How do you create a village for your child when you don’t have a network?

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15-366 My partner and I are considering having children sometime in the next few years, but the question of “community” has been holding us back. We both grew up in religious households but we are pretty much agnostic. However, we both know how powerful that supporting community can be.

We’re both quite introverted and don’t meet many people outside of our jobs. (We are quite happy — we’re just introverted!). My parents live about a two hour drive away, but his are a plane flight away, as are all of our siblings, and extended family. How do parents create communities for their child without family or religion? — Kess

Before we open this question to reader thoughts, I wanted to get in a quick answer for myself. I was raised an only child by parents without a religious community or much family support, and so I have some perspectives about what my folks did and how it worked.

SEARCHIn the effort to have some sort of spiritual community for our family, my parents banded together with a dozen or so other families in the early ’80s and created a little agnostic Sunday school called S.E.A.R.C.H.: Seeking Enlightenment And Reaching Children’s Hearts. The group met three weekends each month, and was sort of an overview of spirituality — here’s how some religions honor the seasons, here’s how other religions talk about rebirth, here’s how different religions integrate meditation or prayer.

The S.E.A.R.C.H community lasted for about five years, growing at one point to 20 families. It’s hard work maintaining a community like that though (and my parents WEREN’T introverted people, like you’re saying you are), and ultimately everyone moved on. Despite that, as a child I really valued the S.E.A.R.C.H. community, and it definitely gave me a sense of being a part of something larger… even if it was just rolling my eyes with the other kids as we went through the 50th chorus of “Somos El Barco,” which we sang at the start of most S.E.A.R.C.H. meetings:

If that kind of non-dogmatic spiritual community sounds interesting, you might want to resesarch Unitarian Universalist groups in your area. UU beliefs are pretty diverse and accepting. Although I’ve never been a member, my friends who go to UU churches identify them as being primarily focused on creating community and the diversity of beliefs, including atheism.

Whether that’s a solution that works for you or not, I think it’s critically important to find community support for your family. Having a parental support network has been tied to all sorts of benefits, from reduced Postpartum Depression to reduction of child abuse. In other words: this shit is IMPORTANT. It’s awesome that you’re thinking about this now!

But now I’d like to toss the question out to readers:

How do you create a sense of community for your children without family or religion?

Comments on How do you create a village for your child when you don’t have a network?

  1. In the past year or so I have become involved in some different activist groups, and I have been amazed at how wonderful and supportive they are. Most of them are childless but they make a big effort to make sure I can be involved either by offering childcare or happily letting me bring my baby to meetings. There are groups for people with about any sort of interest (women’s issues, housing rights, feeding the homeless, environmentalist, etc) and the “feel” of each group will vary greatly but so far I have been nothing but impressed.

  2. I’m a member of a national moms group in Canada with chapters in something like 30 cities. For $45.00 a year I get access to the message board for my local chapter and can pick and choose from an average of twenty get togethers/playgroups each week. I’ve met a huge variety of other parents this way and on those days when even one more hour of nobody to talk to but my nine month old is going to make me crazy (and I’m no extrovert) there’s usually someone hosting something we can go to. Maybe there is something like that in your area?

  3. i think before you have the kidlet, its important to meet people with similar interests. whether that’s hiking or board games or whatever, there are tons of nonprofits and meetups that get people together. and some of these people will already have kids, or be on the same “timeline” as you.

    my ob/gyn actually has get togethers for women with similar due dates – i think a lot of those women continue to meet after they’ve popped. there are also prenatal yoga, breastfeeding and childbirth classes.

    once you have the kidlet you can look on meetup for mommy/daddy groups, classes etc.

    don’t forget, if your kid will spend any time in daycare or preschool, that’s an instant community right there!

