We have heard so many times the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is truth to this phrase, as parenting, while joyful work, is also demanding and exhausting both physically and emotionally. We need support from our families, our parishes, our communities, and our friends to successfully fulfill this portion of our vocation, and indeed, any vocation, without depleting ourselves. Yet, how many of us could truly say that we have this village, this network of support? How many of us enter parenthood, marriage, or life as a single person feeling alone and isolated, especially in the world of Covid?
Many of us live away from our families of origin. Some of us find ourselves moving away from communities of which we have long been apart due to jobs or other financial reasons. Others of us have tired to thrive where we have planted, and when we have seen our efforts at community fail, have perhaps cynically, given up.
For most, the days of the intergenerational family are gone. With the move to dual-income families, many times out of necessity, the effect of the lack of this built-in village is keenly felt. With no family nearby for help with care, daycare costs become a burden and one can feel especially drained by the effect of both spouses working, multiple kids in daycare, commuting to work and daycare, getting home, seeing the kids for a few hours, and then doing it all over again.
I have felt this lack of village very painfully at times. There have been times I have reached out to others and never heard back. Before Mariana’s birth, I reached out to someone that runs a parish mom’s group nearby and asked her how I could set up a meal train for after Mariana’s birth. That same mom group, under different leadership, had taken care of everything in regards to setting up a meal train after Madeleine’s birth. The person I contacted never replied. We set up our own meal train, and while the post said, “many have been asking us where they can sign up for a meal train to support us after Mariana’s birth,” the truth is this: no one had asked us at all.
There are however, two sides to this issue of the village. The one side is when we reach out to others and they fail to respond in love and support. The other side? When we fail to reach out, when we fail to be vulnerable, when we shut ourselves off from those most willing to help us.
With my first child, Madeleine, I was naively under the impression that my baby would come with a built-in village. Those from our Church and community would come to our support now that we had a child. This was true, to an extent, and we certainly received much more support after Madeleine’s birth than we did Mariana’s. But as time went on, I stumbled onto a painful truth: if one wants a village, one has to build it.
My anxiety causes me to fear rejection. In my anxiety, I will often choose not to reach out to others at all, choosing isolation over the possibility of rejection. I fear saying the wrong thing as I am building new friendships and then losing that friendship forever. If I forget to respond to a text message within a day or so, my anxiety creeps in saying, “If you respond now, they’ll judge you for not having responded sooner.” So the message sits and sits without a response until I decide, “better not to respond at all at this point; it’s been a week, what will they think of me?”
I am an awkward person. I despise small talk. I’m shy. I hate parties. In social situations, I frequently rely on my husband to do the introductions. I’m very sensitive to the possibility that someone won’t like me, and so sometimes, when my anxiety has been at its worst, I’ve simply decided that it’s better not to try.
During one of the lowest points of my PPA/PPD, around Christmas, I was complaining to Nicholas about the lack of support I felt. He looked at me and said, “And how many people have you reached out to about this? How many people are you trying to talk to on a regular basis besides me? How many times have you tried to reach out to an actual person instead of just making a post in one of your Facebook groups?” The answer at the time: none.
Nicholas gave me a homework assignment: text one person, one friend, every day. It terrified me at first. But, then the more I did it, the less I was afraid. I became more confident and less afraid of rejection. And I began to feel more supported as well.
Yesterday, I met up with one of my friends from college. As we were talking, she asked me why I hadn’t reached out to her. I explained that my anxiety causes me to feel paralyzed and makes it difficult for me to reach out. She was understanding, and later in a message to me said, “I have always wanted to be your friend, Elizabeth.”
How often do we allow our fear of vulnerability to prevent us from doing the hard work of building our village? Of reaching out for support? Of being open to the possibility of rejection? How often do we fail to reach out to those that love us because we are overwhelmed? Because we fear burdening them? How often do we decide that because others have failed to support us, that those who have known us and loved us will not support us as well? In our fear and anxiety, we end up burning our own villages.
The devil is often called the accuser. And as I examined my worries—they won’t like you, you’ll be a burden to them, people don’t want to support you, they don’t want to be your friend, you’re not [_____] enough for them, you’re doomed to be alone, you’ll just say the wrong things and hurt these people—I realized that these were all accusations. All lies. Because the devil would like nothing more than for us to have to live isolated from one another, separated from the Body of Christ that is His Church.
And so if we want the village, we have to build it. Villages are not built in a day. They take time, communication, and effort, from both sides. If we want others to support us, we must support them. We must be willing to be Christ’s hands and feet to others. We must be willing to give of our hearts, of our time, and of our kitchens. We must be willing to be vulnerable, to be open to the possibility of rejection and being wounded. We have to reach out to those we want in our village regularly. Most importantly, we must say “no” to the accuser that tells us that others will not care for us.
We are all worthy of love. We all—no matter our state in life: married without kids, married with kids, or single—deserve to have a village. We deserve to be a part of a community that will draw us closer to Christ. We must conquer the fear. We must stop letting our anxiety and fear of vulnerability burn down our villages, because that is precisely what the devil wants. We have to put in the work, to commit to building the village and showing up for others when they need the village.
It will not be easy. Often, after meeting up with a new friend or an old one I haven’t spoken to in a while, I find myself replaying and analyzing every bit of conversation: “Should I have said this instead? Did they judge me when I said this? Oh no, I shouldn’t have said that, I should have been quiet instead.” And again, this is the work of the devil, the accuser, that would rather us live in isolation than build communities that draw us closer to the heart of Christ.
So what does building the village have to look like then, practically? Reach out to one friend a day. Ask simply, “how are you?’ When you’ve successfully reached out to one friend a day for a month, make it two. Then, maybe three—this depends on how much of an introvert you are. Try to plan out time with different friends. Start with a goal of meeting up with someone once a month. Then perhaps every two weeks. Then perhaps once a week. Be there when others need you. Is someone you know having a baby? Bring a meal to them and a gift for the mom, not the baby (everyone brings gifts for the babies—make the mom feel special instead). Is someone you know struggling with infertility? Sit and listen. Is someone you know struggling with anxiety and depression? Bring them a meal and offer to just be with them.
These are the types of things we need from our village. We need others to be willing to sit with us in our suffering, to be present to us in our time of need. Building our village means doing the same for others, and initiating that even when it may be the most difficult for us, especially when we are struggling with anxiety or depression, because that is precisely when the devil would like us to feel most isolated.
Friendship requires patient listening, love, and vulnerability. The nature of friendship is such that being hurt is a very real possibility. We cannot let that stop us from having friends altogether, from reaching out in faith, from striving to love others, from building up our villages so that we can better love Christ and our families.
How are you going to work towards building your village?