I've been thinking lately a little bit about the idea of community and how we think about it. More importantly I've been thinking about my thoughts concerning community. Mostly because I generally struggle with the idea of community since I have very little around me. It's a tough situation to be in when you have no local "community" surrounding you. Where you don't have friends down the street, or at Mass, or even many at the kid's soccer games. It's kind of been a constant struggle for me which can only really be remedied by our family moving to a new a community at this point. But there's a lot going on with what we as moms think about "community" to a more general and greater extent.
We all know community is necessary and beautiful part of life. I am in no way debating that! There is so much to be said with being able to share in each other's burdens, support one another with our presence or physical help, experiencing each other's joy. This is only heightened as we become mothers, grow families, and raise the next generation. There are so many things that can only be shared mother to mother, so much that can be communicated from one understanding heart to another.
But I think a lot of us, especially Catholic moms, might have a mythical image of idealised "community" that holds us back from truly enjoying and living the community we do have in our lives right now. I think it’s a misconception to see community as some kind of end in itself, a paradasical commune-like existence where we can depend on shared childcare, minimal cooking, and mimosas with our friends during the day while braiding one another's hair.
I think some of us live in a state of near constant disappointment that this isn't our current reality. We resent our daily tasks and chores because we think it's too much, that we're not meant to do it alone, that if only we lived in community we'd have so much more time to be ourselves and to take care of ourselves. I know I've thought that before.
The problem is that this mythical community is just that: mythical.
Our mother's didn't have that kind of community, our grandmother's didn't have that kind of community. And if we come from a cultural background where different generations lived in the same household we may know that they shared in the housework, but that there were also a myriad of other difficult issues to deal with in sharing close quarters with extended family. For most of us there will never be a perfect community, Catholic or otherwise. And for the majority of us we are simply called to be more active members of the world than sheltered in bubbles of like-minded Catholics.
Our grandmothers may have worked alongside their sisters and mothers but their work comprised a full day's labor that we can hardly understand today. If they were sharing the work of childcare and household duties it was most likely because they were supporting a greater population than just their immediate family in their home and at their table, or were working full time outside of the home just to make ends meet. My grandmother worked on her family's farm and would routinely cook three meals a day for about 20 people. The burden of loneliness was lighter, but the workload wasn't. Let's also acknowledge that we as modern moms do so much even with the advent of household technology, but that our husbands are doing far more domestically than any previous generation. My grandmother's have both commented to me that they never had the kind of support that my husband gives me when it comes to the daily care of our kids.
The mom's groups, parish ministries, and friend's down the road are all important, but let's not put our expectations in a perfect life in somehow levelling up when it comes to community. Our personal issues are not solved by simply having more people in our lives.
There is a core loneliness that only Christ can answer in our hearts. There is so much that is downright difficult when it comes to living out our vocations especially in our current societal situation. We all desperately want to pass on our faith to our children, to live holy examples for them and keep our sanity while doing it. But parenting has never been easy, and never will be. There may be aspects of our aspirations towards a perfect community that want the support of others, but in a more convoluted way seeks to make our daily lives easier. I’m not saying I don’t want that too, hey, I’d love a nanny or a cook to drop by any day of the week, but I think I’m getting community wrong when I begin to think that community will make my life easier and more comfortable, that it will somehow get rid of the daily grind and the daily sacrifice which so much of motherhood requires.
We can also get caught up in the pursuit of community and skip over the importance of first fostering our marriages. Our marriages are our most important relationship, that's the community we should want to grow and continue to nurture as our first priority. Marriage is the relationship that will impact our hearts and our everyday the most. If our own husbands don't understand our struggles at home and offer their help that's a far greater issue than having a next door neighbour to share housecleaning with.
I think we should all be looking to grow the communities around us. I think this is a very valid and important task for us as mothers, and really just as human beings. But we need to understand that fostering good community doesn't mean that our lives are going to get easier when it comes to facing a sink full of dishes in the morning, disciplining our children, and facing our own personal emotional and spiritual issues that arise within motherhood. There is no perfect community coming to rescue us from what we see as personal drudgery or give us right order in our hearts and homes.
So please, go out and enjoy the community you have right now! If it's one friend down the street then foster that friendship. If it's a vibrant mom's group that meets once a week be grateful for the opportunity. If it's online friendship with people who understand you and your values know that that's important too. If it's making a difficult choice to live near family to the detriment of a yearly salary then go all in and enjoy the ability to have grandparents watch your kids. If it's living near sisters then get ready to take on their drama and relish the ability to vent without judgement. Let’s enjoy and live fully the actual community we have right now, rather than waiting for the mythical commune.
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