It’s hard not to have a village, even for someone introverted like me. Being a mom is my greatest joy and most important accomplishment, but parenting is often isolating and frustrating. We all need someone to share our accomplishments with, no matter how small.
When my kids were little, getting through a trip to the grocery store without a meltdown or a potty accident was a reason to celebrate, and I wanted to celebrate with someone who would understand.
On those days when self-doubt, exhaustion, and my own lack of patience got the best of me, I wanted someone to tell me that everything would be okay. And while online connections are awesome, sometimes they just aren’t enough. You want and need eye-contact. Warm hands. A real-time in-person connection with someone who doesn’t care if you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for three days. Heck, maybe even with someone who will tell you “Honey, you stink. Go get yourself together while I make us some tea.”
As a military wife, I know the importance of a village, mainly through not having one. Moving every few years means establishing a new support network and it’s hard.
Jenn Updyke also knows a lot about how isolating parenthood can be and how it feels to suddenly lose her village.
This California mom was once surrounded by family and a close-knit community, but when her husband’s job relocated her family Washington, the absence of family and friends was immediately felt. But Updyke came up with a creative solution: She got on Nextdoor, a private, neighborhood-based social network and wrote a “Grannies Wanted” ad.
Her post read:
“I’m finding it more challenging (and less fun) getting through the days that my partner works. If you have a little time in your life, and space in your heart, to share with our beautiful family, I look forward to talking with you.”
And guess what? The response has been phenomenal.
“Every person who stepped forward to introduce themselves to me after reading my post has proven to be the type of people I wanted to find to fill the gap that was missing in our lives,” says Updyke in an interview with Babble. “I have established both regularly scheduled ‘mother’s helpers Grannies’ and ‘on-call Grannies’ to help me throughout the week.”
Updyke is looking for a little bit of everything — from someone to chat with over that cup of tea and call on when she’s sick to someone to watch her children while she and her husband go on a much-needed date night. You know, the types of things we’d ask our relatives or close friends to help with.
In essence, Updyke is building her village.
“My favorite experience so far is when I open the door to meet a new Grannie and they immediately take to the toddler of the house, getting down to his level and playing so naturally it’s as if they played just the day before,” says Updyke. “Being witness to that gives me so much relief that Luke and I are not on this parenting journey alone. We really can create our family anew and expand our village of supporters even when our immediate family (and beloved Grannies) live so far away.”
The need for connection is strong on both sides. New moms in the trenches might be struggling with lack of validation and adult conversation, but so might a seventysomething with grandchildren that are grown or far away. We all want to be needed, valued, and reassured. That doesn’t change as we age.
“Raising a family really is the greatest gift and the biggest burden one can take on in life,” says Updyke. “I am a firm believer that no person, or even couple, should have to be on their parenting journey alone. It is important to me that my children grow up in a community of both family and friends who show them love and support.”
Since posting her request, Updyke has “adopted” several new grannies and connected with other moms who also want to create a supportive community around their families.
“I find that I am able to connect with other moms who want the same things as I do,” she shares. “When you go to a playground and meet other parents, you may or may not have more in common than the fact that you both have children. But I’m finding that the people I am meeting who also want to grow their support networks are like the missing puzzle pieces.”
Additionally, exposure to multiple generations gives children a more balanced world view and teaches empathy. My own kids are lucky to have their grandparents close by now, although after reading Updyke’s story, I realize we don’t spend as much time with them as we should and that I take their presence in my kids’ lives for granted.
Even though Updyke started the “Grannies Wanted” conversation out of her own need for company, she’s also fulfilling that need for others; the connections she’s inspired are truly a gift.
We can all take something from Updyke’s creative way to build her village. Maybe it will inspire you to make those types of connections for yourself or to facilitate connections for others who might be missing something in their lives. Or maybe, like me, you’ll be reminded of how lucky you are to have your village and decide to devote more time to your community.
Because everyone needs those high-fives and eye contact, right?