Motherhood, work and socializing

March 28, 2008 | 42 comments

In my post from earlier this week, I compared the internet to a tribal village water well: a gathering place where women can have quick, casual conversations in the course of their daily lives. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot as I read through all the fascinating comments is the ways in which the internet is not perfect replacement for a real village well. I think one of the biggest things missing, as a many commenters have pointed out, is that our children are not involved in our online interactions. If we had a real well to go visit, our children would be running around and playing as we chatted — filling our need for casual interaction with other adults would be something we did with our kids.

Yet the modern alternative, going to playgroups or other get-togethers involving moms and children, is missing something as well: it doesn’t involve any aspect of our daily household duties. Again, if we had a real well to gather around, we wouldn’t just be there for the chatting: we’d be accomplishing a vital household task (gathering water) in addition to meeting those needs #2-4 that I talked about in that last post. From what I remember from those anthropology classes, the daily gathering places that women have always had were places where they also washed clothes, collected water, prepared food, etc. (I recall a commenter offering a lovely glimpse into this sort of life in the first comment to this post over at Mothers of Many Saints.)

Personally, as my family has grown, I’ve found it harder and harder to put all daily work on hold to pack everyone up and go socialize. Though it’s well worth the effort to occasionally go to good friends’ houses for meaningful conversations and quality visits, it’s increasingly difficult to make it to playgroups or other sources of casual get-togethers. It takes a large amount of time and effort to get everyone packed in the car and out of the house, and doing that too often leaves me exhausted and puts me behind on all that I have to do to just keep the house at a “probably not going to be condemned by the health department” level. The beauty of having a real community water well area would be that life would be decompartmentalized: I’d have an opportunity to chat with other adults, my children would be part of these interactions, and it would all be part of my daily work. “Time with my children” and “work time” and “socializing time” would all blend together as one (to borrow from Steve G.’s term) community liturgy.

So here’s what I’ve been pondering this week: is there any way to recreate this in modern life?

I would love to draw on the brainpower of my brilliant commenters and see if you have any ideas here: can you think of any solutions, either short-term or long-term, that would help us combine our daily work with gathering with others?

To give you some examples, my husband and I were thinking that some short-term solutions could be to, say, meet other moms at a laundromat once a week and do our laundry together, or perhaps start a garden with another family, or join a mothers prayer group. A long-term solution could be to have opportunities for socializing heavily influence our housing choices, i.e. either living in an urban, walkable area or intentionally living on the same street as friends or family members. We even threw out the crazy idea of getting together with other families and buying a bunch of land outside the city limits and all building houses there. (Some of those are more feasible than others, and I’m not saying that any one of these would definitely work or is a perfect solution — just some quick examples from our brainstorming session.)

So…I turn the question over to all of you: What do you think about this? Can you think of some ways we could combine our daily work with community interaction? Have you found something that’s worked for you?

42 Comments

  1. Kelly

    Go talk to Erin on the Bearing Blog. She does this, and she wrote a series of posts about it a few years back.

    http://arlinghaus.typepad.com/blog/

  2. Milehimama

    I’ve found that this works for inviting people over to prepare for big events (Christmas baking, Memorial day picnic, etc.)

    A big problem I have is that *I* am the only adult around all day! I think that’s why they had quilting bees and corn shuckings in the old days… the families were scattered far and wide. A corn shucking was when one family would harvest their corn crop, and everyone would come and shuck bushels and bushels of corn (and sing and dance and drink…) The next weekend, another family would harvest and everyone would turn out for that.

  3. tara

    We started the practice of “Super Saturday” with 2 other young families. We take turns doing home improvement projects at each others’ houses. Each 4-8 weeks, someone “hosts” the gathering and all 3 couples work on their house from 8-12 – then they provide lunch. Now that we all have kids, the host also hires a babysitter. We chat as we work and get a lot more done than we would on our own.

  4. SursumCorda

    It’s not quite what you’re looking for, but I’m reminded of our visit to Japan, where we were blessed to participate in a HIPPO Family Club meeting. Families meet weekly for the purposes of learning new languages — it’s rather hard to explain, but the point here is that this particular club met in a large room, and the adults generally ran the activities and did their “work” much like the women at the well, while the children were free to participate as much or as little as they wanted. They casually went back and forth between participating and playing their own games, yet learned a tremendous amount in the process.

