proximity and daily work. Several generations back, women took their baskets of laundry to the stream and sang songs and talked while they scrubbed. Our grandmothers canned pickles and eggs on back porches while their children ran around in the yard. The work of daily life was woven into neighborhoods.
Today, “work” involves a commute (even if it’s just up the stairs to the home office for a zoom meeting), and a very separate world from what’s going on in our homes and neighborhoods. Work time is work time and home time is home time. We don’t have to pluck chickens or pickle anything. We don’t even have to go to the physical store. A stranger will drop what we need off on our doorstep for a small fee. We live lives in which we don’t need to work physically alongside anyone, let alone share the tasks, chores, work and conversation of sustenance with the people in our proximity. Ultimately, we feel isolated, or can’t find close relationships because we are connected by screens and via locations we reach by commute, and not by proximity and shared work.
Let’s say you’re a stay-at-home mom. You do your only work at home daily as a caregiver, short order cook, laundress, nurse, teacher, coach, dishwasher, chauffeur, etc. It would be so nice to have that “village” to help out or at least just conversate with while you fold the laundry or meal plan, but you are feeling very isolated in “total motherhood.” You are begging to talk to another adult, maybe desperate for a good relationship with a neighbor, but cognizant that there’s really no time for you in lives of the full-time working moms around you. For the stay-at-home mom, it may seem most other moms are friends with their coworkers and fill their social buckets while at work. Once the working mom is home, it’s family time, and definitely not time to hang out with the neighbor lady.
Third. Speaking of time. Jeffrey A. Hall, PhD, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, developed two studies and published an article that said it takes “between 40 and 60 hours to move from an acquaintance to a casual friendship, from 80 to 100 hours to call someone a friend, and over 200 hours of togetherness before someone rated as a best friend.”
Where on EARTH am I supposed to come up with that amount of time?
Whether you stay at home, work part time, or work full time, your motherhood schedule and other obligations can be all-consuming. It may seem there is no margin anywhere to give one other stinking person that amount of your time.
A study by the Barna Group, called Wonder Women, found polled a group of women and found that while over a third were admittedly lonely, friendship fell far behind on their listed priorities. This particular study focuses more on the career women/mother conflict, which is not what I’m harping about, but the data is still telling. We live in a pressure cooker and want to perform with excellence in motherhood, marriage or partnership, and the workplace. Why would we spend over 200 hours of time and effort to bring someone else into our precarious
Because we’re lonely and need friendship, kinship, community, fellowship, and someone to water our plants or watch our kids. We need emergency contacts. We need accountability partners. We need wisdom of third parties. We need someone to tell us its going to be okay when it definitely doesn’t feel like it. We need someone to make us lasagna.
Jennie Allen, author of Find Your People, had some advice about time.
“Invite someone to your dinner party an hour early to help with prep or ask them to stay late and help you clean up.”
“Borrow the ingredient you forgot instead of running to the store to buy it.”
Some other ideas:
Sidle up to the other mom on the bleachers at your kid’s sporting event.
Suddenly time is getting logged with people that doesn’t need to be set aside from your taxing schedule. It’s contributing to and easing your responsibilities to bring the other person in.
When you’re ready to go searching for your community, it’s hard. Not everyone has read this blog, or Jennie Allen’s book, or has felt the grip of lonely motherhood the way you have. Not everyone is willing to put themselves out there. It’s safer to post perfectly edited pictures or videos of the safe little happiness happening behind our privacy fences and pretty little front door wreaths.
“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” – Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend | Boundaries
If you want to banish loneliness and isolation, it is up to YOU to reach out and put in the time to create real, in-person, warts-and-all friendships.
With whom do you already have 40ish hours of non-working time logged? Or maybe could find a way to get 40ish hours with?
Maybe it’s a mom and her kid(s) you run in to at the park over and over again. Get her number and arrange to meet up at the park on purpose next time, or invite her to walk home with you for a glass of sweet tea – even if your house is a complete wreck.
Maybe it’s someone at work that you don’t have a close relationship with, but they could easily become a friend if you went to lunch together once a week.
Or, find a group someone already created. Nashville Parent published a list of mom groups that have been organized for counties, cities, moms of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.), even for moms with a baby-wearing preference.
HERE’S THE RUB with these groups. They may be nice ways to connect, but they are not the same as a village. In her Podcast “Made for This,” Jennie Allen said (and we all know this), “You can go hang out with people socially and leave feeling completely invisible and lonely, so you have to be intentional about your conversations.” So go to the parent group of your choice, but do NOT leave without the phone number of a new acquaintance, and start putting in the hours.
Meeting and making friends is hard and awkward.
Do it anyway.
The entirety of this blog post was inspired by Find Your People by Jennie Allen. Her website, where you can purchase the book and/or audiobook and download free group discussion materials, is linked below.
- Journal of Social and Person Relationships: How many hours does it take to make a friend?” Jeffrey A. Hall