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Parental Arts

How to Get Your Village in Place — Fast

Written By
Anna Davies
Illustration
Marie Assénat
As a single parent to my five-year-old daughter, Lucy, I do it all on my own. Seriously, I took the subway to the hospital in labor by myself and stopped for a bagel and coffee on the way. And even though we quickly developed a tight group of friends in our community, I still prided myself on doing everything on our own.
And then, Covid-19 and quarantine hit, and we were alone without a choice. Even partnered parents felt overwhelmed by the crush of work and school demands. But a funny thing happened. In pre-pandemic life, I made it a point to never complain about how hard things were. Of course I could go to work and drive a carpool to dance and make yearbooks for the Pre-K 4 class, no problem. I never wanted to share my vulnerabilities because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or think I wasn’t as strong as I looked on the outside. But as March rolled into April and numerous text chains and Facebook groups popped up — local neighbors, classroom parents, the “dance moms” — I realized just how much of a community we had all along. Neighbors offered to grab things at the store when they ventured out. Six parents from Lucy’s ballet class developed a virtual cocktail hour where we would sip wine and text while our kids danced on Zoom. Video chats became frequent, and the answer to “How are you doing?” wasn’t an automatic “Okay.”
Now that the world has opened up somewhat, new challenges are emerging. Parents are struggling to balance virtual school and weighing the pros and cons of expanding their bubble. Some families have moved, other families feel anchored in a town that they never anticipated to be permanent. And yet, despite the challenges, there is a glimmer of a silver lining. “We as parents put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all, and like we shouldn’t ask for help. But the pandemic almost gave us permission to say: This is so hard,” says Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Embracing Joy. This admission is an example of “leading with vulnerability” — which can make people feel less alone. “Even if there’s nothing to ‘fix’ the problem, being aware that you’re not alone is huge.”
The good news: This is the best time to build or strengthen your village. It may be virtual for now, but it’ll still be solid and there for you when you need it. Here’s how to do it.

1. Know What You’re Looking For — and Ask for It

Are you looking for commiseration? Support? Ideas for how to make virtual learning tolerable? The more you drill down into what you need, the more you can ask for it, strengthening your connections to people around you, says Thompson. For example, while far-flung grandparents may not be able to visit or babysit anytime soon, they can do a regular Zoom call to help your toddler with an art project.

It’s also a good time to let down your guard with acquaintances. Is a neighbor asking if you need anything on a grocery run? Take them up on the offer. It may feel weird or scary — but can result in a deeper friendship.

2. Look for Unlikely Friends

My neighbor had always said a friendly “Hi” to the seventy-year-old couple who lived across the hall from her. When Covid-19 hit, she began doing grocery runs for them. Now, her family has socially distant dinners in their shared courtyard, and the husband has offered to tutor her tween. In “ordinary” times, with busy lifestyles, it can be tough to think outside the box when it comes to friends. But looking around at the people in your neighborhood can be an awesome way to connect, too. This is especially true for people who may not usually be around, such as kids doing remote university (great babysitters or interns) and WFH parents that previously may have had intense commuting schedules.

3. Encourage Lingering

If you’ve moved to a new town, it’s not like you can just throw a housewarming or block party. But there are ways to let people know who you are from a distance. Carrie, a mom of three who recently moved to a new house, set up a “free shelf” on her front yard where her family put discarded toys for people to take. Carrie found the free shelf frequently replenished by other neighbors, and the addition gave a talking point when she met people walking her dog. Sitting outside for dinner, saying hello across fences, saying hi to that person you always see walking the same poodle — all are ways to feel part of the larger community.

4. Let People In

When Lucy was a baby, I ran into my old chorus teacher from high school. “If you need anything, let me know,” she gushed, cooing over Lucy as I coolly took in her request. Why would I ever do that? I had never particularly liked her. Later, I told a friend about the encounter, adding, “She would literally be the one-thousandth person I would ever call.” My friend responded: “Let her be the thousandth person.” The point: You have a lot more people rooting for you than you may think, and the pandemic just may be the time to call that “if you need anything, give me a holler” person on your list. “Some people you may not click with, and that’s okay,” says Thompson. But texting that mom you met once last fall, or suggesting a socially distant coffee during drop-off to another parent can be one way to realize just how many people are part of your circle.

5. Create Reasons for “Random” Catch Up

Jen, a mom of three in New York City, found her friend group scattered across the U.S. when Covid hit. Instead of simply catching up on text, a core group of friends made an agreement to have a video chat and do tarot card pulls on every full moon. “Having a set day and set activity makes it less likely to fall by the wayside,” shares Jen. Set up a book club, a networking happy hour, a guest speaker for a parent group — anything that you can put on your calendar so it won’t get overlooked.