What will a modern-day village look like and what does it take to build one? The answers I found might surprise you.
Close your eyes and imagine with me for a moment:
You’re exhausted. Maybe you didn’t sleep well because of a looming deadline at work, a fussy toddler, a cluster-feeding newborn, or your own sick and aching body. You should be getting dinner ready, but you just can’t peel yourself off the couch. “Is there still a pizza in the freezer?” you wonder.
The doorbell rings and your kids race to be the first to open it. In walks your sister, neighbor, mother-in-law, and the mom from the bus stop that always makes a point to speak to you. The bus stop mom starts unpacking several tote bags onto your kitchen counter. She lays out a few containers of something that smells wonderful. A casserole? Stew? There’s a salad as well. You see her tuck a few other containers into your fridge. She catches your glance, gives you a warm smile, and gets back to her task.
Your neighbor is handing a stack of plates to one of your kids, forks to another. They’re happily setting the table together. How did she even do that without yelling?
You realize the baby has woken up but, before you can get to your feet, you see that your mother-in-law is already emerging from the room, baby in arms. Your sister is handing you a steaming mug and covering your legs with a blanket. So you sit back, truly resting for the first time today. You know that things are taken care of.
Is this heaven? No. This is a village.
What are we Missing?
While I believe these kinds relationships can be built, the reality is that your people will not automatically come streaming through your door upon a wish. Our modern villages will require much more direct and honest communication. It may have been the case that villages of the past operated more on observation and intuition, but unfortunately, we’re just not set up that way anymore. We have been trained out of acomedido.
Acomedido is a concept I learned of in Dr. Michaeleen Doucleff’s book, “Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Humans”. (A must read for anyone who cares for children, in my opinion). The word acomedido translates to “helpful or obliging”, and it assumes a shared set of values, shares ownership and responsibility, and honors community. We, on the other hand, are a people who value independence, strive for individual uniqueness, and praise the self-made person. Not exactly a foundation for children to learn acomedido.
One day at the playground, I watched a mom stop her child from helping my toddler on the seesaw. She directed the child to “let her mom help,” and looked around the crowd of adults, probably hoping to spot said “mom”. (I did not, in fact, help. Instead, I observed as my toddler hailed one of her older siblings and got what she needed. More on that later).
Now, I completely understand why that woman did and said what she did. Who wants to risk being fussed at by an angry parent simply for touching their kid? What if the helping child fumbled and caused someone’s toddler to cry and now you’re held responsible, or – worse yet – faced with accusations of something awful or malicious? Nobody needs that. I totally get it. And that’s my point exactly. We have come to the place in society where the more understandable and acceptable behavior is the one that avoids helping others. And now, a young child has learned an important lesson from their mom to not reach out to someone when there is a need they can meet.
*Queue sounds of a heart breaking*
So that’s where we are today, and it’s the underlying context and backdrop for the modern villages that we are working to build. Do I think that can change? Yes, and I truly hope it does. But that’s beyond the scope of my focus and passion, and beyond my time of life on this earth, I suspect.
What a Modern Village Requires
Even within your village it is still unlikely that someone will jump up and take care of you on an inkling or passing mention. But they are much more likely to jump in if you express a specific need. So for now, we have to be clear and honest about reaching out and asking for the help we need. Just like my toddler on the seesaw. 😉
And I’ll share this nugget my counselor once told me: You want to express a need versus requesting an action. It’s the difference, for example, between saying “I need someone to watch my kids on Friday evening,” versus “Are you free to come over to babysit on Friday?”. Expressing a need gives others a chance to tell you how they can help. (Maybe they already have plans for the evening, but are willing to include your kiddos.)
This approach requires two things from you: being vulnerable in sharing your honest need, and being open to receiving support in a way that might look different than you’d imagined. When that friend comes to help tackle your laundry pile while you tend to new baby, or nurse yourself back to health from sickness, she might not put things exactly where they belong. But it’s probably worth it to literally have that load taken care of.
Looking back to traditional and tribal villages and communal lifestyles, it definitely feels like our Western culture is missing out on something vital. And yet I truly believe we can each build a functional village that offers the support we need. It’s just gonna take intention and work on our part, as well as willingness to be open and vulnerable.
Are you up for the challenge?
What other ways might our modern-day villages function differently? Let me know in the comments.
For more on creating your own modern village, check out my other posts:
Parenting is Hard: Why Every Parent Needs a Village – on the importance of a village for every parent.
Build Your Village: Every Parent Needs a Village, Pt 2 – on how to build and nurture your own village.