Like many millennial moms, I’ve found myself facing parenthood without family nearby to help me raise my children. I stayed as close to the nest as I could, hoping the rest of my family would be within arm’s reach and we could raise our families together, but they were called to different lives, and now my brothers and sisters and in-laws span the length of the country pursuing their various careers, vocations and ministries. So while the generations before me often had the blessing of a built-in community — parents and close relations to engage at short notice — I started my journey raising a large, young family grasping at even the slimmest offer of support from people I hardly knew.

In a generation that was taught to be wary of strangers, I — like so many other moms I know — didn’t know who I could trust with my littles, particularly before they were old enough to verbalize their experiences. This made it really hard to do, um, ANYTHING without the kids.

So, what’s a mom to do? In the desperate years when I had three kids under 3, I plugged myself into as many mom groups as I could muster. I was off like a shot to any event that so much as whispered the words “free childcare” and probably shared as many colds with other people’s kids as we picked up.

Over time, my desperation ebbed into acceptance. Life got a little easier as my children grew less dependent on me (read: potty trained) and I found the energy to look around me and take stock of the family I was building.

The years of mom activities had naturally spawned friendships and bonds with moms of a wide range of values since we were all in the same crazy new-baby boat. As I reflected on these relationships to see where I should go from there, I remembered a maxim my mother impressed on me as a teenager: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are.”

I already knew to look for close friends in people I admired and wanted to learn from, but it hit me differently in this stage. I realized that my friends didn’t influence just me anymore — they also spoke into my children’s lives and were forming their understanding of normal adult interaction, and our kids were setting examples for each other.

As I continue to build this community, I am forced to face the truth that my children’s eyes begin to look elsewhere for guidance. When we spend time with other families, they watch how their friends treat their siblings and speak to their parents, how the parents speak to them and how the parents speak to each other. They absorb everything: the conflicts, the teamwork and the emotional presence or absence of the parents.

Now that I recognize this phenomenon taking place in the life and growth of my family, I can be more proactive in it. I can teach my children how to treat others at home so they can take those tools to the homes of their friends, and I can take an interest in my friends’ kids so they know there are adults to turn to if they ever feel unsafe at home.

In the end, the lesson I’m learning is that building trust and being authentic and purposeful in my own family life is the foundation for building a strong community bond with the families around me.

If I want to change the world — or just my small corner of it — it begins with loving my family and serving my community, whether that means listening when its children want to talk to me, speaking to my children with kindness and grace in front of others, or even just being honest when I make mistakes.

I don’t have to be crippled by the widespread relational struggles of my generation. I am here to build the next one and give it all the tools I can so it has a chance to make the world better after me.

Adrienne Tratz is a full-time Catholic homeschooling mom to four vivacious daughters.

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