  4. First of all, thank you Ariel for pimping my religion (we UU’s suck at doing that). I couldn’t agree more. There’s a joke that UU’s tell and it goes like this:
    Q: “What is a Unitarian Universalist?”
    A: “An Athiest with children” (hardy-har-har)

    It’s a little bit true-a lot of UU’s come to the church as adults when they’ve rejected their religion of birth and come to realize that they really miss the community they had in a “church”.

    Now, I’ll take off my UU hat and put on my military spouse hat…

    We have moved around a lot (My daughter is 10 and has lived in 5 different houses and 2 additional temporary lodging solutions). She has had 4 “hometowns”. We have to start over every time we move, and every time it’s without family and usually without friends/connections other than my husband’s work. It’s never fun and I won’t lie-I hate moving. I hate starting over, but I’ve learned a lot about how to do it over the years.

    First, it’s always easier if there’s a UU church nearby. (You knew that was coming, right?) I know there will be people there who support me as I am, will support my kiddo and my family in general (I’ve leaned on our congregations during military deployments, big time)

    Next, I try to find volunteer opportunities doing stuff I love. Chances are that I’m going to meet other people like me.

    When my kiddo was little, I belonged to a child-care co-op. It was great. There were always 5-7 families involved and it went a little like this: each family committed to “host” child care at their house twice per year. We were lucky to have some families with teen kids who were willing to help out at the host family’s house. We always gave them a little money if we could, but otherwise the whole thing was free. We had mayhem at our house twice per year, but we got 10 dates per year and some nice community support. I have to say, this wasn’t the best solution for ME simply because my husband’s work didn’t always allow us to participate fully and there was a little drama with 2 of the families, but there is real potential in this idea. Especially if you’re lucky enough to find even 2 other families that you really click with who are up for the idea.

    Finally, I would say that neighbors are a great source of community. We lived on base and I was covered up in neighbors who I could drop my kiddo off to for a few minutes, borrow a cup of sugar from or call to have coffee with if I was having a lousy day. Now I live in a real neighborhood (not on base) and I feel a different sense of community. It is a little more intentional-I have to try harder to get to know my neighbors but it’s been rewarding.

    Good luck! You don’t have to be extroverted to get to know other people. Just be willing to get involved if the opportunity comes up. Having a baby/child takes you out of your comfort zone in lots of unexpected ways. Your pediatrician will probably have posters up about playgroups, you will see activities at the gym for “mommy and me”-it’s a whole different world! You are on the right track thinking about this now rather than once you have a child!

    • UU’s represent! I grew up in a UU church and although I don’t go to many services/events nowadays due to my work schedule, It was a great way for me to make connections with other awesome people after moving to a new city by myself!

      The UU community was amazing growing up, I always felt like a part of something important, and never envied the majority of kids in my school that were a part of the big christian mega-churches. There were plenty of kids my age that I hung out with and we went through a lot together, I have so many awesome memories!

      Also, yes…UU’s are terrible at explaining their religion. Its just so complex! I usually just tell people they should look it up or try to attend a service to really get a feel for it. Most churches have a ‘coffee time’ after the service that is very welcoming for new people, members are usually excited to talk to newcomers and get to know them.

    • Another UU here. Ariel, thanks for suggesting it. The way you describe SEARCH is exactly the way I would describe my UU Religious Education experience. For parents who are not looking for the “Sunday Service” experience, you can volunteer as a RE teacher either in your child’s class or another one, depending on what curriculum you’re interested in experiencing.

      I grew up in a household with a non-religious mother who worked midnights as a nurse, and an earth-centered religious father. He took it upon himself to ensure my brother and I had good religious education, and so we grew up in the UU church. I haven’t attended since graduating High School, but I still consider myself UU (in the food service industry, I’m either working on Sundays or late Saturday nights, so sunday service can be an issue no matter what religion I consider myself). Sometimes though it’s hard for me to reconcile UUism as I experienced it with the word “religion”–it’s really more community-building, to me. And I love the fact that my experience with UUism is totally accepted by those who experience it more along the spiritual/faith-driven lines.

