The Importance of Finding Your Community

In modern parenting, finding your community is quite different than in the past. Your tribe was your family and anyone in your immediate surroundings. Now, your tribe can be next door or halfway around the globe.

Finding Your Tribe as Parents

The classic book, The Continuum Concept: In Search of Paradise Lost, offers three important attachment parenting principles. One of which highlights that a healthy human experience includes interaction between people of many ages.

Here, we explore the importance of finding your community in modern parenting. As well as how we can provide a continuum experience to our children and ourselves within the context of a modern society. How can we begin to reclaim the tribal experience, like we have with babywearing and co-sleeping?

Whether through conscious decisions or instinct, many parents are attempting to do just that. They are looking to resurrect something of the primal, tribal human experience. In their own ways, they are seeking opportunities to connect with other families in ways that are more natural, organically developing, and holistic.

Finding Your Community with Extended Family

For some families, tribe-building is as simple as staying in place or moving back to live close to extended family. A PEW study revealed that 43% of young people ages 18-34 are now living with their parents or other kin. This includes a growing number of families with young children, according to Carmen Wong-Ulrich of Baby Center Financial.

Granted, this is happening primarily as a result of economic pressure, rather than the desire for a more natural social structure. However, many of these families are discovering benefits to this arrangement beyond financial relief. “It was nice to rediscover a relationship with my parents as a parent. I don’t think our vision was ever, oh, let’s go live with our parents again when we are older. But you know, it worked out,” commented one young mother. She had spent a year living with her parents while she and her husband saved up for a home of their own. Other parents report increased feelings of security. And other shared duties, like carpooling, made easier. Plus, having built-in babysitters and abundant family bonding time were other benefits.

But for the majority of us, living near family is just not an option. What then?

Create Your Own Parenting Community

Teresa Pitman’s classic article, Finding Your Tribe offers one solution. First published in 2000, it has been republished many times since. And it has inspired parents all over the world to create modern “tribal” relationships with friends and neighbors.

In the article, Pitman describes her relationship with her friend Vicki. Starting when their first babies were infants, the two would get together and help each other with household chores or prepare meals for both families to enjoy. At the same time, their kids had the benefit of unstructured play time with adults who remained in close proximity, but engaged in their own adult activities. It wasn’t until she read Liedloff’s book that Pitman realized she and Vicki had unconsciously created their own little tribal community.

Pitman points out that tribe building involves much more than just scheduling regular playdates. You have to spend a lot of time together, and it’s important that it not just be all “visiting time.” Work together. Clean the house, work on your car, do projects together, garden, prepare meals, or start a business together. Take care of the children’s needs as they need you; otherwise, let them alone to observe how you’re going about your tasks – or not, as they please.

She also cautions not to be too picky about whom you form your tribe with. Just like family, the people you find available may have some qualities that differ from your ideals. That’s ok; as long as you can respect each other’s choices and beliefs there’s no reason you can’t form a deep and lasting relationship.

Homeschooling and Continuum Concept Ideals

It’s very common for parents of young children to get together frequently, and often these relationships result in lasting bonds between families. However, once the children reach school age, time spent together in this way often diminishes. Homeschooling families have a unique advantage in this regard. They are also better able to respond to children’s natural developmental patterns, and more likely to have the opportunity to interact with children of a larger age range than their schooled counterparts.

In situations where homeschooling occurs between and around running a home-based business, children also get to observe and learn first-hand how the adult world operates in a way that was once a normal part of growing up.

That said, many homeschoolers still find their lives increasingly dominated by schedules and goals, especially as children grow older. If a tribal experience is truly your ideal, you might find yourself drawn to at least partial unschooling.

Consider Creating Your Own School

If homeschooling is not an option for your family’s situation, what then?

If you are brave and resourceful, you might consider organizing your own school or other institution.

This is what Natalie Cronin did. She started her home daycare, Under the Tinker Tree, out of a desire to provide her own children with an experience more closely resembling her ideals than would otherwise be possible. Luckily, her vision resonated with others in her community.

“I share my home with a dozen families a day, and we have a saying that ‘We’re all in it together.’ It was an interesting process. I was very up-front about (all my beliefs about childrearing), and people would come, and they were looking for people like me and I was looking for people like them. (I’d tell them) we aren’t caring for just the child, we’re here for the whole family, and that’s really what it’s become.

Our community has become so close. The parents contact each other after daycare, and we all live within a few blocks of each other. I have six families who live in the same apartment building as I do. So we really do have our own little community and we’re very supportive of each other.”

Pioneering a “tribal” style school for older children is more of a challenge than starting a daycare. But it is certainly within the realm of possibility if enough parents in a given community are willing to devote time and resources to making it happen.

Look to Institutional Tribes

If starting a school is not an option, you still may be able to integrate some semblances of a tribal existence into the fabric of your family’s life. Carefully choose amongst the schools, churches, and other organizations in your area. Or you can advocate for more Continuum-friendly practices within the organizations you already belong to.

When finding your tribe, keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to change already existing conventions. “If you can’t homeschool, the first thing is to seek out alternative schools that have age mixing and aren’t so set on separating and segregating people,” advises parenting coach Scott Noelle.

Noelle corresponded extensively with Liedloff while she was alive, and now operates the Liedloff Continuum Network website. “You can also look for a school that doesn’t grade children; that’s another way to separate people, by ‘good kids’ and ‘bad kids’ and A students and B students and so forth.”

