Friday, November 9, 2012

Creating Community

Human beings naturally crave belonging to something. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Catholic Church does not nurture her children in isolation. She creates and surrounds them with a community of other people, a place to belong and a people who can help care for their needs and who offer them support on their journey. Those who leave the Church often say that the one thing they miss most is that community. Those who stay in the Church despite having serious disagreements with the fundamental teachings also cite community as one of the biggest reasons they stay.

What we learn from this as parents is that we should work to create a community for our children, surrounding them with people who love them and who are fighting for their good, just as you are. You cannot be everywhere, but when you have a community that loves and cares about your child you don’t have to be because the community will fill in the gaps for you.

A Tale of Two Houses

As I was growing up, my mom did not have a very well developed understanding of what it meant to be a member of a community. She didn't invite people over for dinner and she didn't get invited over for dinner. She didn't belong to any groups outside of our home, and she knew very few people. When we brought home our friends, we were given strict instructions that they were to be sent home before dinner because we didn't have enough to share with other people. She made no effort to get to know the children that came to my house to play. She supervised us, but she didn't interact with us. As I grew older, my friends had less and less interaction with her and she knew less and less about me as a result. When troubled times came, I went to my friends, not my mom.

We had no community. The closest we came was our church, where people knew our names and seemed glad to see us, but the connections were mostly superficial. I knew hardly anything about those people or their families and we never visited them outside of Church. When I began to have doubts about the faith and was searching for answers, I didn't have any trusted adults I could turn to other than my mother to find those answers. I wasn't firmly rooted. This is something community does – it roots you in the faith and gives you many resources for finding the answers you need.

Fast forward 20 years and my son is 13 years old. I begin to learn about what community is, what it should look like, and how it works. I begin to take steps to form a community around our family. When he brings friends home, I take time to get to know them. I listen to their problems and concerns and take those as seriously as I would want my own taken. I help them to understand better why people do what they do. My husband and I take turns playing games with the kids. I get to know their parents and develop friendships with them. I pray for each of these children.

As parents we begin to develop friendships with other adults in our faith community, and we make sure that Eddie gets to know them. He develops a group of trusted adults that he can talk to about the problems he’s facing. His confidence grows as he is treated with respect by these men and women. When Randy and I need to leave town without him for a weekend, we have a place for him to go.

What makes a community?

Growing up, I belonged to a rather large parish. My idea of community was that everyone knew your name and were always glad you came – kind of like the theme song from the television show Cheers. However, God intervened in my life and as I grew in my faith and drew closer to the Catholic Church I began to see that real community is much bigger than just having people know your name. It’s rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in their lives. It’s being there for them when their lives are falling apart and they need someone to talk to. Community is messy, it’s always changing, it’s always growing, and it’s never something you can control.

My real lessons in community began in two stages. The first stage was that I went on what I thought was a weekend long retreat that turned into a six month preparation for service and a lifelong friendship with 36 wonderful women. Sometimes those women disappointed me bitterly and I was so tempted to withdraw because I felt like my presence didn't matter. However, with God’s help I pushed past those moments. They happen in every community. Inevitably, our relationships got closer and stronger once I got past the bitter part.

My second set of lessons in community would come when my husband and I went on WorldWide Marriage Encounter. After the weekend, we met together with people who had gone on weekends just like ours and who were committed to improving their marriages, just like we were, and we began to build friendships. We became active participants in that community, learning not just to take but how to give back. We bonded over dinners at each other’s houses, home improvement projects, and shared heartaches over our sons.

A community is a group of people all working together toward a common purpose. That purpose can be as simple as learning to cook or as complex as improving the world. The goal for you, as a parent, is to form a community around your child that’s all working together to make the place you live a safer and happier place for everyone. However, forming that kind of community takes some effort.

How to form a community

What I've learned about forming a community is that there are several things required to make it happen. The first is that there has to be respect for every member present. Not everyone is at the same stage and not everyone is going to see things the same way, but everyone should be given respect for who they are and what they believe. The second is that everyone needs to contribute. No community can form if only some people are doing the work and other people are watching. The third is that you have to be long in a community in order to belong there. That means sticking it out even when your feelings have been hurt or someone has disappointed you with their behavior. The fourth is that it requires a heaping helping of forgiveness. You aren't perfect and neither are they. The fifth is that you have to be willing to make time for spending with your community. While a shared purpose is the glue that holds your community together, that purpose is nurtured by the investment of time.

Steps to forming a community

1. Get to know the kids your child brings home. Listen to them, find out what they like and don’t like.

2. Get to know the parents of the children your kids are friends with. These parents usually share goals in common with you – you all want your children to have better lives – and make an effort to become friends with them. You may never be best friends, but this kind of friendship can grow over times as your children get older.

3. Support one another. Even if you don’t agree with a rule that a parent has set, honor their wishes when their child is at your home. This shows respect to the other parent and teaches children that they can’t just go over to another person’s house to avoid the rules.

4. Have fun together. Invite people over for a game night or other stress relieving activity. Be there. When other parents need someone to help, be the one who volunteers to do the helping. This encourages them to help you when you need it, too.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for chapter 28, Persevering in Adversity.

Please leave a comment below telling me what you thought about this chapter, what your experience has been with community, or how you have helped your child form community with others.

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