      I intend to join a UU church again when I have kids, and possibly sooner. But definitely when my kids are ready for religious education and our family is ready for a sense of community. I’ve had so many bad experiences with “friends” and have trouble getting really close to people long-term, that I think it would be nice having a built-in community-driven group that it’s OK if the individual people are ever flowing in and out of our lives because that feeling of community and support is still there.

    • “It’s a little bit true-a lot of UU’s come to the church as adults when they’ve rejected their religion of birth and come to realize that they really miss the community they had in a “church”. ”

      That sounds like exactly what I’m looking for in my life right now. Thank you.

  5. For me I think it’s been most important to make friends who are also parents, for both mom and dad. You can meet cool people in any classes you take before (ex:birthing classes, pre-natal yoga) and after (ex:music classes, kindergym) you have your baby. Personally I’ve made a lot of new mom friends by knitting, I attend classes and knit groups a lot, BONUS we already have something in common.

  6. I second the UU idea. My husband and I are both super introverted and since moving across the country away from our families, we’ve started going to the UU church near our house and we love it.
    Everyone is super welcoming and my daughter absolutely adores her religious education teachers and the other little kids in her class.
    It’s also fun to be around such a diverse group. We have Pagans, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Jews, Christians and just about everything you could possibly imagine to help us through our parenting journey.

  7. I’m not someone without family nearby or without a church community BUT – even with strong support in these areas my husband and I have found that we value the community in our building a TON for day-to-day support. We live in an urban condo building where several of our neighbors are young couples having babies around the same time (past couple of years). I’ve also observed people who aren’t religious (which is almost everyone in the Pacific Northwest where I live) really enjoying their PEPs groups (neighborhood based early parenting groups put together based on kids’ age) and pre-school co-ops. Our oldest goes to daycare two days a week and I was surprised to find that not one but two mamas whose online presences I’ve admired but never met in person send their kiddos to the same one – so that’s another place to find parents whose values are similar to yours and whose kids’ are a peer-age to yours.

  8. I live in a foreign country, so I had to figure this out. I didn’t speak the local language, so I joined a few online meeting sites (Meetup, Yahoo groups) and at one point a call when out for pregnant ladies to meet and have coffee. It was great to get in “on the ground floor” with other women who were happy to discuss all matters maternity. Once we had our babies, we met regularly at each others’ homes or at parks, pools, or coffeeshops. It eventually fell apart around the one-year-old mark as people moved away, split off into smaller groups, went back to work, etc. But for those 18 months it was fantastic. I eventually made other mom-friends through playgroups and baby/kid classes. And now I’ve moved to a new town (same country) and have decided to focus on learning the language and making local friends through our preschool, and the local parent’s club.

  9. When my son was first born, I went to a weekly meeting at the local breastfeeding center. I started seeing a lot of the same moms there and we started going to lunch after “class.”. We formed a close knit group and, 14 months on, even though most have gone back to work and many have weaned we still have a community. As a recent example, one the moms was recently sick at the same time as her partner the group came together to do their shopping and provide babysitting. That’s a great community!

  10. We consider ourselves blessed with both faith and family in our lives (and that of our child) but not all of our community is found there- we’ve found frequently that we spend more time with people with similar interests in (for us) the outdoors, because it can be hard to find folks willing to sleep in a tent or choose discomfort in the wild over the city on a weekend. Because this value of wild places is one we are prioritizing for our child–actually, because this value is something WE have and want to keep doing– finding like minded parents was important. It continues to be a challenge, but now at least it’s defined. Other things we value in our family are music and language; this has naturally led to meeting other parents who have similar priorities for themselves and their children, which helps develop that community as well.

    It seems to me that community comes out of involvement, period. So a healthy curiosity and interest as a parent will lead to community for you and, by extension, your children.

