Parenting in numbers part 3: fostering community
Sometimes a healthy community looks different from what we expect. When Christine first started attending the YWCA's Single Mothers’ Support group she wasn’t sure if it was what she was looking for.
“As a new member, one of the first things I observed was that it didn't seem like the other moms and I had a lot in common on the surface. Many of them looked different than me. Some had stories of struggles growing up, others came from supportive families. We were all single parents, and yet we each parented differently, and each had a unique set of challenges. But then I was surprises by how much we could still relate to one another. I began to see the diversity in the group as a positive. People brought different perspectives and new ideas. We found common ground in our commitment to support, encourage and be there for one another. We accept one another for who we are and where we’re at. And that’s been a really positive experience for myself and my daughters.”
Sometimes it’s easy to believe that communities are ‘most successful’ when they’re made up of people who are similar. In fact, strong communities are usually healthiest when they're made up of diverse people who share similar values and who are willing to accept and learn from one another.
If you’re looking to really grow your community into something healthy and thriving that can stand up to the test of time, here are some ideas for fostering community:
Dr. Karen Hall, PhD says that a healthy community is rooted in acceptance:
“Build your own sense of belonging by working on acceptance of others. To accept others and views that are not the same as yours may require that you open your thoughts to the idea that there is value in everyone's thinking. You can find truth even though you may not agree.”
For Christine, one of the most powerful features of the single mom's group is that each of its members is accepted as they are, without judgement. This acceptance is what keeps her coming back, motivates her to share and participate and keeps the group going week after week. Most healthy relationships are rooted in acceptance as this is a key to building trust.
Just as gardening requires effort in order for plants to grow and thrive, community growth requires intentional effort on the part of its members. Sometimes this simply means showing up. Groups that meet on a regular basis or that have events and get-togethers require people to be intentional about making time to be there. Making the effort to get out of the house on time or to place other responsibilities on hold so you can consistently be there is important. Sometimes showing up simply means being willing to make the call or send an email to check in with other members and show that you care.
Thriving communities are made up of members who are willing to put in, not just take out.
For many, just finding people you want to be in community with means going outside of your comfort zone. It’s tough for most of us to be vulnerable or express that need for connection. But community will not grow if people immediately retreat back to their comfort zones.
Fostering healthy community means being willing to say ‘yes’ to new experiences, connections and prospects. Try saying yes to opportunities to be with others and then throw yourself into whatever the activity is. Let go of your judgments and instead focus on the shared experience. Try sharing things or activities you find interesting or enjoyable and challenge other members to say ‘yes’ back!
Embracing a community made up of unique and diverse members who are able to support one another is something we can all aspire to. It is a chance for us to grow as parents and a powerful lesson for our children.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
- Maya Angelou
As Christine experienced, through acceptance, effort and saying 'yes’, a community can really thrive. And respect for the distinctive personal stories that make each person unique is what allowed all the members of her community to grow their group into something that meets their needs and allows them to meet each other's needs as well.
This post is written by YWCA Single Mothers' Support Services, which offers a range of individual and group services to assist, empower and inform single moms across Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford.