Modern life is lonely. The notion that we are ever lonelier, even while we can so easily connect in the virtual world of the Internet, is old news. In fact, the ease of online connection often takes the blame for our loneliness. It deserves some blame. I am not one of those wet blankets who think that online connection has no value, but it can consume our time and attention so that when we turn off the device, then we are alone.
Still, the young plow through this. While they are in school, peer interaction is built into daily life. When they graduate, screens can take up the slack for a while. The busyness of new jobs takes up more. The loneliness and isolation stay at bay, rarely hitting full force until we start a family.
It is a cosmic irony that we feel so alone when we create another person. But it is true. In parenthood, we long for community. We suddenly miss our villages.
Technology Offers a Village Mirage
I’ve written that we razed them and that to restore them we have to be them. But it is harder than it sounds. Technology is a village mirage, as mentioned. We move away from our villages for jobs and adventures that sounded easier at the time. Standards have changed, too. In the United States, we might be less likely to help each other out than call the cops. Lenore Skenazy keeps track of all that sort of nonsense, and when I submitted this piece, her lead article was on police not allowing kids to walk or bike to school before age 12.
Our children are trapped by well-meaning moms (and it is usually the moms) whose ever-expanding standards of motherhood are smothering their children and eating the very accomplishments that the sexual revolution secured. (Yes, I’m linking to Erica Jong, and the article is a treasure box of truth and irony.) We are lonely and ineffective parents—if the goal is to raise up the next generation of independent, productive, and happy adults, that is. If the goal is to raise up adults who are dependent upon us and so will remain with us, well, that might explain the gaslighting ambiance of helicopter parenting.
But there isn’t an easy way out of our isolation. The community network of old that we could use to safeguard children and secure their independence and ours hardly exists anymore. To the extent it does, we are too afraid to use it. We overschedule our kids or keep them indoors because the only eyes looking out for them are our own—or the people we pay.
Few Do the Village Thing These Days
I still get surprised when this surprises older women. Every so often, I’ll chat with a grandmother in waiting, one of those women whose kids are long out of the house but aren’t yet parents. These women don’t know the village is gone. A village is how they managed, and they’ve not imagined the world in which we don’t have one—sometimes even while stating that they have no intention of doing much hands-on grandmothering. They “did their time,” as I have heard more than a few say.
Truly, the village is rare. For all the wishing and nostalgia, few do the village thing.
I once had the village. I moved away from it, then built another. I’ve learned a bit about how villages work. It took a while, but I eventually built our Houston village out of our church. It has the one disadvantage that it is scattered all over Houston, which if you’ve read anything about Houston, means we are many miles apart. Still, we are each other’s village. Having built one a couple of times, I’ve learned what is required.
Building a village means letting go of the schedules we depend on to keep our children busy and supervised. A village doesn’t form by scorekeeping, either—it can’t. There are ladies that helped me out with my littles who I will never be able to repay, in part because it was an expat community (one of my favorite villagers is now with the Treasury Department in New Zealand), but mostly because scorekeeping is not how community works.
A village responds to what is needed, whatever that might be. From each of us it requires time. Open doors. Shared meals. More cooperation than competition. And a little grace and a little faith in each other.