Wednesday, July 20, 2022

It takes a village, but how do we build it?

Anne Helen Petersen (who is childfree by choice) has had several conversations with guests recently on her Culture Study newsletter on Substack about building community, and how difficult that is to do

She's also hosted several recent subscriber threads/conversations on this subject. About a week ago, she asked: 

So tell us: how did you become important to someone else’s kid? How did you strengthen or formalize the relationship? If you wish you had someone like this in your kids’ lives: what’s made it hard? And if you wish you could be this person in a kids’ life: what’s the roadblock?

There were 105 responses -- a lot of them childless & childfree people who have developed relationships with their parent-friends' kids -- or who would like to do so, but have run into obstacles. 

That conversation was for subscribers only (of which I am one!). But she asked the same question on her Instagram Stories, and featured some of the answers she got on there as well. Unfortunately, IG Stories are only available for 24 hours (which drives me nuts sometimes).  There was a lot of talk about how people are reluctant to impose on each other (parents on childless friends and childless friends on parents), and how the relationship needs to be reciprocal and not just childless/free people supporting families.  Lots of food for thought! 

A few days later, there was another subscriber thread on the community-building theme:  

So tell us: how have have you shown up for and otherwise shown care for your friends who aren’t parents?

I’d love to hear from people who aren’t parents and are forming communities with other people who aren’t parents, and I’d especially love to hear from people who are parents are thinking about the ways they can continue to form community and networks of care with people who are showing up for them, as well, even when their everyday experience is different than your own...

If you’re struggling to figure this out: what’s stopping you? What are your hesitations? How would you like to be better?

That one got 185 responses. 

Today, her latest newsletter brings together the wisdom from the subscriber threads and Instagram Stories mentioned above into a post titled "How to Show Up For Your Friends Without Kids — and How to Show Up For Kids and Their Parents aka How to Be in a Community."  I don't think you need a subscription, and it's worth a read! 

Some of the key points: 

1) Most people feel left behind in some way, no matter what their life is like (parents and non-parents). "Everyone’s struggle is different — but life is not a struggle contest. Competing for the most aggrieved is what keeps us from actually creating the sort of solidarity that can result in change."

2)  People need and want help, and people need and want to provide help. 

3) People are also incredibly bad at communicating with one another, because... 

4) American culture is all about the myths of self-reliance and perfection. 

5) Because we are so bad at asking for and receiving help, we need scripts and plans. (AHP goes on to offer tips for both parents and non-parents about how we can better show up for and support each other.) 

6)  "Friendship, care, and community-building is periodically no fun at all. It’s un-optimizable. You can’t put it in your resume. You can’t buy it, or hack it, or fast-track it. But its value is beyond measure."

(She's also tweeting about this.)  

What do you think? Fellow childless/free readers, what makes it hard for you to build relationships with parents and their kids?  Parents, what are the barriers you've encountered to building relationships with your friends who don't have kids? 

1 comment:

  1. Really great question and interesting points. I think the 6 points you list are right on.

    Something I have been working on is offering concrete help to people who are facing a challenge. Not just "oh I'm sorry" but actually offering a real thing or service. I am working on overcoming my fear of rejection and/or belief that everybody has a way more organized life than me, far more connections and doesn't want my help. Maybe that sounds silly but there is a real anxiety there and it's something I still need to approach mindfully. It also helps to spend time with people who are not afraid to ask for help and who appreciate when I offer and accept. They show me how to do it and that it is normal. The challenge has to do with vulnerability I think: being able to accept one's own vulnerability and other people's. Neither is easy. And our very consumerist, materialist culture likes to imply we can buy our way out of any challenge. That is not true of everyone and I'm quite sure at some point in life it will not be true of anyone.

    I am not sure how to generalize about parents and childfree people, because while I know plenty of each they are not all the same by any means. But *maybe* it is easier sometimes for parents with children to form bonds because we see each other in awkward, difficult situations all the time and we have some sense what the other person is going through. For example if I see toys and clothes all over the floor of another parent's house and a sink full of dirty dishes I can picture what their day/week/life is like pretty easily. A person without kids might have a very clean, beautifully decorated home and so to me they look fine even if they need help. Dunno, just a thought.