    We do need more activities, of work, learning, or whatever, that whole families can do together where children can participate in this casual way.

  5. Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife

    Although we did not move there, one of the opportunities was a housing development which had houses all collected in groups around a central “park” sometimes with just a path and a bench or two, sometimes with a playground. There was also a community garden and an organic farm which families could participate in. There was also a charter school. Unfortunately we could not afford the prices they were asking but I often think about how nice it might have been…

  6. Julie

    Have you ever heard of cohousing? I totally fantasize about coming into money and starting a cohousing community around here.

    *sigh*

    Look it up on Wikipedia. 🙂

  7. Dustmite

    Reading your post reminded me of a family (my wifes virtual friend) who lives on a block where it is very common for “all the family’s” to get together and hang out. A couple of family’s might start chatting and next thing you know the whole block is there, the kids running around, a collection is taken and a run to the store for BBQ supplies is made. This is exactly what I think our country has lost as we emerged out of the 50’s & 60’s and is exactly what I think it needs and I would like. But the kicker? Truth be told, my wife and I tend to shun socializing and would probably turn to the virtual world more often than not. Its a very sad reality and one that needs to be broken.

  8. Anonymous

    Hey Jen, Allison here… I belong to the YMCA that is close to our neighborhood and it has become my village well. I go usually 4 times during the week in the morning. I’ve made lots of casual friends there who I can chat with before and after classes. They have a fabulous childcare set up for the kids where they can run wild and play with friends and burn off some energy. So I get my exercise, have some adult interaction, and the kids get to burn off some energy and have fun. One of the great things about the Y is the variety of people who are there. For instance in my lap swimming class I share a lane with a early 20’s girl who is in community college and has cerebal palsy and a 71 year old guy who has travelled the world working in the oil industry. In my pilates class I met a cool lady who has 5 grown children. When I go to pick up or drop off the kids I run into ladies I know and we can swap funny kid stories or questions. They also have a living room area where people can congregate and they can swap books for free that people have donated. They also have classes for all sorts of things, sports programs for all ages, senior activities like trips and educational classes, and just a ton of other stuff. I view exercising as part of my work. Keeping up with kids is hard work and requires a decent level of fitness 🙂 Anyway, you can see why I view this as my village well.

  9. Anna & Miri's Dad

    Urban living has worked for my wife and me. We live in the City of Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood called Bloomfield. It’s not perfect. But it was built for people and not for cars, and as a result isolation is not one of our problems.

    We know all of our neighbors by name and have a block party once a year. I take the bus to work and see more neighbors at the bus stop each day. My wife stays at home with our kids, but they can walk to some errands – post office, hair salon, bakery, grocery store, farmer’s market in the summer – and we can all walk to Mass. I discussed your post with my wife, and she also noted that she always sees moms she knows when she takes the kids to the library (10 minutes away) or to the “Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library” (a sort of indoor playground that’s 2 minutes away). My sister-in-law lives two blocks from us and sometimes drops in on her way home from work, which helps soften the blow of toddler meltdown time (5-7 pm in our house).

    We occasionally have other couples over – with and without their kids – but the nice thing about urban living is that it involves bumping into people in an unforced and unscheduled way as we go about our daily lives.

    The other nice thing is that it’s affordable: Pittsburgh is not New York! Co-housing and the “new urbanism” both seem to involve a developer cutting down a forest outside of town, building new houses, and marketing them to rich people. Actual urban living involves none of these fiscal or environmental costs. Our detached single-family house (4 bedrooms, 1800 square feet, backyard big enough for a swingset) cost $120K.

    I grew up in the suburbs and am not a holier-than-thou urbanite. But if isolation is a problem – and it is, especially in nameless new suburbs in places down South and out West – urban living can be the cure.

  10. foursure

    We have a study through our parish called “Renew, Why Catholic?” in which we meet for 1.5 hours/week for 6 consecutive weeks (Sundays at 4pm). We bring the kids and they play during the study, then we eat together as a group (5 families). It always ends up being about 4 hours total with all of the socializing. We’ve made good friends. It’s not work, but it’s good for the soul.

