It takes a village, so what does yours look like?

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: Emergency Brake/Flickr

The phrase "it takes a village" gets tossed around all the time, but what does it really mean? Back in the day, everyone knew their neighbors, kids roamed (somewhat) freely, and there was a strong sense of community. Today, it's not that simple. How can we get back to that village mindset and why is it so important?

When we decided to only have one child, my husband and I made a simultaneous decision to ensure that we created intentional community around us. While my son doesn't have any siblings related by blood, he is lucky enough to have a core group of friends who are just like family. These special few extend beyond "just friends," to something of a chosen family. They are our village. But how did we create our village and what can you do to start one of your own?

Eat together! Within our village we've done things like have weekly potluck dinners. Each family brings a dish to share, and we rotate hosting. It was one meal a week where I could sit back, relax and enjoy my friends while my son enjoyed his. If there was an issue, the kids were pretty good about figuring it out for themselves or another parent could handle it. Dishes and cleanup were shared by all, so the hosting family didn't feel completely burdened by our presence. The shared meal not only ensured we ate amazing food with wonderful company, but fed our brains and souls as well as we talked about everything from larger world issues to favorite TV shows… a nice escape from the regular dinner conversation that usually centers around Minecraft.

For more inspiration, check out the excellent Friday Night Meatballs project started by Sarah Grey.

Share the load. Villages can be helpful with the day-to-day grind as well. Carpooling is an essential part of our village, as well as dashing off a text to a friend to see if she needs anything since you're going to Trader Joe's because she did the same thing for you last week. Even getting together to fold laundry, garden or do any number of household chores is meaningful. Not only does it make the work go faster, but there's certainly something to be said for the adage, "Many hands lighten the load." For a while, we also had a rotating date night. One family would host the kids while the other adults went out (either together or just as solo couples) and we would rotate who watched the kids each time. Our kids got to spend time with their friends and we saved some money on babysitting. A win all around.

Share the good... and the bad. We love sharing in celebrations together, whether it's birthdays, sports games or recitals. When one of us has a baby, we rally around to create meal trains, help watch siblings, do laundry and support the family however we can.

Along with the good, we're also there when things get challenging. I recently went through some challenging health issues, and while those few months sucked, frankly, it also made me appreciate the network of friends and family I have. My own little village stepped up to the plate and did everything ranging from picking my son up from school, having him over for extra playdates, dropping off groceries or meals and even walking my dog. I was eternally grateful, but as my village reminded me, that's what they're there for.

While at times it can take work, intention and some planning, it all pays off in the end. Not only does my son have a close, extended family that allows him to reap the benefits of having siblings despite not having any at home, but it can be a sanity (and life!) saver for parents.

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