On the eve of Thanksgiving, messages fly around our neighborhood Facebook group. Someone has a free turkey, someone needs two teaspoons of nutmeg, someone’s doorknob broke off and is looking for a spare (that was me).
Needs are met. Spices are set on front porch tables for kids to ferry home to their parents. Spare doorknobs are hung from a mailbox for pickup. The scene sounds more reminiscent of the 1950s than 2019, save for the fact that social media is the catalyst for this thriving community.
The media has been decrying the “loss of the village” for years, but the truth is that parents aren’t willing to let the idea go without a fight.
My mother grew up at the end of a cul-de-sac where she ran wild with her cousins and neighbors who were collectively parented. As grandchildren, we ran around the same cul-de-sac on weekends with the next generation of my grandmother’s village. I grew up in the middle of the woods with no neighbors in sight, yet my mother still managed to cobble together a village of support through our school, her coworkers, and relationships maintained from her childhood.
While I couldn’t run next door for a cup of sugar, I was aware my mother had people to turn to. I’ll never forget my best friend’s dad showing up in his giant diesel pickup truck to get the two of us off our school bus, stuck in a snowdrift on a day that should have been a snow day. Her village showed up when she needed it.
As a new parent, I was shocked and saddened to realize a village did not come as organically to me as it did to the generations before me. Most of my childhood friends did not hang around our city as I did, and everyone who lived near me seemed so busy. When my oldest was an infant, I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined a local mom’s group with an online component.
Though the group only ran for eight weeks, the experience solidified for me that we can actually still have a village as parents. It just takes a bit more ingenuity and work. If we want that village, we have to be willing to work for it. Many mothers are finding new paths to their village through a combination of real-life and online supports.
Mom Marsha Lewis actively fights against the idea that we are the most plugged-in yet disconnected generation. She has developed a strong support network as a mom with a child on the autism spectrum. “I have found it helpful to have a global community online, as well as a local community. Each bears its own fruit and functions for me in different ways,” she says.
The global community exists to keep Lewis in the loop on advances in research, development and programming services. The local community keeps her connected with like-minded moms who understand the local connections. “It’s needed to help us keep out of the bubble you can create for yourself when you feel alone and isolated.”
Though intergenerational households are common in many cultures, they declined sharply in the U.S. for many years post-war. Recently, families like mom Hannah Greico’s have explored the benefits of the arrangement again. “My parents were discussing moving into a retirement community at the same time that we were discussing selling our house for financial reasons. We had a really frank back-and-forth about needs, wants, and boundaries,” she says.
Greico’s children have special needs, and live-in grandparents offer the additional support they need. They have an in-law suite and can shut the door when they need to. Financially and emotionally, this makeshift village benefits everyone involved. “One of my kids leads a tough roller coaster of a life in terms of his medical needs,” she says. “And having [my parents’] love wrapped around me and us is everything. I have wonderful friends, but the village is really my parents’ doing. They are the ones that are here, deep in the muck with us.”
The advent of new apps and avenues to create a village have benefitted Olivia Howell, who is mid-divorce. She had pulled away from local friends as she wades through the divorce process, and connected with two women in her field—digital marketing—through Instagram. “I was introduced to Marco Polo,” a video relay app, “and we Marco Polo first thing in the morning, all day, at night, after every phone call or legal thing with my ex- they have become my sounding board,” Howell says.
Howell is also very involved with a Facebook group that’s an outgrowth of the podcast The Longest Shortest Time. “When you’re going through a divorce and you feel depressed and just don’t want to leave your house, I can post in online groups for feedback and support,” she says.
She has become very close with this group and looks forward to the feedback they provide. Many of the online relationships have become real-life friendships, and Marco Polo is ideal for busy moms. “I can Marco Polo someone in the middle of the night crying that my marriage is over, and I’m not disturbing them.”
The same seemingly ‘damaging’ tools that keep us constantly online can be our saving grace and can fuel relationships in local communities as well. The village, it seems, has not disappeared, but rather morphed into what works for a new generation of mothers.
As moms and dads today face new challenges and new parenting journeys, it only makes sense that new patterns of connection and support would emerge.