  11. Thia

    The super saturday idea is cool. I was thinking how nice it would be to have some friends close by and we could rotate deep cleaning. Go to house A one week, house B the next…do the major stuff…floors, windows etc or just help wherever it’s needed.

  12. Denise

    Two ideas–one is just meeting up with other moms or families for a walk to exercise. While it may not be “work” it is something we need to do to take care of ourselves, so I think either a carefree walk around the neighborhood or a more structured “mommy walk” program at the mall can be a great way to combine the need for work and socializing.

    I also had friends who swapped dinners 2x week. One mom made enough for both families (main dish only) for M&T and then delivered it over to the house, the other made for W &TH. They were on their own for the weekends. Now while they did this and then just swapped, it could also work to meet up at one house and cook and chat (and have the kids play)—or maybe even a big cooking session where you cook and froze a lot together.

    We’re pretty lucky in that our new neighborhood has all the kids playing in the cul-du-sac all afternoon. So while the mornings are quiet, I try to do my house-work and then all the moms sit outside and chit chat while the kids play in the afternoon til dinnertime. But that is just pure luck of where we moved (or more likely divine graces!)

  13. Laura

    We live out in the country with two other homeschooling families within 3 miles (which is close for us!). We have often thought that we should start a community out here, where other like-minded families would come and live. This way we could live like people used to: helping each other with the basics of living while also having the families socialize and pray together. So far it is just the three of us. Even so, it is hard to keep that sense of community because as our kids all get older, we all get busier and getting together becomes less and less of a priority in our everyday hectic lives. We all long for just what you are talking about, but it is hard to accomplish it in today’s world.

  14. Anne Marie

    In the building trade we are seeing retirees design homes to accommodate multigenerational visits, but getting together a few times a year only goes so far.

    My Brother and Sister and I are blessed to have second homes adjacent to each other on a lake. My Mother and Father each have a home on this particular lake as well. None of us live near each other but we spend weekends together in the summer and it is very, very cool. We have that opportunity to just live together. The kids know their Aunts and Uncles well and the cousins are growing up together. We share the shopping and cooking, we play, we party in the evenings, and we worship together on Sunday. It is a wonderful way to live and I would like to find a way to retire in some type of a community situation.

  15. Heather

    I think it depends. For those of us who are less social and already do work online–like my husband and I, this is our community and it is more than enough.

    Being introverted we would more likely be pioneers heading out to some uncharted space than those living in a town gathering around a well. 🙂

    We also live in an old fashioned neighborhood–we are surrounded by elderly people who have lived here most of their lives and who knew my grandparents who lived nearby. They love interacting with our children and often the children and I are outside helping them with various activities and learning from them about how to do outside things.

  16. Anonymous

    I’m considering homeschooling my kids and recently visited a Catholic homeschooling co-op in my area. The moms brought their kids and all helped the children with their various age-related studies and activities as well as socialize with one another. I found this very appealing…the ability to socialize with like-minded people while getting some daily work done that involves everyone’s children. Unfortunately, because of modern life, this can only work with a very structured schedule which I bet sometimes feels like an imposition at one time or another for the families. But the village well seemed to work.

  17. Anonymous

    I love this thread, Jen, and I’ve been thinking about this too — I hate the structure of “playdates” and tend to think of them of something I have to prepare for — I like to be spontaneous with friendships and I find that the times I really need a friend also don’t tend to fall in a schedule — I bitterly miss having someone that you could just call up and hang out with without worrying that you were imposing on them. Someone you could spend time with without an agenda.

    In my little fantasy world I would have a friend or two with kids about the same age and we would rotate houses in a very informal way — so Monday, I’d call up J and say, Hey, I have to to laundry and clean my closet today, do you want to bring your kid over to play with my kid in the yard and hang out with me while I do that and why don’t you bring your scrapbook/mending/whatever to do while you are here. And then Tuesday J would call up me and K and say “Hey, why don’t you come over today and keep me company while I clean up the yard and bring your kids they can play in the sprinklers”. And then on Thursday K would call me up and say “Hey, I need to take my car into the shop, can you give me a ride there and do errands with me afterwards and we’d all go grocery shopping or to the mall and then to McDonald’s with the kids while helping her out.

    That’s what I want — best friends who think, with me, that we are all in this together and that getting my closet organized or my dishes washed or my grocery shopping done is something they want to help me do and I want to help them do that stuff too and we all work together to figure out how best to help each other take care of our kids and get everything done.

