They say it takes a village to raise a child, and taking steps to build that village means creating a support network that will help your family thrive.
During the transitional phase of early parenthood, not only are we getting to know this little human and how to meet their needs, but we’re also learning so much about ourselves as parents. Having the love and support of a dedicated community can make all the difference as we navigate these tricky waters. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and in our modern culture where communal living isn’t the norm, we have to be intentional about creating that village ourselves.
Community can look all sorts of ways. It can be made up of blood relatives, long-time friends, co-workers, neighbors, and people we’ve connected with over being new parents. For some, this community comes easily and may already be in place before your child is born, and for others, building this community comes with time. No matter where you are on the journey of finding your people, here are strategies for connecting with like-minded families to build your support network and help your family thrive.
You Do You
Often the best place to start finding meaningful connections is by identifying your own values and interests and holding fast to those things unapologetically.
“I don’t even remember how I’ve met all my closest friends,” says Stephanie Sims, a Cincinnati-based mom. “Some were at the park or a homeschool co-op, but overall it seems like I started meeting like-minded people everywhere I went when I just showed up fully as myself.”
Do you enjoy books or music? Is your faith important to you? Do you consider yourself “crunchy”? Are you planning to stay at home or go back to work? Does adhering to a strict nap schedule keep you sane? Knowing what makes you tick can help you find the spaces—either online or in-person — where “your people” hang out.
Meeting your people doesn’t come instantaneously — it requires a bit of effort. Stretching yourself to meet people in ways you may not have considered in the past could mean the difference between doing life solo and finding your parental soul mate. Getting outside of your comfort zone could look different to different parents. Perhaps it means being willing to show up to a MOPS group without makeup and baby spit-up on your shirt, or maybe it looks like striking up a conversation with a parent on the playground or in the toy aisle at the grocery store.
“Just taking on that child-like mentality of ‘want to be friends’ when you’re out at places like the park makes a big difference,” says Heather Riggleman, a mom in Cincinnati.
The process often can seem a lot like dating: extremely awkward. The sooner you are able to embrace that discomfort, the sooner you’ll realize we’re all on this uncomfortable journey together.
Keep It Real
Getting into spaces where you’re likely to find people you connect with is only the first step.
“It takes effort and vulnerability,” says Aireal Ishola, a Cincinnati-based mom, who has gathered her support system from a variety of places, including her children’s school, mom groups and church, and admits the process didn’t happen overnight.
To make those deep connections may mean sharing things about yourself that aren’t necessarily Instagram-worthy and listening without judgement when someone else divulges the messy parts of their life. It could even mean allowing people to help you out — by watching your child or bringing you a meal, for example — when your instinct is to do it all yourself.
Know When To Walk Away
For some, in our eagerness to make meaningful relationships, we end up staying in relationships with people that don’t share our values or with whom we simply don’t click. If you’ve been hanging with a family and something doesn’t feel right or you simply don’t vibe, you have permission to let go, move on and trust that that void will be filled with someone with whom you find real kinship.
When You Can’t Find It, Build It
Maybe you’ve tried the mom fitness class, the MOPS group, the neighborhood playgroup; chatted up parents on the playground, at preschool pickup and soccer practice; and you still haven’t found your village. In that case, maybe it’s time to build the community you want from scratch.
When Brock Lusch of Cincinnati decided to step away from his job in 2017 to become a stay-at-home dad, he was looking to make meaningful connections with other fathers. “Dads think they have to lone-wolf their fatherhood,” he says, “but I have learned that actually they just need a place to interact with other dads free of judgement and ridicule.” After searching for a space like that to no avail, he started the Cincinnati Dads Group Facebook group and finally found the dad relationships he hoped for.
While building your village won’t happen overnight, working toward making those connections while your children are young will give you people you can lean on as your family grows.