  11. I am an introvert with a 1 month old, and I find my problem is I don’t WANT to make new friends. Everyone advises introverts to go out and meet people who have similar interests and then friendships will grow from there–that sounds EXHAUSTING to me. Friendships just take up so much time! 😉

    That said, I think community really is invaluable as a parent. I’ve found mine two places: 1) online, for all those “is it normal?” and “how do I get the baby to eat/sleep/poop more/less?” questions. This includes both messageboards of strangers, and my Facebook friends. Who knew I knew so many ex-doulas? 2) Mom’s groups. There are so many new parents who, like you, don’t already have a community built up when they first have kids, and they’re all trying to find each other. Honestly I look at my own parents, and their closest friends now are the ones they met at prenatal classes and playgroups. Having young kids is a pretty major thing to have in common.

  12. This probably comes later in life (5-6yo?), but I met some of my best friends growing up when my sister and I joined Indian Princesses with our dad. It’s a dad/daughter group where basically us kids got to do arts and crafts and dads got to hang out at our weekly meetings with our “Tribe.” Twice a year all the area tribes would get together, once for a campout at a developed campground, where we had “war games” (potato sack races and the like) and once for a back country canoe trip. Some of my most awesome memories ever…*wistful sigh*
    I assume the girl and boy scouts would be a similarly good way to form a community.

  13. We had just moved when I got pregnant, so I had almost no friends in that area anyway, and ended up meeting friends through Bradley (childbirth) classes and La Leche League. (Also mommy and me yoga!)

    We moved again a year and a half ago and then again within the area six months ago (kid is now 5.5 and in kindergarten) and I’m finding it harder to find close-by friends this time. (I made friends in our last town, but don’t have any that are near enough to just go have coffee with spontaneously. It doesn’t help that I’m carless in the winter b/c my husband can’t ride his motorcycle and also I hate the cold so I don’t even want to go out as much!)

    Anyway, it’s a good question and I liked reading the link Ariel gave (probably the second time I’ve read it)!

  14. My partner and I are both very active socialists and belong to the Socialist Party USA. This has really helped to develop a very tight knit community of activists. We bring kiddo, my step-daughter, to meetings and can always count on extra sets of hands. To me, it makes a lot of sense to join a group that meets around a particular point of interest or political agenda because, similar to a church, you have similar beliefs to those in the community. This has really helped in making friends, particularly close friends.

  15. I started going to a UU church two years ago and absolutely love it. I had no idea that such a religion existed! We just happened to come across a UU church when looking for a spiritual home. I was originally attracted to UU because they are very active in LGBT rights. Around the holidays, our church celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice. It is a totally offbeat religion that respects all religions and celebrates diversity :).

  16. The UU thing is something I’m going to check out. My family is 600 miles away, my husband’s family and I don’t really have things in common enough to spend time together (I guess that’s how the relationship can be described). I have zero friends after having moved up to NH. I’m going nuts up here!

  17. I live 4000 miles from my family (except one cousin who lives in Vegas), and my husband’s family is scattered across Canada; his 92-yr-old mom lives in our town, but she can’t help us out in terms of baby-sitting or anything.

    My first parent networking happened when I started attending La Leche League; a friend invited me while I was still pregnant, and going before I had baby in my arms was one of the best decisions ever. Not only did they help prepare me for some of the frustration I experienced, but I’ve remained involved with the group and have made many friends I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.

    I’ve also been “volunteering” at our town’s amazing brain injury society since I got married (to a man with a brain injury) and they’ve been an amazing source of support as well. I take our daughter with me when I go in once a week, and the clients love seeing her. When I had my gallbladder out in November and wasn’t allowed to lift baby for three days, one of the clients came over to my house for a day to keep baby entertained and to pick her up whenever it was necessary (diaper changes, nursing).

    • My husband sustained a brain injury two years ago and i have found a community in a spouses group online. I don’t know what i would do without them. Even just knowing you are not alone in it helps.