    Heavy sigh — I know this is a pipe dream, but realizing that this is what I want/need has made me stop going to playgroups wondering why I feel even more lonely after I’ve gone than before — because the interactions just seem fake to me, fake and forced and scheduled.

  18. Laura

    I’ve been giving this some more thought all day and have come up with two examples of how we mix work, socializing and children. The first is through our food co-ops. We belong to two and it is a great time that the kids look forward to. We all meet, distribute our food, talk and the kids play. They know they have a long time to play because us moms end up spending more time talking than we do working on the food. The other thing our homeschool group used to do was have a sewing circle. Once a month moms and old enough girls would get together at someone’s house, bring their sewing or knitting or other projects to work on, chat and eat snacks. It was a great time and we all actually got stuff done! Unfortunately it fell by the wayside because the host family moved and no one else has picked it up.

  19. Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ

    I strated a Catholic Women’s Book Club over a year ago..it has been very successful..

  20. Lori

    A friend of mine and I have a deal where one weekend a month I go to her house and help her weed her garden and the next weekend she comes over and helps me with mine. We don’t have kids yet, but someday, the kids can play with each other while my friend and I tend to the gardens!

  21. molly

    BIG HELP:
    Get a headset for the phone. My best friend and I get on the phone together with our headsets on, and then we can fix dinner or clean up the kitchen or fold laundry (while wearing a fussy baby or whatever) and talk about allllll sorts of things WHILE getting a bunch of work done. It’s AWESOME!

    Btw, I have loved these posts about this topic. My friend turned me onto this and it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, particularly the phase of being a stay-home parent when all the kids are really little: it’s a VERY VERY difficult phase, one I am so grateful to be moving out from.

    The internet kept me alive, in a major way, though I felt guilty about it the whole time (that being on the internet was bad, etc)…until I finally realized that this was the only actual place I had to CONNECT with others on a daily basis.

    Anyways, I’d better stop rambling. Just wanted to say, thanks for the great thoughts.

  22. Anonymous

    We manage to do some of this by hosting dinner in the backyard in the summer where everyone brings their leftovers, which are new to every one else. That way no one gets tired of eating the same thing (I swear none of my recipes feed threee) and dinner just involves a table and a microwave. We are up to four families doing this about 2 days a week.

  23. Beth - Total Mom Haircut

    This is a REALLY interesting topic. I’m new to your blog (thanks for visiting mine, by the way) and I’m so glad I stopped by to find THIS POST. Something I have been thinking about and plan to post about soon is similar to this idea. We are so separated in our culture and we are one of the only countries where new moms have so little interaction with family and friends. In so many other places mothers spend their days taking care of their children, their households while simultaneously having the camaraderie of family and friends. I’ll have to think more about this and if I do post I’ll let you know.

    As for one possibility- I have a blog friend who takes her kids to work at the local farm because she has a farm share there. They go to sort the produce and put together their share and the kids play and help collect their family’s food. That was the first thing that came to mind when reading this.

  24. Amber

    We actually joined a cohousing group that was trying to form and we went to the endless meetings for well over a year. That particular project ended up self-destructing, and other projects in the general area ended up being too expensive. The main problems with cohousing from my perspective are that a) it is new development, which by nature is going to be more expensive (although I have not seen what a previous commenter mentioned about building on the outskirts and such – in CA people seem to be much more interested in infill type projects – which also makes them more expensive) and b) they really aren’t geared towards bigger families – generally involved families are two income with one to children, max.

    There is a type of cohousing where people gradually “take over” an existing neighborhood, pulling down common fences as they grow and even sometimes buying a house or dedicating space to some sort of common building for doing things together. It is a very slow process, but it has worked very well for some very dedicated people. But really, for all intents and purposes that sort of thing is pretty much a pipe dream for most of us.

    I currently live in an area with a lot of family, but I hardly see them. Everyone is too concerned about getting in someone else’s way, or there is a perception that either they are too busy, or the other people are too busy. If getting together could somehow be more casual and more functional (rather than just social) – work parties, being around while people are doing other projects, or whatever perhaps we could see each other more often.

