Thursday, June 9, 2016

Community Won't (Necessarily) Make Your Life Easier

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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  1. So much wisdom here. Yes! As a person who lives intergenerationally, I can attest there are wonderful parts but logistically more work as I cook for more people, clean up after more, and spend emotional energy on more. To live where we are the best we can is a true challenge!

  2. Sometimes I feel like there's a big temptation to pursue these relationships and communities at the expense of your marriage and children and home life. I know for me, if I've spent too much time online or I feel tempted to post some inane Facebook status, I suddenly realize that I'm just feeling lonely. But my obligation is to God, my husband and my kids in that order; while it's important to fill my socialization cup every once and a while, ultimately I need to lean in to my primary vocation as wife and mother.

  3. I love this. I definitely catch myself thinking, "If only I had family close by..." The reality is, we would all still be very busy. But because I don't have that, it's easy to idealize it. I also think it's great to remember marriage is our most important relationship, especially in the midst of extended family dynamics. Great post, christy!

  4. Love this. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Love this. Thank you for sharing it!

  6. I needed this. We live quite close to a lovely vibrant Catholic parish, but have been called to serve in one where very few people share our beliefs about marriage and family life in general. We find ourselves looking longingly out our window of an evening as the smokers in our complex laugh and chat as they enjoy their night's refreshment, nothing common between them but their location and their addiction. From what I see of their lives, I have much pity for them, but in this area, I envy them. Our lives are lonely. But perhaps the grass on the other side of the fence is only greener because we're not investing our time and energy and resources on our own grass.

  7. I think this is a worthy reflection... helping me refine what I mean when I say "I want community". For what it's worth, I never wanted community for help with childcare or cooking. I actually came from a lovely community that disbanded for a variety of reasons, and what I miss most about it was how we truly and deeply encouraged each other - through prayer, time together, laughter (though unfortunately not with mimosas... alas!). Spiritually, we were (mostly) on the same page, and graciously we were at the same place in life. Maybe that's something that only happens once in life? I hope not! I prefer to think, that with God's blessing, it can be created/fostered - and there's no hurt in desiring it. And should you get shared childcare, less meals to cook and mimosas out of it, then... um... please call me! I make a mean pot roast and am more than willing to share.

  8. I really appreciate what you say here. I have a pretty "ideal" community and still motherhood and the quest for holiness is hard. I have good neighbors, an awesome parish school, friends who I can rely on, a great women's group all our family between 7 & 45 minutes away, a wonderful parish and even some pretty amazing college kids who just pop in to help with the kids at random times. That said, with all those people enriching my life in so many ways I really have to carve out intentional alone time & intentional prayer time. Loneliness isn't a problem (!) but having time set aside for God and prayer and quiet is hard. So I would just say there is always an element of "the grass is always greener". I have spent months of our married life away from our community and I found peace in the loneliness because that is where I meet Christ. I think you are right that we chase something mythical rather than building what we have around us. It took my starting a moms ministry to really kick start my little community life but I am so glad I did it. I am blessed beyond belief by the women in my life and they enrich my family life and fortify me for the tough tasks of Christian motherhood.

  9. Oh man I needed to read this. Thanks, Christy.

  10. Great, great post. I am reading it for the second time because I have been thinking about it and wanted to read it again. Thank you for putting in words what my heart (and God) have been trying to tell me for a long time.


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