Skip to Content

Personal tools

Creating a Village

Giving our Families a Feeling of Connection and Belonging

~ By Jenni Pertuset

The life of a parent can feel very isolated. Warm relationships with caring adults can sustain us when we're struggling, and help our children feel at ease when they're away from home. So how do we build the village we need to raise our children?

WHAT IS A VILLAGE?

My working definition of a "village" is that it is a connected community of caring adults who support us in nurturing our relationship with our children. A village isn't just a set of friends.
It is those friends, neighbors, extended family members, and acquaintances who, whether it's intentional or even knowing, help deliver us as parents to our children. We are, of course, not just recipients of support, but full participants, offering our caring and support to others.

VILLAGE-BUILDING PRINCIPLES

Building a village requires effort and persistence. It is rare to stumble into a ready-made community where you are and feel immediately welcome. Even in inclusive and inviting organizations it takes reaching out, showing up frequently, extending invitations repeatedly, and having patience.

It also requires vulnerability. This is apparent in the effort itself - extending ourselves and making invitations that may not be accepted can be challenging. And the challenge doesn't end once we've established relationships, either. Opening our homes and our lives to other people also opens our heart to hurts, but we can hardly find genuine relationships without that willingness.

Building a strong village also requires accepting differences. While we're all looking for people who share our values or who are otherwise like us, true community allows for diversity, where our connection is deeper than our similarities. (Although there is of course a point at which we will not sacrifice our values for the sake of connection.)

VILLAGE-BUILDING TOOLS

A village is built one relationship at a time. Three major attachment rituals described by author and renowned developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld are instrumental in establishing and maintaining all relationships. These are collecting, bridging, and matchmaking.

"Collecting" is a greeting ritual that extends throughout our interactions, not just the opening, in which we establish a meaningful contact by getting in another person's space in a friendly way, meeting their eyes, and engaging their smile.

"Bridging" is the goodbye ritual that is meaningful beyond the moment when we physically part. It sustains us through felt separations even when we're together, including feeling that we're unimportant or unseen or different from those with whom we're in relationship. By bridging, we focus not on the separation but on the return and the ongoing relationship.

"Matchmaking" is the introduction ritual. Here too, it is an ongoing interaction, and doesn't end after the first encounter. The intention of matchmaking is to foster a working relationship through an existing attachment. We help endear two people to each other, making it easy for them to like each other.

Being aware of these tools and our use of them can improve our relationships and expand our villages. For example, matchmaking a student and her teacher can bring another caring adult alongside a child to support her in thriving in the classroom and beyond.

VILLAGE-BUILDING ACTIONS

Following are some specific suggestions for building a village, offered as inspiration, not prescription. The best actions will always be those guided by your own objectives and your own consideration of how to meet them.

  • Pick a recurring event in an established parenting community and attend regularly.
  • Include caring adults from outside your nuclear family in rituals, traditions, and celebrations such as holidays, birthdays, or regular meals.
  • Create or participate in events which allow long stretches of relaxed time together, such as camping trips.
  • Play outside your house, increasing your opportunities for encountering neighbors.
  • Take dog walks, even if you don't have a dog. Take treats for your kids to give the dogs (check with the owner first) to meet the dogs and owners in your neighborhood.
  • Participate in or start a neighborhood online discussion list and use it to create opportunities for meeting in person.
  • Frequent your neighborhood farmers market.
  • Attend or organize your neighborhood's annual Night Out Against Crime (Aug 2 this year).
  • Open your house, or just your yard, to your neighbors. Some families host Flamingo Fridays,  a weekly gathering of neighbors signaled by plastic flamingo on the lawn. A few willing families could circulate host duties.
  • Ask for help. People respond when families are in need. This is especially apparent in a crisis, but also true for less urgent needs. Although we may be reluctant to ask for fear of burdening others, we sometimes forget that it feels good to be able to give support.
  • Offer help when you recognize a need.

RECOMMENDED READING

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers - Dr Gordon Neufeld's work is the foundation for my thinking about the need for and creation of a village. This book is a remarkable call to becoming the parents our children need.

All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents - This is a dense text, but offers a wealth of ideas. The author, director of the Search Institute, starts with the premise that there are "assets" or elements of community that kids need to thrive, and lists them along with ways of promoting them. While not as robust, the book Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand: How to Create a Culture that Cares for Kids offers more of a narrative and also relies on the Search Institute's asset-building paradigm.

Connect 5: Finding the Caring Adults You May Not Realize Your Teen Needs - Although the focus is on teens, this has suggestions for welcoming other caring adults into your family's life that are useful for families with kids of any age.


About the Author

Jenni Pertuset is a parent consultant and leader of Attachment Parenting International in Seattle (API Seattle). She's the mother of an intense, challenging, and delightful 6-year-old daughter. Jenni can be contacted at jenni@pertuset.net

Document Actions