You probably already know how essential it is to surround yourself with a loving, supportive community. (And if you’re a parent, you understand how critical this is to the health of your relationship with your spouse!) For some of us, our community is made up of a rich network of family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, and more. But for many of us, community is something we have to consciously choose through the friendships we build and the meaningful connections we make with others who cross our path.
Each of us has especially busy seasons in our lives. You might feel like you’re on the go all the time without much time for yourself or your partner. Coming up for air takes serious effort, especially with kids in the picture, but planning to do just that is absolutely essential.
We have three sons, all born within about 33 months. To say our house was busy when they were young is the understatement of the century. They needed our attention constantly, and it was hard to carve out time together as a couple.
For most of that season of our lives, we didn’t have family close by. In hindsight, one thing we probably all missed out on was having grandparents who were present for our kids. But we did have close friends who were willing and able to keep our boys overnight on occasion so we could get a break. These friends were our community and our lifeline.
Like us, you need others in your life to support your sanity.
Community simply means being there for each other, just like you’re there for your partner, supporting them and cheering them on through all of life’s seasons.
As young parents, we relied on our community of close friends to help us keep our heads above water as a couple (and as a family).
Now that we’re grandparents, we try to be there more for our own kids, to be their community. We keep our grandkids overnight so that their parents have time to go on dates and enjoy a quiet house once in a while. That’s important to us, and we make it a priority on our calendar.
Understand this: we recognize that not all of us are wired to want to be present for our kids in this same way, nor do we all have the freedom to help them as much as they might want or need us to. Many of us with grown children are single now; we might not have the bandwidth, resources, or time we’d like to commit to helping our kids.
You don’t have to move mountains; sharing with your kids your desire to be there for them is huge, even if you can’t always make it happen. You can still make them a priority and check in with them, asking “How can I help?”
Remember, the three questions we all ask with all relationships, from the time we are born until the day we die:
- Are you there for me?
- Do I matter to you?
- Will you come when I need you, when I call?
Dr. Sue Johnson asks these questions in her book, Hold Me Tight, and calls them “the questions at the heart of attachment and EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy).”
If your grown children can answer “yes” to all of the above, then you’re present for them in the ways they need, and you’re an essential part of their community.
Now, your community will vary depending on the stage of life you’re in. Community might look vastly different for recent college graduates, thirty-something parents of young kids, empty-nesters, and retirees.
Think of who is in your community. Who do you intentionally interact with? Who do you depend on? Could you answer “yes” to the three questions above when it comes to these people? If so, that is your community.
Similarly, you can be community to the people in your life that mean a lot to you by being there for them in ways that ensure they can answer “yes” to those questions, too.
If you’re having a hard time finding and building community, you’re not alone. In adulthood, many of us move away from family and loved ones (we did when we were first married). Sometimes, you need to be intentional about building your community. You could start by connecting with neighbors, co-workers, or people in groups you belong to like a church or a service organization. You don’t have to be super outgoing or extroverted to do this. It’s often just as simple as sitting with someone and asking how their day is going. Is there anything you can do for them? What are their dreams? Or just what are their highs and lows?
If you simply slow down and look around, you might be surprised to find others as eager to connect and build community as you are.