Pining for the 80s as a
Parent in the 21st Century
When I was younger, we left the doors unlocked. It felt safe.
The world doesn’t feel as safe now as it did when I was growing up — and our doors are locked with mobile device operated security systems.
Social Networks Have Dismantled Local Networks
I think one of the reasons is that over the past decade or two, we lost the neighborhood. I mean, we all still live in neighborhoods but we stopped looking up and looking around. While we hunted for culture in a “click” or a “tap” through global social networks. We became more aware of elsewhere and lost sight of the things going on in our backyard.
My wife and I used to think we were lucky to have found an active community of parents in our neighborhood. Then we started talking to people in other neighborhoods and there seem to be groups of neighbors all over who are starting to get back to old-fashioned neighborhooding. The more we learn about these other groups, the more we hear about the hyper-local community innovations they are establishing like sitter swaps and barter systems — all created in an effort to make neighborhood and helper collaboration easier.
The other thing that these community groups tell us is that the more they know their neighbors and the more experiences we share, the tighter the community becomes and the more secure it feels.
Neighborhoods Are a Collection of Events
In each neighborhood community, a few things are common underpinnings. The first is a person or group of people willing to reach out to others. The second is events. Social events like wine nights, back yard barbecues, alley hockey, play dates, supper clubs, progressive dinners, and swap meets are all things we have heard people claim as the thing that brought their neighborhood together. Events drive community development. They provide the foundation for the trust that grows between houses because they give individuals and families time to experience one another to build that trust and create allies and friendships.
The other events that are common in communities — regardless of whether there is a strong local network or not — are planned and unplanned personal events when parents need to be away from the house and a family needs support from someone else. Planned events include things like date nights, parent teacher conferences, and work dinners. To find support in these cases, when our go-to sitters are unavailable we default to the Internet and look for support from paid listing services. For unplanned events like ER visits, we usually freak out and scramble to find anyone to assist adding complexity and social discomfort to an already difficult time. In either case, without a preexisting and established local network our approach to getting help is limited to the resources we believe are available. And at that moment, they seem very limited.
For help at home, we often overlook the untapped resource right in our backyard. The reason we don’t think of them when we need help, is that we haven’t spent the time to organize and manage those relationships in that way. We might have fun in a social context and find out that we like each other but we don’t know or haven’t agreed to the boundaries of the business side of that relationship and so we are reticent to ask. Parents these days are aware of the complexities of their own lives and are sympathetic to the same complexities in the lives of their neighbors. Asking for help for the first time is hard to do and is often a bridge too far.
But the simple fact is we do have neighbors and friends (and their kids sometimes). We can ask them for help. Maybe they can help directly or maybe they can’t. But if they can’t, chances are they know someone who can. That’s how support networks grow. We just need a little more structure to manage the resources so no one feels like they are taking advantage or being taken advantage of.
Let’s Bring Back the Neighborhood
It’s time to imagine a world of unlocked doors again. It’s time to let our kids go to the park with friends and know that people are watching for the right reasons. Delivering a relationship manager for households that provide a structure for entertaining business-like support requests seems like the perfect way to facilitate this transition back to the old ways. That’s what we were working on at LittleHelper.
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Little Helper was a startup in Pittsburgh, PA that was singularly focused on giving Mom her time back by creating business-grade resource management tools for the household. By streamlining process and providing the right tools, we aimed to help her to regain a little bit of time to spend on herself — however she saw fit. This article was written as part of our work.