    I would imagine that this is the same with friends too – people get too worried about imposing and also feeling like they have to entertain if someone is over, and all this impedes our ability to just be together more often and do the things that need to get done. I’m sure pride gets in the way too – “I don’t want to have so-and-so over when my house looks like this!” even if the point is to have the kids play while adults deep clean or do whatever projects they want to do.

    I think in my ideal world I would belong to a homeschooling co-op sort of thing where we (adults and kids) would come together maybe once or twice a week to do group classes with occasional (every month or every other?) social events involving the whole family (so dads could meet everyone too). I’d also be part of a book discussion group of some sort on my own, for my own intellectual and spiritual growth. I would also do some sort of work trade weekend thing with other families like some other commenter(s) mentioned. And I’d like to have a couple close friends who could occasionally come over and work on stuff with me while kids play, and vice versa.

    So far I think I have the second one going… to bad that’s probably the easiest one!

  25. Jess

    We have another family who has a child the same age as our daughter that we spend time with at least a couple weekends a month. The husbands play on a soccer league in the summer, we sometimes have dinner on a week night at one of our houses, parents go out and leave all the kids with a sitter together, sometimes we just go play BINGO. It is nice because there are no expectations of having to “entertain”. Interestingly enough, I met this family through… a mom’s forum! 🙂

    I also have a friend I met through blogging (notice the trend) and we try and get together every other week or so in the morning. The kids have fun playing and we chat and usually it is about politics, religion, etc. Even though we disagree about almost everything we get a great amount of pleasure out of just talking about things that are important aside from our kids. I have found that this is very hard to find once you have children. All moms talk about at play dates are their kids and maybe the occasional recipe.

    With that said, I don’t think most SAHMs should beat themselves up over the lack of social interaction with other moms in their day to day life. I have a toddler and a 2 month old, naps are the most important thing in my life right now- get the kids too off track and it can be misery for DAYS. For the first few years of children’s lives the home has to be child-centered and the social needs of the parents take a back seat, IMO. If the internet can provide an isolated mom who is trapped at home with napping children (!!!) some much needed conversation then that is a very good thing. And I think a lot of people discount finding niche groups on the internet where you can find other people who have your exact interests no matter how obscure. There is something really amazing about that! And as proof in my examples above, the internet can be a great gateway to real life relationships.

  26. Jess

    P.S. – I know this doesn’t quite suit b/c it doesn’t involve kids, but Bunko groups have been great all over the US at getting neighbors (typically women) together. I would assume this could be a great way for those in suburbia to meet and interact with neighbors and to use it to springboard into joint family activities.

  27. La gallina

    I always thought of myself as a city slicker, but 6 years ago my husband and moved back to a small town. (God led us here, of course. That’s the first thing to consider.) It’s a town where I lived as a kid, and my husband is from the area. We met and lived here during our first couple of years together.

    Then we decided to go out into the “real world” of cities and lots of people. But coming back has been the best thing we’ve ever done. We know all our neighbors and always chat over the fence or hanging out in the front yard. We usually bump into people we know at the grocery store or the post office. We know people in church and our oldest goes to CCD, as do a huge number of kids from the local public school. (The school bus drops them off at the parish hall.) Our town in south Texas is predominantly Catholic, so just being part of our parish is a great way to be a part of the community. Since we homeschool, being part of the Catholic church and CCD is also a great way for our kids to feel involved in the other kids’ lives.

    I always thought small-town life would be dull, but I find it is much more fulfilling than the life I had in the big city. (It can be busy here too because it’s a tourist/beach town.) But I spend almost no time in traffic. People know each other. I’m not very good at making social plans and obligations, but I living in this small community makes it easy to socialize casually.

  28. Anna

    Hmm. Possible ideas:

    1) Get some women together, make up menus for a week, go grocery shopping together, then go back to a house (preferably with a decent-sized kitchen) and make together anything on the menus that can be made ahead of time (and maybe frozen).

    2) I think the switching off cleaning each other’s houses is a great idea. And kids can be involved in helping with that.

    The laundry idea would work well if people are already going to do laundry at a laundry mat; otherwise it’s more expensive than doing it at home, and not likely to draw people in.

    Walking everyone for exercise is also a great idea. I wish I knew people in my area who would do that with me.

