There’s something that has been somewhat of a hot topic among my generation of parents lately that I’ve been trying to grapple with: the death of the village.
The village being the readily available community historically surrounding families that kept people connected, on the same team, and within arms reach of helping each other. I see people mourning the loss of things like…
- knocking on your neighbor’s door looking for a cup of sugar
- walking a lost kid home instead of calling the cops
- meals dropped off to sick members of the community
- calling a neighbor over to watch your three other kids while you take the daredevil to the ER
- mowing an elderly neighbor’s lawn instead of reporting it to the HOA
These things have often left me feeling nostalgic for something my parents had as a young family and I’ve not really tasted myself. I’m definitely guilty of sitting back and pointing out every single way that modern parenting and lack of community has offended me or not met my personal needs. And I’ve seen my peers do the same. We say things like…
- I wish I had local friends I could really open up to
- I wish moms would just get together randomly and catch up
- I wish I knew other dudes to play frisbee with on the weekends
- I wish everyone wasn’t so busy and involved in their own lives
- I wish my neighbor would stop parking in front of my house
- I wish I had someone to watch the kids once in a while
- I wish I lived around more Catholic families
IS IT THE VILLAGE OR IS IT US?
When I sit and look at the situation on the surface, I feel cheated. Who doesn’t want an immediately available community surrounding you during some of the toughest years? Raising children is hard work. It’s 24/7/365 – whether you leave for work or not, the responsibility still rests on your shoulders to make the family work. And it’s exhausting.
It’s easy to get glossy eyed at the what-once-was thinking … “if only we had that village, things wouldn’t be so hard. We wouldn’t feel so exhausted. The persistent loneliness would be gone. We’d feel supported, appreciated, taken care of.”
So we point our fingers at the village and complain that it’s gone. We feel we’ve somehow been cheated compared to past generations. We blame our town, our parish, our neighborhood, our mom’s group, our country club…. “It’s all their fault I feel this way and parenting is so hard. If only we had a village like before…”
I’m definitely not saying that we don’t have very unique and difficult challenges parenting today, especially as Catholics. Of course we do. I’m also not immune to the difficulties of not having those natural tight knit communities of the past either. We’ve lived at 7 different addresses, in 4 different states, had 3 babies each in different states, and have experienced the spectrum of good to awful community. I once had major surgery (c-section) and asked a complete stranger to bring me a meal because I was so desperate to feed my kid but was too weak to cook. Then another time, we were brought so many meals after a baby we didn’t have to cook for over a month and a half! We’ve had great neighbors and awful neighbors, financial peace and financial difficulty, been active in parish life and not so active. In other words, we’ve tasted the village in its various forms.
And here’s the thing I’ve gleaned from my experience – we aren’t on this earth to get. We’re here to give. Even in our vulnerable and difficult moments, God beckons us to be a gift to one another. There will always be seasons of receiving, but we also can’t forget that giving is even more blessed. The Saints are a prime example of this self-forgetfulness.
If we want the village, we can start being the village. That’s the Christian response to this whole dilemma. When we complain and blame, we are part of the problem. So is the village dead? Maybe the village of the ’70s. But our village is ours – let’s start building it.
TAKING BABY STEPS
So what next then? Obviously young families are in a unique situation as our culture has shifted from person to person in real life relationships to productivity and media based connections. We aren’t going to have exactly what generations had before us. But that’s okay by me.
I often think of the struggles previous generations had. My grandparents married two years into the Great Depression and had to navigate feeding a growing family amidst one of the scarcest times of our nation’s history. Parents raising kids in the ’50s had to daily get up and go wondering when or if we were going to get nuked and decimate life as we know it. During the times of Laura Ingalls Wilder families were tight knit and close – and people also died from diptheria and had to get through winter with no electricity.
No epoch of parenting has ever been without hardship. Our struggle might be unique in kind to past generations, but carrying a heavy cross while trying to find joy and community in this vocation is nothing new.
Here’s my take on what we can do about the village…
- Stop complaining. Nothing kills Christian charity in a heart quite like complaining about every thing that is wrong in a situation. If things aren’t how I want them to be, I figure I have two options: accept it with a smile (as Bl. Mother Teresa would say) or change the situation. There’s a cheesy prayer that is actually really helpful if you pick it apart and hold it up to individual situations to curb complaining: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
- Choose Works of Mercy. A great remedy for sadness that many Saints and holy people have taught is to do some type of service to others. If the village seems to be gone around you, choose to be the village to someone who needs it. When was the last time you visited the elderly? There are so many wonderful human beings in nursing homes with no family to visit them – where is their village? What about a new young family? Unless they have tons of friends and family around, chances are they’re feeling overwhelmed and alone. Why not drop off a meal or pop a gift card in the mail?
- Stop being picky. One thing I’ve found disturbing as I reflect on my own heart and also what I’m hearing around me, is the incredible pickiness and choosiness our generation seems to exhibit when it comes to help in any form. We want someone to bring us a meal, but we don’t want it to be too heavy (obviously not speaking to those will food allergies/restrictions here). We want someone to help clean the house, but we don’t want it to be that one certain family member. We want someone to help watch the kids, but we don’t want them to have their own life and cancel sometimes. The root of all of this is selfishness. If we want the village, we have to remember the village is made up of imperfect human beings. It always has been.
- Pray in community. We read in Scripture the earliest Christian communities were of one mind and had everything in common. This doesn’t mean they didn’t every fight or annoy each other. But they prayed together. They celebrated Mass. They loved and served each other. We can start by joining a parish – if you don’t belong to one, go register this week. Go to the same Mass each Sunday and worship with those around you. Invite other families over for dinner if you can. At the very least pray for those around you instead of judging.
- Be grateful. If someone offers to help, accept it and say thank you. If you don’t need that help, decline and say thank you. Then thank God that people still care even if it’s not how you wanted or planned. Let others know you are grateful for their help when they give it, even if it isn’t perfect. Acts of service received with genuine gratitude tend to be repeated.
So is the village gone? I don’t think so. I think it’s a heck of a lot different than years past. And I think we are being called to let go of pride and selfishness and increase our love. It’s more like a moment of growth for the village – let’s show our generation the truth then, that the village only works if you live it out in Christian charity.