Chasing Fear and Building Community – One Smile at a Time

While I always welcome more time with my kids under “normal” circumstances, I was somewhat relieved to see my 6 year old off to school this past Monday morning. I know many parents feel the same way after the intensity of the holidays. I felt guilty about feeling that way and I mentioned it at our first New Sabbath Project of 2012. While I am a huge advocate for work-life balance, I found that five weeks at home quite suddenly – first with just one, then both kids – no support, a husband at work, and expectations that I too needed to find paid work (try doing a job interview with a 2 year old crying in the background) – as is currently the case – while keeping up the house and everything that goes along to it – a shock to the system. It felt just as out of balance as being at work long days, having little to do with my kids. I was craving some intellectual stimulation that came with adult conversations and work-related topics.

One of our guests remarked that perhaps many of us simply like our work lives more than our family lives BECAUSE it’s so hard to raise children – and that’s why we spend so much time at work. He hadn’t intended to offend his own wife with the suggestion – but he did. While another guest suggested that men – being the bigger earners generally – which is in itself another story – don’t have the luxury to contemplate work-life balance, I disagreed with him. It’s not about a love of work but about the difficulties that come with raising children in isolation – without communities of women to support each other – unlike the days my mother was home. I would never romanticize the days when fewer women worked outside the home and the lack of choice that came with that. But over the last 5 weeks – at home alone with either one or both of my children, I realized I was suddenly launched into a culture where childcare workers are the majority – and have understandably built communities based on geography, culture and language – and have no interest in spending time with mothers, despite the friendships formed between the children. So, not quite welcomed into the paid childcare worker group and finding so few stay-at-home parents you know well enough to spend time with or connect. Facebook doesn’t exactly cut it in terms of building real, in-person relationships where you look out for each other’s children. It seems no one – including me — is around long enough to invest time and energy into building these relationships. I guess we can’t blame people. But, under the circumstances I’ve described, I can understand why many women opt for paid, out of the house labour.

It’s not that we aren’t trying to build community in our own ways. I’ve been organizing kids’ classes in my home for years while working flexible hours or part-time. In that all that time I have rarely met parents except over email. Even those classes could be seen as part of the over-scheduling of our children and ourselves that rarely lead to relaxed time and unstructured play. People come in, pay a fee, and leave when it’s over.

Some other guests from our last Friday New Sabbath project said their new years resolution was to expand their sphere of people with whom they spend time. Our communal dinner, according to them was a good start. They say they’ve always preferred to stay home but realized that without a dedicated community building “project”, their circle of friends , old and new remained relatively limited. Interestingly, when it came time for blessings our female friend spoke of the people she passed jogging in the park that morning – people who decided to smile back at her as she ran past. It actually stood out and was therefore, worth acknowledging. Sweet but somehow sad, really.

Still, when I talk about putting this together each week, the question I get asked over and over is “how” to do it. One friend and frequent New Sabbath Project guest said that all she could imagine doing on a Friday night (aside from being hosted at our place) was lying down on her couch and doing nothing because she’d gone so hard all week at work. I told her to keep it simple and have friends bring some good wine and a little bit of the food. I told her it wasn’t easy for us and that we had taken some breaks over the years when things had gotten too over-scheduled. But I can’t help but thinking she perhaps missed the point. Perhaps we’re all missing the point.

We’re too busy and too disconnected to connect. Fear telling us we won’t be able to do it – make new friends, make dinners, connect to our neighbours or our larger communities – building walls instead of removing them. May we all take more time in 2012 for opening our homes and joining others – even last minute. Make and share food – smile at strangers – and use time WITH new friends to acknowledge special moments.

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12 thoughts on “Chasing Fear and Building Community – One Smile at a Time

  1. Isn’t it the busy-ness of our lives that is sooo getting in the way of building community? As a parent, I too had a similar experience to you. I saw the paid caregivers with their close friendships and how they “had each other’s backs” and felt pangs of envy. When my daughter was little (she is now six), I chose to primarily stay at home. And despite that, I still ended up hiring a caregiver part-time so that my daughter could have playdates. I actually ended up knowing some of the nannies much better than the child’s moms….

    This building of community, expanding my social network – that is one of my main resolutions this year as well. It is difficult in the big city, especially if it is a city where you neither grew up nor went to university. We seem to have barely enough time to spend with those friends we have already rather than make new ones. Sometimes it seems if you have nothing more to offer than friendship or conversation (even if you do “click”), it’s not enough to take it to the next level. That sense of “what’s in it for me to get to know you”.

    Our moms may not have had it better in terms of the range of choices that they had regarding paid work and education and careers. However, I do believe that we have lost so much of that sense of community, both men and women, with the primacy of paid work over everything else.

    This is a wonderful project and you certainly do spark a lot of ideas each week with your blog posts….

    • Thanks Sandra. We’d love to help you get a New Sabbath Project going out where you are if you are interested. You’ve got really interesting insight. We are looking for people to guest blog for the site. If you are interested in writing up a blog for us, please let us know.

  2. My wife and I have both felt and feel guilty about not staying home to raise our daughter. However, simply put, we can’t afford for either of us to lose the income. Although both of us are professionals and paid fairly well for what we do, we simply can’t live on either of our incomes exclusively. The income lost from either of us choosing to stay home would immediately eclipse any money saved on childcare expenses. And I don’t consider that we live extravagantly: we live in a very small house in a modest part of the city (East York) with a small mortage, and we don’t have or buy a lot of stuff–if only because we would have nowhere to keep it. I know this to be true also of many of our friends with young children. Bottom line (no pun intended)–Toronto is a very expensive city in which to live, almost prohibitively expensive. We’ve looked at moving out of the city, but the sacrifice there also seems too great. With that would come increased commuting time and travel expenses to keep our current jobs, or changing jobs and making less money. I enjoy living in the city because I can get to/from work in about a 1/2 hour–which gives me more time at home with my family–and I can walk to bakeries, cafes, shops, etc., in my neighbourhood. I enjoy that I have a neighbourhood, and neighbours that I know and talk to regularly. I know families who live outside of the city, who get more square footage for their dollar on their property, but spend about 2 hours or more a day commuting, and have none of the neighbourhood qualities we enjoy. That is not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

    • Thanks for that Steve. We are in the same position and have thought of all the same things you have — leaving the city, etc. In the end I come back to the same conclusion that you have. Like you as well, the staying home thing is not a tenable situation. Sadly, we are forever rewarded at work for NOT being home. We are considered to be getting away with something when we demand things are done differently. What does it say about us and the society we have created that we are required to work so that we can afford to have childcare. You’d think staying home would take care of that extra expense — but then you can’t afford a roof over your head.