    I do a once-a-week playgroup. This works very well for me. I go most weeks, but if I’m not feeling up to it some week, I can take it off without it causing problems. The moms are all Catholic moms, and we have fun chatting about different things. We have a nominal meeting time from 2 to 6, but people show up and leave whenever is convenient for them to work around naptimes and rush hour driving. And once a week is not so often that it causes a serious problem for my housekeeping. (My housekeeping … leaves something to be desired, whether I go to playgroup or not. I find that the hours I spend not cleaning due to playgroup are balanced by the fact that my children aren’t home to be causing a mess during that time.)

    On the other hand, I find it very helpful to have two adult groups that I’m involved with that don’t involve the kids, too. Two evenings a week I have groups that I am involved with through my parish; this gives my husband time with the kids, gets me out of the house without the hassle of getting the kids out too, and really connects me with the people I meet with. Since it’s in the evening when I’m not likely to be cleaning anyways, it also doesn’t interfere with my housework.

    God bless.

  29. Carrien

    I’ve been trying to figure this one out for years. If I could find enough people, and my husband would consent, I would buy a chunk of land and build community on it. We’ve even almost moved in with Christian communities a few times. I lived in a very close community before I was married, we even occasionally referred to ourselves as quasi monastic, and since leaving it, even though I find my marriage and children quite fulfilling, I find myself homesick for that kind of community still.

    Some things that I do.

    I choose places to live based on how close they are to basic needs like the post office, grocery store, library etc. As much as possible we walk to do these things. I still live in an apartment, even though we could afford to rent a house for what we pay here, but part of the reason for staying is that opportunity for community. Our home is a large gated community with shared pool, laundry, playground, mail boxes. I have many friends I’d have never met if I didn’t have to walk to the mail box every day, or I didn’t see them with their kids every day of the summer at the pool. Some of these friends are quite dear. We watch each other’s kids in the pool while the other gets her laundry and brings it back to the poolside to fold it while we chat and keep each other company. Our kids can run from each other’s houses and we take advantage of the times when they are playing under another’s supervision to get a few things done around the house. We try to be careful not to take advantage of the breaks before we relieve each other.

    I have in the past shared a house with another family. Two separate suites but shared back yard and only a door between them. We were friends before we lived together and the experience was challenging, but rewarding.

    We moved countries to be a 20 minute drive from my inlaws. Which is pretty close by CA standards. We’ve talked of building another house on their property, but that’s out of the question for now.

    And finally, I’ve cultivated, ever since high school, those special friends who don’t mind walking into my house when it’s a mess and just sitting themselves down on a clear space and talking to me while I keep working on climbing my way to the top of the pile. Sometimes they pitch in, but most often they pop by when they need to chat, stay a little while and then leave again, and I usually have the dishwasher loaded and dinner started and the laundry folded by the time they go home. I save those kinds of can talk while I work tasks fro when they come over. This is my test of true friendship. Can we just be together without having to make a special space for it? Of course, I’d stop if they needed me to just listen, and I have friends that I stop when they come in and go into hostess mode until they leave btu the friends that I would call in the middle of the night if it were an emergency, and the friend’s that feel comfortable calling me if they suddenly need to go out and a sleeping baby needs to be watched for a few moments are of the former set, not the latter, because we share our lives, not just a few schedule hours on a Friday afternoon.

  30. 'Becca

    You’re right on target about the artificiality of separating socializing from everything else. You’ve gotten lots of great suggestions about ways to get together for work and fun at the same time!

    One thing that bugged me about my childhood in suburbia was the near-impossibility of playing with other kids without making formal arrangements. Although I had several friends within walking distance, we had to call and ask, “Can you come over?” because it was considered rude to show up at someone’s door uninvited. Now I live on a street where there are 6 other families with kids, and in good weather my son and I cannot walk home from the bus without stopping to play with someone! It’s not just a difference in culture but also a difference in physical environment: The back yards are small and dangerous because we live on a cliff, but every house has a front porch and the sidewalks are a great place to play.

    If we had a real well to go visit, our children would be running around and playing as we chatted — filling our need for casual interaction with other adults would be something we did with our kids.

    And not only would your kids meet other kids, they would meet other adults, observe social behavior, and hear some of the conversation. All that is lost when your adult socializing is done by keyboard.