Noelle adds that there are things you can do to protect your child from the less Continuum-friendly aspects of school life. “I encourage parents to let (their children) know that the school culture is like a game that they play, and there are parts of the game that are good to play, like learning and meeting new friends, but that we’ll have to tolerate other parts of the game that are not as aligned with our true nature, like grading for example. You can assure your children that the grading is just a game and we don’t have to take it too seriously. They do take it seriously – they forget that it’s just a game. So tell them, ‘I’m not too worried about (the game). If what you’re ready for doesn’t align perfectly with their game then you may get low marks in their game, but I know you’ll blossom in your own time.’”

You may find yourself in the position of wanting to introduce elements of modern tribalism into an existing organization. This is challenging, but not impossible.

If you want to do this, it’s usually a good idea to become an active, participating member of the group first, before attempting change. Then, frame your suggestions in a way that helps them meet existing wants and needs. For instance, you might volunteer to set up a program to help your organization’s single-parent families network with and support each other.

Intentional Communities

To some, the ultimate in modern tribe building may well be to start an intentional community based on Continuum and other natural parenting and green living concepts. However, a quick search reveals very few existing intentional communities that openly base their values on Continuum ideals. (Heart-Culture Farm near Eugene, OR is one.)

Why is this? Surely, there are enough families interested in following an attachment parenting lifestyle to make finding your tribe simple?

Could it be that the very concept of an “intentional” community (at least, as most of us are likely to think of it) is alien to a Continuum worldview? After all, Liedloff herself noted that the Yequana people were highly reluctant to sway anyone else’s opinion or influence their behavior. Yet most intentional communities are very specific as to what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Noelle recounts a personal intentional community experience which may shed some light on this question:

“The internet was making people more aware, and some people began discussing the idea of having a community of people…where the values were aligned with the Continuum Concept, which all of us were very passionate about.

So I wrote up a long and passionate post to this online community – right around the year 2000 – ‘let’s go for it!’ Somehow a lot of people got impassioned about it and we did start organizing. It led to a fairly sizeable group of people from all over the world getting together for an organizational meeting.

We accidentally experienced tribe for about 2 days. We had this gathering in my hometown, Portland OR. People had different travel schedules, and a number of people got there a few days before the big meeting. They camped out in our yard and we kind of had this village we created in our yard, and we were all just waiting and very optimistic.

So we actually had this tribal experience, and I can only say it was glorious. It was just wonderful, the feeling of this expanded social circle where everyone is just sort of flowing together. The children had all these choices (of playmates.)

They could play with one and when they were done they could play with another and if a child’s mom needed a break there was someone there to attend to the child. And we were living that way for a couple of days while we were waiting for this meeting.”

Then the meeting happened and everyone brought their agendas with them, and their particular attachments that things had to be a certain way, and we started to lose some of that being in the moment with each other. Now it had to be right vs wrong…

We might have weathered that, but I think ultimately a lot of us were recovering our humanity. The thing about community movements, is that people are attracted to communities because they’re failing in some way. I don’t mean that as a criticism.

If people are succeeding at the whole separation game in society, they’re succeeding within the rules of that game, and they’re not motivated to change. It’s the ones who are failing who are like, ‘this doesn’t work for me, so I’m open to trying something new.’ And they come across this idea of communitarianism, and they’re willing to try. But then you have a whole bunch of wounded people who are trying to lift each other up. And I could see that in this particular project, including myself and my wife – we definitely lacked the skill set to do that.”

Noelle suspects that being well funded could help such a project overcome this issue by allowing participants the security to work out their differences. “When you’re just in survival mode you get defensive, feeling like someone else’s needs may encroach on your own.”

Given this experience and others, it seems that this elusive tribal experience is not something to be sought as a goal. But more so as something experienced naturally when people come together. When people come together without goals or expectations, simply in the enjoyment of being together.

Finding Your Community in the Digital World

Many people these days are spending increasing amounts of time and energy on the Internet in hopes of connecting to like-minded souls. Without denigrating the very real value many find in their online relationships (this author included), it’s important to note that virtual reality is in many ways antithetical to a
Continuum experience.

The Continuum concept is about more than the sequence of human development. It’s about the continuum of humanity across many lifespans, and the play of matter and consciousness amongst and between humans, other species, Mother Earth, and the universe itself.

Children, especially, need to experience the world holistically through their senses. The real world with all their senses, not just a pared-down wired-up virtual semblance with no taste or touch or smell. And believe it or not, we adults need this too. There is no virtual substitute for the connection one feels when one’s eyes meet another’s. Or when the sensation of a warm slice of homemade bread passes from one hand to another. Or the volumes spoken in minute variations in a loved one’s smile.

Tips to Remember When Finding Your Tribe

Cronin, Noelle, and Pitman all offer excellent suggestions for developing the kind of comfort with ourselves and others that appears to be a prerequisite for a Continuum lifestyle.

  • Be honest about your feelings and needs, both to yourself and to others. If your children just aren’t up to participating in a play date on a particular day, it’s better to stay home than to force the issue.
  • Remember to breathe. You won’t connect well with others until you are comfortable and relaxed in your own space.
  • Reconnect with the natural world. Even if you live in a city, just going for a walk and passing a tree is connecting and centering.
  • Finding your own tribe requires spending a lot of time together.
  • Choose options that lead to partnership rather than separation and control.
  • Be open to relationships with people who are in different stages of parenthood or life, or whose habits or beliefs differ from yours.
  • Focus more strongly on how you’re connected with people than on how you’re different.
  • Unplug.

Above all, be open about the outcome. Let finding your community come naturally and allow it to grow organically, from the inside out. Forget about your goals and focus instead on just the experience of being, right here and right now, with those you happen to be with at the moment. The destination is the journey itself.

Image via Treefrog Photography

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