For the Love of Community

4 May

Where did our sense of community go?

I check outside my window before grabbing my mail to make sure my next-door neighbor isn’t sitting in her car smoking for fear of getting sucked into a converstaion. How bad is that? I know only a handful of our neighbors (our favorite ones sadly moved to another part of the city) and for some reason, I don’t mind it. This is weird considering I loved growing up in a tight-knit community. We lived on an island where everyone knew everyone – you knew the lady at the grocery store, your best friend’s mom knew that Sally got her hair cut yesterday (ok, that part was a little annoying) and you always ran in to someone you knew on the ferry or in town. I really liked that sense of belonging to something greater than yourself.

Now I live in the city where, yes, I run into people I know quite frequently, but obviously there isn’t a sense of shared community like there was on the island. And I’m not certain that if I moved to the country I’d find that same oneness – times have changed. People seem to be more interested in their own self-interests more than ever. Being a stay at home mom has made this more obvious – it is a lonely profession. You really need to put yourself out there to make new friends and new connections. Just because you are a mom doesn’t assure your automatic inclusion into some mom club or what have you. You have to work for those connections lady.

In Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness, she touches on how our society has delved inwards and stepped away from the help of community. She went from raising her children in France, where the community took care of new moms to Washington DC, where you took care of yourself. She says, “I put my elder daughter in DC public school and watched the light in her eyes go dim. I did not have a pediatrician available for human contact in an emergency. I felt like all the responsibility for my daughter’s care, health, and education resided within our family. Often enough, it seemed to rest on my shoulders alone. I knew what had worked for me in France. It wasn’t just that I had access to a slew of government-run or -subsidized support services; it was also that I’d had a whole unofficial network of people to help and support me – materially and emotionally – as I navigated the new world of motherhood.”

To make matters worse, Dr. Spock released studies in the 1990’s that stated “we have learned from psychoanalytic studies that the influence that makes a very few individuals become extraordinarily productive or creative in their fields is, most often, the inspiration they received from a particularly strong relationship with a mother who had especially high aspirations for her children.” Yikes.

So, the supermoms of the nation, being ignored by their community, delved inward and put all their energy into raising perfect children – by themselves. Judith summarizes: “For instead of using whatever tools of self-empowerment we had to gain control of our surroundings and change our world, we turned them inward and used them to police ourselves. Rather than becoming rebels or pioneers like our baby boomer predecssors, we became a generation of control freaks. the signs were everywhere – eating disorders, lactose intolerence, food allergies aplenty. How surprising is it, then, that when we became mothers, we took to purifying and regulating our chilren’s environments. Motherhood could, after all, have been profoundly destabilizing. Pregnancy, childbirth, lactation – they all meant a temporary loss of control – of our bodies and of our careers. American women tend to believe that what we’ve got is, for better or worse, as good as it can get. Whatever doesn’t work is our problem, and it’s up to us to find a solution. It is the essense of the Mess. It is the basic reason why our generation has turned all the energy that we might be directing outward – to say, making the world a better place – inward instead where it has been put to the questionable purpose of our own self-perfection. We have taken it upon ourselves as supermothers to be everything to our children that society refuses to be: not just loving nuturers but educators, entertainers, guardians of environmental purity, protectors of a stable and prosperous future.”

How frightening is that? Instead of developing a nurturing and adequate community to take care of our families, we concentrated solely on our immediate needs – raising perfect children. “Control of the body, of something, by young women coming out of their you-can-do-anything girlhoods into you-can’t-do-it-all womanhood, in which so many things suddenly seemed out of control. You CAN control your body, your home, your household. We fixate on those things that we can control – how our child holds a pencil, whether or not she gets gluten- rather than worry about what we can’t control: our economic futures, kid’s education, health care costs, whether or not we’ll ever be able to afford to retire. The perversity in all this, of course, is that what we’re trying to control is precisely what one cannot control; you can’t shape and perfect human beings, pre-program and prepare them to that you can predict the course of their lives and protect them along the way. But you can ostensibly exert some control over what kind of society you live in. You have the power to elect politcians who can offer to deliver goods on the things like education, public services, and suppoer for your family. Unless, of course, no one’s listening.”

It is time for us to band together, to create a sense of community that helps one another. Can we stop comparing your child to mine? Can we stop obsessing over building the perfect swing set in our backyard (Judith has a great story about that one too…I’ll include it at the end)? Let’s all just work together to get our city to build a fantastic play area where we can all congregate and socialize together. Let’s build schools we believe in, let’s support each other as we bump through parenthood, let’s create a community together.

“I was reminded of the way a friend in Paris had laughed at me when I’d expressed guilt about sending my toddler off to six hours a week of preschool. “Do you have a mini arts studio in your home?” she’d asked. “Do you have a playhouse and a variety of tricycles? Can you provide new sources of fun and stimulation every day?” The answers were, obviously, no on all counts. The mere idea of having all that equipment at home had seemed absurd. But in Washington, everything was different. The homes around me were equipped like mini art studios. Many people had backyard equipment that rivaled public parks. And there was a sense that whatever was done at home was best. Anything “institutional,” as people put it, was far lesser – a sad replacement for the at-home loving care a good mother could provide by herself. ”

All quotes are from Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness. A must read.


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One Response to “For the Love of Community”

  1. strivingforsimple September 21, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    I enjoyed this post – great writing! Cant wait to get my hands on that book!

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