    I was thinking about that yesterday before church, when my son was running up to each person who came into the parish hall and chattering at them about his latest interests. All were adults except for an almost-one-year-old; he showed her his toy, then said, “You can stand up now on your own feet!” 🙂 Hanging out with people of different ages is valuable to him and is something that’s not encouraged by his preschool.

    Anna & Miri’s Dad: I’m in Pittsburgh, too! Squirrel Hill. Isn’t it great? 🙂

  31. SteveG

    I’ve been pondering this issue for a good while now and, out of character; I am pretty pessimistic about possible remedies.

    The underlying problem is that American society has lost most of its homogeneousness. Society/culture is supposed to provide this for us based on the common (more or less) values and characteristics that are shared.

    When you live in a neighborhood (traditional) where it’s more likely than not that the folks surrounding you will have a lot in common, and/or where possibly other family members live (again shared attachments and experiences), this all comes about rather naturally.

    We aren’t supposed to/meant to have to work so hard to intentionally build this and it is very unnatural, and thus very difficult.

    For all it’s nobility as an idea, diversity has created this situation. When people within a society, even a local one, become so different from one another that their culture (except at the most surface levels of sports and entertainment) is no longer shared, it becomes exceedingly difficult to partake of the kind of thing we are all seeking.

    There’s a fascinating article on this that came out late last year based on a massive Harvard study on this topic.

    The Downside of Diversity

    It seems the only real remedy for this is to (as so many have suggested) somehow build, or tap into, local areas that share more in common. But in a culture where folks are so transient, and the population is so diverse overall, this is a real challenge.

    The only constructive thought I’ve had is that maybe we can ‘leverage’ our parishes more to attack this.

    Maybe we can link up with other folks who are yearning for the same thing. At least you know you have a very high chance of hooking up with folks who 1) live close to you, and 2) share your religion (and hopefully your values).

    But how do we do this without having to expend so much effort…we already have our hands full just caring for our families…that’s why culture needs to provide this for us…because the people who need it most (young families with children), have the least amount of time and energy to tend to it.

    Which gives me another thought….maybe the answer is to go through the parish to find the retirees/elderly folks who’ve been through this (raised their family) and ask them to tend to it for the younger families.

    Maybe linking the two groups together is where the answer lies. I know it’s not that simple, but just some food for thought…I am going to ponder this a bit more.

  32. maggie

    I’m late to this, because I don’t have any suggestions and I’ve been sucking up all the comments!

    But my husband and I have a conversation nearly every other day about where our next house will be. This post made me realize that we’re looking for our next house to be A Community. Unfortunately for us, we have to choose between friends and family, our church or a new church, urban and suburban… there is no perfect solution. WHICH IS KILLING ME.

  33. Anna

    Steve G.,

    Have you ever read a book called Creating Small Church Communities by Fr. Art Baranowski? I tend to think that small groups through the parish are the best way to start rebuilding the kind of cultural community that used to be natural.

    God bless.

  34. Maria

    My husband and I have dealt with this issue in interesting way, though some folks think we are crazy. We now have two of my adult siblings living in our home. We have a three level town home – the top floor is ours, the bottom floor is shared by two of my siblings, and we share the common middle level.

    This works out wonderfully for many reasons – financial, emotional, and spiritual. I am so much less isolated than I used to because with three different work schedules, someone is usually home with me and the kids. In fact, my sister worked from home for over a year so I always had someone around! It is also a great experience for my siblings to be part of family life instead of living the fairly self-centered lifestyle most young adults often live on their own. And since we all share the same faith and values, we find real spiritual encouragement from each other.

  35. Karen

    I have only one tip and it is pretty small, but has been valuable to me. My friend and I have a “low” hospitality rule with one another. If she brings her kids over to my house, she gets tea and whatever it is we are eating or snacking on. She also gets to chase her kids around & to some extent mine. I chat with her and go about my business, laundry, dishes, dinner prep, etc. She pitches in only a little- her bigger contribution is being the mommy-on-call for all 5 of our kids so I can work with fewer interruptions. Nothing I do disrupts her and me visiting. When I drag my kids to her house the same rules apply – even including short (less than 20 minute) errands. This way we can get together once or twice a week without it having too big an impact on work stuff. We also regularly watch each other’s kids so that errands can be done more efficiently leaving more time for housework and socializing – I will shop for both of us and she gives me a list and money (not a big grocery shop like I do monthly, but the small in between shops, you know). I get time alone at the store – I can bring my headphones and listen to music or a sermon and be done in half the time of taking three kids. She gets playmates for her kids and dinner started…sometimes she sends me home with some dinner she started for me, like a soup base. It took a long time – it took getting over thinking the other person would be offended if…but it is loving, supportive and works!

