I think most would agree that a strong sense of community is good for our health and quality of life.
What really got me thinking about this was the "issue" of girls in their late teens getting pregnant. While 18 is a pretty ideal age biologically to have a baby, in our society it's viewed as one of the worst things that can happen to a girl. But this is only because babies and mothers of babies are shunned from the adult places: universities, offices, etc. "When you have a baby, your life is over, so you better have already done everything you wanted to do" is basically the message.
But if babies were allowed to be with their mothers, no matter where their mothers went, women's options would be a lot more open-ended. (Baby holding/wearing and breastfeeding on demand would have to be a little more encouraged probably). And if the babies are there in the adult place, shouldn't the older kids be too? Perhaps schools are attached to workplaces and/or neighborhood community centers where people who work solo can congregate. Stay at home parents can come to the community center as well to cook meals and wash clothes communally. Retired people can volunteer as they wish or just get together and shoot the breeze.
I hope this doesn't sound too utopian dreamer, but I really think it's something that needs to be fixed (said as someone who has been stay at home mom for 4.5 years now).
Does anyone else have ideas of how we can get people of different ages together on a daily basis? How to let women achieve their dreams, even after they have a baby? How to get certain facets of the community to feel a little more fulfilled and a little less lonely?
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Great Question! I think whatever we can to do dismantle the current structure that insists on a rigid progression throughout life, is worth working towards. Currently, our youth and our aged are not allowed to fully live. The young are caged in school and in other organized activities, and nothing much is expected of the old (shoot the breeze, really?) I think that younger people should think more about this, and also thinking more about how they can become independent of constricting structures, while also building a network of friends and community participants. They should consider starting their own businesses, and becoming entrepreneurial right out of the womb. Older people shouldn't quit, and should insist that they be not so marginalized. People who have their own businesses are more able to control and shape their own lives, and decide for themselves if and when they need to wind things down.
I agree that there is a lot of loneliness (especially in the U.S.), but it's a difficult situation to resolve. Extended family used to be the basis for community, but because families often don't live anywhere near each other anymore people have to actively seek out their own community and many don't know how to do that. Also for years, churches served that purpose, but fewer people regularly attend churches now--and that was never an options for atheists. And, it's not always easy to find community in all areas--especially if your lifestyle, gender identity, or socio/political views are outside the norm for that area.
While I agree baby wearing and extended breastfeeding should be encouraged, I don't know that everyone bringing their children with them to work and school would necessarily be ideal in all situations. Even if you leave aside the issue of the children potentially being a distraction to the parents and/or others in a classroom or workplace, children in some work situations could actually be very dangerous (construction, manufacturing, law enforcement, health care, etc.).
I really don't have any answers for you. But, you are asking some important questions. I'm looking forward to seeing the other responses.
As to your ideas, Dunnie -- I think they have merit. The problem is going to be convincing our society, which has been immersed in the whole concept of "independence" for a REALLY long time, that being "interdependent" is a good thing, and will benefit those who participate. I've been involved in the 'intentional community' movement from a spiritual and environmental aspect for a while, but it seems like it's really hard to get people to use these resources, even when they're present, because our culture sees doing so as a weakness. – Firestorm 6 mins ago
I don't think we are going to be moving away from a society of individuals anytime soon, and honestly I'm okay with that, and even prefer it in many ways. There is a reason people move away from the small towns they grew up in. I don't know if I have an answer for society as a whole, but I have found ways to "make community" and evade isolation as a stay at home mom in our modern world.
First, I've found that a little mindfulness meditation goes a long ways towards removing the feeling of "other" when talking to people I encounter during my day. Wherever there are people, there are friends. Maintaining a feeling of shared humanity virtually eliminates the pining I used to feel for needing to see my old friends often (many of whom have moved away, or don't have kids, so our time together is spotty at best).
Even though it can seem like a frivolous expense, frequenting your neighborhood cafe is a great way to meet people. I spent a couple years as a barista in a small neighborhood cafe, and was moved to tears several times by the beauty and quality of community building that space seemed to provide. My boss used to say, "Saving the world, one cup at a time." And I totally agree with that sentiment. Being in the same place at the same time day after day is key. Friendships aren't hunted, they form organically by shared experience, time and space.
I never thought a box store would provide a sense of community, but our local Barnes & Noble has a train table that seems to have united most of the families with toddlers in our neighborhood. Being stuck in the kids' section with other parents has inspired many conversations, and even spontaneous book discussions. One B&N employee told me he runs into customers just working in his yard, and the kid's yell, "Hi book guy!" as they walk by.
In our neighborhood, several families have started restaurants and neighborhood kids play with the owner's kids while they wait for dinner. I've been really impressed by the energy the "family first" pizza place has brought to the neighborhood. Their hours reflect what they are able to offer and still function as a family, and not surrendering themselves to idea that you have to constantly accessible to stay in business. They often have to close early because they've sold out of pizza, so I think they'll be okay, and I'm proud of them.
What we really need is policy reform that respects mother and child as a single unit and provides a means of survival for the first 2-3 years, rather than 6-12 unpaid weeks. A pump isn't a baby, and even if you have a progressive work place that supports pumping, supply can still suffer because the whole operation works best with pheromone feedback between mama and baby. I think not being able to find much work after my son was born was actually a blessing, even if it sucked in the bank account department.
Creating a small scale gift economy or barter economy can bring people together too. Share your harvest, talents, and time. I offer my garden up to my neighbor to pick whatever she wants, and barter lip balm and lotion bars whenever possible. I also offer a barter option for clients when I get real work.
I haven't tried this myself yet, but I often spend Sunday preparing meals for the week, and I know some people swap a portion of what they are making with other families to have more variety.
There are many co-housing communities that offer what you want, without the "communal" property aspect.
Also, depending on where you live, you can get to know your neighbors. Organize a street party/neighborhood clean-up. Trade some gardening help with older folk for some childcare, etc. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there & create what you want.
Create a home business that uses the internet & create some online community, too!