  18. I started organizing outdoor block parties during the summer, the year before my husband and I had our son. I found that an outdoor, potluck block party is the perfect way for everyone to meet, and engage, without any one person having the pressure to “host” the event. The community that we have built through the block parties has really become my main support system as a parent. I trade babysitting/playdate time with other parents, and always have someone to call on in case of an emergency.

  19. Hey! It’s Kess here, and thanks for the great ideas! I must admit, I’m not too worried about the early years because that type of group is more for me/my SO. The big thing is the question of how to have some sort of community (aka, grownups that aren’t mom and dad and kids that aren’t your siblings or your age) when kids are a bit older.

  20. Growing up with no community isn’t so bad! Your kid’s more likely to end up nerdy and addicted to books and video games that way! ;D That’s what my kindof isolated childhood led to.

    • Ah yes, but what you don’t realize is that I am a TOTAL nerd and totally addicted to books! But for a very long time I had issues talking to others, although I had no issue being in the church cantatas, or singing a solo, or whatever (my mom was the music director). I shudder to think how socially unready I would have been if I hadn’t interacted with those people at my church when I was small.

  21. I am also introverted and tend to move often due to my husband’s military career. I also went to school full time for 7 years (yeah 2 bachelors degrees!) and now work full time, so I was often unable to attend some of the social gatherings held on the military base. I have found that I find people when I am not trying. Sometimes if you attend an event or volunteering opportunity with the intent to meet people, you may be disappointed. Take the pressure off. You will meet people through work, daycare, your child’s school, exercise classes, volunteering, etc., you just don’t know when and where it will happen. When your child is younger, the support groups/community are more for your sanity. You need to have an outlet because raising a child is hard and, I don’t know how other mothers on here really feel, but I often feel like I have a lot to learn and a multitude of improving before I could call myself a good mom. I talk to other people (mothers or not) to ground myself, take the pressure off to be perfect, and to be happy. I just worry that if you put to much pressure on finding a community, you might force it. You don’t want to settle for subpar friends/community in your own life let alone subpar examples and resources in your child’s life. And as your family grows, you will learn what you really need to be happy and it may be different than what you think you need now. Plus, I promise you, you cannot plan it all out ahead of time. You will learn to take it is it comes.

  22. When I had my daughter I was a single mom in a city far away from family. I had lots of friends, but none with kids.

    I had a church community that I loved, but I felt removed and different from the other moms there, a lot of them were stay at home moms, and all of them were married, the hurdles (that I made, more by over-thinking things than anything else) were difficult to get through and find that sense of community.

    The way I really met moms and dads that fit with my lifestyle, personality, and parenting community yens (working parent, single parent, wacky costumed nutjob, bike commuter, etc) was by finding kid friendly versions of my favorite social venues, becoming a regular, and talking to other regulars. I know this might be difficult for a more introverted person, but having kids that are playing together in the sandbox at the coffee shop makes it easier for the adults to get talking.

    As far as a list of wee one friendly places:
    Coffee shop with sandbox on the back patio
    Bars with “Baby Loves Disco” events
    Community Rec Centers with “Mommy and Me” programs
    Craigslist – sounds creepy, but really isn’t
    Your children can be a great ice-breaker.
    Going to the playground/dog park during high traffic hours

    Good luck!

  23. I followed this post from Offbeat home, and I just want to thank everyone who mentioned UU. I had NEVER heard of this before, but think it might be exactly what I’m looking for.

    If I can, may I present a non-religious option too? I too have moved many times for jobs and known no one when and where I started. Usually I made friends at work, which led me to other friends, etc. but I work in the theatre and I realize that is not the norm. However, the best success I’ve had with finding a community that really “fits” me is within intentional communities.

    It might be worth it to see if there are any communities by you that have group events and start going to those. This is a lot of “chosen family” and a lot of people are there simply because they want to be or mesh well with the group, but each one is different so it may take a few tries to find the right one.

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