  36. SteveG

    Anna,
    I haven’t read that book, but I will definitely be picking it up. Thanks!

    Karen,
    You call that a small suggestion! That’s some seriously creative thinking! Great suggestion…really has me thinking.

  37. Jennifer F.

    There are SO many comments I want to reply to! Just a couple that I scanned recently:

    SteveG – I couldn’t agree more with everything you said.

    Anna – I’m definitely getting that book.

    Maria and Karen – I think that those are fantastic suggestions, thanks for sharing.

    I hope to be able to respond to some other comments in more detail when I have a little more time!

  38. Sarah

    I think that I too am in the same boat as you! I read this post a few days ago and have been thinking about it off and on . . . some ideas:

    Join your local grocery co-op – you’ll get better deals on healthy foods and be around like-minded people. Plus you’ll probably see the same people over and over when you grocer shop!

    Go to the Farmer’s Market regularly – you’ll start buying from the same growers and farmers regularly and start to get to know people while doing your shopping.

    Attend the weekly storytime at your local library. You’ll be able to get books (for free!), be around other moms and dads who are also interestd in raising literate children, and it is fun for the kids!

    If you do kow of some other moms with kids, invite them over to prepare for major holidays. For example, I belong to a mommies group (I don’t make all of the meetings though!) and through ithave met about three other moms that I really like. At Thanksgiving time, I invited one of them over with her daughter and together we made pies for Thanksgiving. Yes, it was hectic having two little ones around, (and it was more hectic for me because it was at my house, with my recipe “teaching” my friend who doesn’t cook much, BUT she was so thrilled with the “lesson” and we had a great time nonetheless).

    There is also a mom’s group that meets once a week at my church at 11am – mass is at 12:10 so often moms attend and socialize (craft, pray, etc.) and then can take advantage of a weekly mass as well. Other moms attend so you aren’t the only mom there with kids making noise . . .

    I hope these ideas help! I’m still putting my toe in the water myself in my area to find my own well, but these are some ideas that I’m working on!

    Best,
    Sarah

    PS – I found my mommie’s group via http://www.meetup.com. There are a ton of groups on there across the nation, there might be one in your area that suits your village well need!

  39. amy

    Recently a few freinds and I got together and did some freezer cooking. I left with 4 freezer chicken and broccoli casseroles and a couple of baggies filled with cooked chicken for another few meals. A great day was had by all and the fruits of our visit lived on for several weeks in the form of easy yummy dinners. My teenagers have proclaimed this meal as their new favorite.

    Incidently, we did this after I read the original “well” post.

    We have plans for getting together for some canning and preserving this summer.

    Thank you for your wonderful thoughts on this important subject.

  40. Tami Boesiger

    You were right, Jennifer. I find this post very interesting. My big question is if we should change with the times or work to resurrect the habits which served us in days of old. If we do, are we being stuck in the past? Is it necessary to adopt the culture of the present to move forward?

    Don’t ask me. I’m clueless.

  41. Aimee

    I read this article two years ago:

    http://www.mothering.com/articles/body_soul/inspiration/feed_soul_feed_kids.html

    It really got me thinking about “finding my tribe” and working together and living life together…I was tired of superficial exhausting playdates. The key seems to be finding a friend who really desires this too…some friends are SO busy that they only seem to want the one hour playdate and don’t really want to spend quality extended time sharing work together.

  42. Lynne

    Jen, Did you ever read the Creating Small Church Communities book mentioned above? What did you think? Despite my complaints of isolation, I honestly live on the nearest thing to an extended family commune that you could get–and that on the skirts of a “everybody knows everybody” small town. For me, what’s missing is the deep spiritual component (which I had in my former town, and which I can’t quite get over having to give up). I always feel like the square peg. Where are the other people *like me*? Maybe I need that book.

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