I work and have a friendship with an internationally prominent family therapist and author. A few weeks ago we were chatting about an event inquiry from a mom’s group who wanted him to speak to them. In passing he mentioned that today’s moms, although more connected on social media, podcasts, blogs and everything else universally available to us online, we are as a group losing our villages, and it is not a good thing.
Since this conversation I have thought quite a bit about this theory of the dwindling village, if it was true, and what exactly this loss would look like in real life?
I read an article by an author who felt the village had already been razed, burned and replaced by the “mirage village” that is technology. I am not sure I am quite ready to see the world that way, but she did say something which resonated with me, “There isn’t an easy way out of our isolation. The community network of old that we could use to safeguard children and secure their independence and ours hardly exists anymore. To the extent it does, we are too afraid to use it. We over-schedule our kids or keep them indoors because the only eyes looking out for them are our own—or the people we pay.”
Thus creating today’s phenomenon of helicopter parenting.
I don’t believe though that helicopter parenting can be solely attributed to just one parent based on gender. There have been countless studies detailing how male and female brains work, and in general, we have different emotional and even physical reactions to situations. I once had a friend explain to me this concept in a way that made a lot of sense. Men could spend all day sawing on a piece of wood and not talk to one single person, but that it could still be a great day. For women we are hard wired to seek out interpersonal relationships. This is why the village has always been so important, and in today’s modern mecca of technology, fulfilling this need can prove to be difficult.
Many of us grew up in a generation with the family mindset that mimicked the Las Vegas slogan, “What happens at home. Stays at home.” I am glad in many aspects that mindset has shifted. Counter this though against the “have it all” ideology we young girls of the 80’s and 90’s were spoon fed, and you can begin to see why the modern mother living in a world of constant status posts and uploads might find herself feeling lonely and isolated when she feels she isn’t “having it all” like the online life her friends appear to be living.
This feeling of isolation worsens when for example, our children are struggling at school vs. seeing our friends who post pictures of their straight A, honor roll children. Or we feel guilt when we feel depressed after the birth of our baby vs. the friends who gush within 5 minutes after giving birth, “That even though it was hard, it was ALL worth it.”
It’s a matter of perception, but those perceptions weaken our village. We feel different from others and so we fear truly sharing who we are and what is really going on, because we believe that we are so different from others we won’t fit in. So instead, we allow our villages to dwindle and even in some cases be non-existent in order to protect ourselves. But if you are in that situation, you know that it just doesn’t work. I didn’t have to tell you that though did I?
Author and Professor Sherry Turkle in talking about this isolationist attitude said the following, “Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.”
So the lingering question remains, does this constant online interaction make our villages stronger or weaker?
Part of having a strong village is being able to share the good and the bad, and doing that in an online platform is difficult. There are verbal and non verbal ques that just can’t be shared in an online forum. Not only that, but as previously discussed social media has the potential to draw out the angry green monster in all of us and make us play the comparison game. I am a pretty level headed person, but this summer was probably one of the worst summers of my life and all plans went to the wayside as I trudged from Dr. to Dr. trying to help my sick child. Tuning into social media of any kind only made me feel worse as I saw the fabulous memories and vacations friends were having with their children. I felt immense guilt as I thought about what my kids were doing, probably playing way to many video games.
I would wager though I am not the only parent who has ever felt that way. Or who has seen women we loosely associate with having fun “girls nights out” that we are never invited to. It happens right?
Let’s break this down a little more with another example from my own life. I am a member of a large global church with millions of members, but our membership is broken up into smaller geographical segments. Most of the members of my “ward” as we call it, are people who live within just a few blocks of myself and my family. The purpose of this type of organization is to create a village. I have seen these types of groups work marvelously, and alternately, I have seen them be not so great. There are a myriad of reasons for why things can play out like this, but for women, I believe it can all be boiled down to one simple reason. Women deeply invest in our relationships, and that fact can at times be viewed as a risky undertaking, especially when we believe that investment will take time we feel we don’t have.
So how do we fix this? I am no expert on this topic, and I am not even trying to be one, but we need to start talking, because isolationism, especially for women is not a good thing. I welcome your ideas and suggestions, but my first idea for fixing this would be to stop over-scheduling ourselves and our children, and to get out there. Just do it, right? And when we are out there, try to smile at people, be open to chatting with new people or sit by someone we wouldn’t normally sit by.
I conducted a very unofficial and unscientific experiment of my own over the last few weeks. I spent 2 weeks when I was in social situations not talking to other women. Not in a weird way, but I just kind of kept to myself. I discovered not many people were willing to cross the bridge into my territory. Then I spent the next 2 weeks smiling at every one I saw, and chatting amiably with women I came into contact with at parks, church gatherings, school and other such places. The results were drastic. I was invited to several coffee dates, play dates and had these same women seek me out when they saw me again at these same places.
So ultimately if you want a village, you need to put yourself out there. I know it it scary. I know you are busy, but you need a village. We all do, because we need someone who we can call and share the story with about our toddler peeing on the floor at the mall play place! Or someone who can share an understanding of what it is like to raise teenagers. This type of interpersonal relationship makes us as women stronger. I am not advocating to stop tuning into those podcasts, or logging onto Facebook, just try to seek out those people in real life, who together, we can help make each other’s village strong.
Lastly, if you have your posse/village already, good for you, but perhaps you would consider letting more people into your circle and helping them be strengthened by your village?
I would love to hear your own village stories. How has your village or the lack of one effected your life?