Daydreaming about having a personal chef? Like a trustworthy babysitter? Need someone to help mow the lawn or would you enjoy a rental shop that doesn’t charge for all sorts of tools, toys and clothes? How about a shoulder to cry on, a cause to fight for or unsolicited smiles on demand? If you’re rich in community you can have it all with no credit card or high salary in sight.
We live in a time of unprecedented connection thanks to the internet and mobile phones – but it’s a mirage. It’s a mirage that can leave many of us parents feeling isolated and overwhelmed as we struggle to raise children without the necessary strong family and community networks to support us.
For years we’ve probably developed relationships with colleagues a long commute away while shunning our nearer neighbours. We might have been too busy or too shy to reach out, been renting so didn’t feel a sense of place or just never saw the need for a close local network. But families need a deep and direct connection to those who live nearby for peace of mind and to live a life that’s a bit easier and loads more fulfilling.
Think about the people living within a one-mile radius of you. How many of them do you really know? Do you know what they believe in? What makes them happy? What they do for a living? What they’d really like to do for a living? What skills and hobbies do they enjoy? How many of them could you turn to for help? How many of them know what type of help you could offer? How many are happy? How many are suffering? And how many really know you?
Our home is our sanctuary, but if we don’t emerge from it, it can also cut us off from a whole host of experiences and relationships that would make our lives, and those of our children, more fulfilling in the short and long term.
Developing deeper ties with our local community means we can save money and time, impact on important local issues, and feel more connected, nurtured and fulfilled. And when people really “know” us, there’s less need to “be perfect” and more room for us to seek and offer help as needed. Here are some ideas for starters:
• Start smiling at and acknowledging people as you pass them in the street. No matter how awkward you feel, strike up a conversation with the other mums at the park
• Organise a get-together for your street one Sunday afternoon. Pop flyers in letterboxes and ask everyone to bring food to share.
• Set up a dinner club with a few locals whereby once a fortnight each of you cooks a large batch of a yummy meal to drop off to the others. It’s a little extra work for you one night, but then you get to be the recipient of meals from the others a few days later.
• Find out about some of the local-interest groups operating in the area, from sports clubs to craft groups, seed-savers to scouts. Which ones might you and your children like to try?
• Find out about some of the ‘at need’ groups in your community. Is there a way you and your kids can offer help (e.g., taking your family pet to visit old people at a nursing home, or tidying up a garden for a busy neighbour, or fetching groceries for a new mum, or organising a get together for people who have moved to the area).
• Do an inventory of tools and toys you’d be willing to share with your neighbours and ask them to do the same. It’s a great way to save money and resources while reducing clutter…not everyone in the street needs to own a trampoline, pasta maker or ice cream machine!
• Think about ‘giving loops’ you can create, like taking off a neighbours’ washing or mowing your own and your neighbours’ lawns, while they reciprocate the next month when you’re busy. What other ‘giving loops’ can you think of that would benefit you and other people in your community while also showing your kids the benefits of cooperation?
• Shop and trade locally wherever you can to ensure money stays in your local community. Internet and multi-national purchases send wealth far away, when what we all need right now are strong local economies that put back into the area and people around us
• Join a local emergency services crew, volunteer fire brigade or first-responders team so you’re able to assist other local citizens and learn valuable skills in the process. This will help teach your children the importance of community action. You’ll also be able to pass on the skills you’ve learned to your kids, and it’s a great way to meet people in your local area.
By reaching out to your community, you’ll be teaching your children to learn how to get along with others, how to listen and to be listened to, how to contribute, how to receive, and how to support and be supported. Over the years our society seems to have chosen privacy and independence over togetherness and citizenship, but there are many compelling reasons to get to know your neighbours and wider community…you’ve just got to start by saying “Hello”.
You can find more tips and ideas like this in my book: Honeycomb Kids