    • SHABBAT AND PREPARATION DAY FOR ITI love the aanocipttiin of and arrival of entering into YHWH’s rest on Sabbath. It is when we take time to cease and spend time with YHWH. I feel the connection on the Sabbath with YHWH, and in the past when I missed gathering on the Sabbath, or personally observing it, I would feel a great loss. The following is what we do, on Preparation Day and throughout Shabbat:Thursday and or Friday is Preparation Day. ~Before Shabbat we all get clean, as in a shower or bath, like YHWH instructed the Israelites to do within two days before they approached the base of the mountain in the wilderness where he was to speak to them and gave them his loving instructions, the Torah.~We clean our clothing for the weekend and have it ready.~I prepare our Friday night evening meal for our family, and breakfast and lunch.~We use our china with crystal goblets and a nice, clean, table cloth. Shabbat~ Before sunset we light a candle so that even in winter it is ready early.~We make sure in the winter that our firewood is ready so that it is easy to put onto the already burning fire.~I boil eggs for breakfast and we either have a bowl of cereal or breakfast bars I have premade.~We open the meal as usual with the Baruk for the meal.~After dinner we read the Trienniel Cycle readings, and before the Brit Chadasha (NT) portion we have Martinelli’s or another sparkling bevarage of the fruit of the vine, and raising our goblets we say the Baruk for that. Shabbat Morning~ After breakfast in the morning of Shabbat we go a 40 minute drive to Bellingham to where our congregation meets.~We take prepared food for Oneg at Congregation Bet haShem where we began attending 8 years ago.~My husband is the new Congregational Leader there and I fill in where needed, and meet new people. We are meeting in a church building and so we don’t leave til after Shabbat is over and take down all that is up for the day, with much help.~Our service is as following: 10:30am 12:30pm BET KNESSET / the HOUSE of GATHERING *Open the service with the blowing of the shofar. *Do a Barachu (call to worship) *Shema (Declaration of Faith, Deuteronomy 6) Sing Vahavta You shall love the Lord your God *Read the Psalm for the week~Congregational time of sharing what YHWH has done or taught through the week.~Worship through song and Davidic dance~Call to Torah before reading the Word~Blessing of YHWH~ Worship through song and Hebrew Dance~Reading of the Word: Reading portions of The Torah (first 5 books of the OT) The Haftarah (the writings and the prophets, or the rest of the OT) The Brit Chadasha (Covenant Renewed, or New Testament)~Review of the readings by my husband or other appointed man in the congregation with thoughts of interest regarding them.~Torah Response (after reading the Word)~Priestly Blessing (in closing, Numbers 6)~ Singing of ?Shabbat Shalom? and Shaking hands and greeting, and meeting people in the congregation. Usually we are finished bySome do Davidic dance before Oneg and before Havdalah.1pm Oneg:Next we go to the dining room for Oneg.2pm-3:30 or 4pm:We have Yeshiva. Studying the scriptures for the day more deeply.Sunset- end of Shabbat:~We usually do Havdalah to close the Shabbat day with those who remain. Separating Shabbat from the rest of the week.This is different than many of you do, and your days sound very relaxing. We all do it how we are directed so enjoy as he continues to grow you. I love how he is doing that with me.Sincerely, your sister in Yah,GeorgiaVA:F [1.9.11_1134](from 0 votes)

  3. Someone said, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Unfortunately, we have moved so very far away from that time and place. Your Friday New Sabbath Project seems to me to be a very valuable and rewarding place to start. Especially if you have the courage and faith to really open yourself up to people and trust that they will not judge the trials and tribulations you have been through and the choices you have made, but rather try to walk a mile in your shoes with understanding and gentle advice. It is support groups that we all need to make sense of the real meaning of this thing they call life, not bitter and callous judgments. The reality is that we cannot do it on our own, and no one, not a mother, a father, a child etc should ever be ashamed to admit this important tenet of life. Embracing the fact that we all need help, support and constant love to grow as a person will relieve some of the very real burdens that life lays at our feet. I am my children’s mother, their greatest supporter and friend, but I have not raised my children alone. Every family member, every friend, their late father and their step-father has had a very important hand in shaping who they are. I couldn’t do this thing call life without support, love and guidance. I do not know all and I cannot do all. Thank you to my village.

    Laura Topalovich Oliver

    • Some hard won wisdom Laura. As we move from the hyper-consumptive model that thrives on keeping us chopped up into nuclear family units purchasing one of everything, I feel we must be forced to re-examine how we re-constitute family and community. We’ve rejected extended family co-habitation, we move neighbourhoods with the ebb and flow of mortgage rates and spend so much time working that community seems out of reach. Not for all of us and not all the time I know — but enough to make us reach for a new way forward. Can we open our homes to friends, new and old once a week? Can we ask to pause, reflect and bless those we so often neglect? And, can we unplug the BlackBerry from Friday night to Saturday evening take a deep breath, make food, entertain friends and family and stay close to — in my case — my wife and kids — the bedrock of my community?

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