My husband and I are currently deciding where to send our oldest son for Kindergarten this year. I had no idea what a complex decision choosing a school would be. So many things are factoring into our decision, but do you know what factor is becoming increasingly important to us as we search? (Hint: It’s NOT education.)
We’ve looked at public schools, private schools, charter schools and everything in between; and the schools that bubble up to the top are the ones where our son can be part of a diverse community of good, kind kids--and my husband and I can become FRIENDS with those kid’s parents.
The Community Equation
The word community gets tossed around fairly frequently these days; and I think the definition of the word differs a bit from person to person, depending on age and stage of life.
As a young adult, I found community in school clubs, church singles ministries and at my job. As a mom of two young boys, I find community in other moms of tiny humans and in my older friends, who are either more experienced moms or just more experienced at life. They all provide me with camaraderie, advice and help when I need it. Nearly five years ago, my husband and I moved onto a little cul-de-sac in our coastal California town, and the people on this street—young, old, married, divorced, kids, no kids—are like family to us. And now, venturing into the realm of blogging and social media, I’m finding a new community in people I’ve never met face-to-face but am learning to care about deeply.
I’ve moved five times and lived in four different states in my life. While I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, I do think those experiences made me pretty good at making friends and building community. Connecting with people, nurturing relationships, and connecting people with OTHERS when they need it, feels life-giving to me.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve learned how to be a “community builder”—which sounds super cheesy and is mostly just a fancy term for being a good friend--by being a pretty crappy one. My early 20’s were a string of broken commitments and choosing significant others over my girlfriends. And phone calls? I wouldn’t return those for weeks. As a result, I have very few close friends from my young adult life; and I have no one to blame but myself.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve made a concerted effort to change my ways. I’m still not the BEST at responding to text messages or voicemails (WHO LIKES LISTENING TO VOICEMAILS??), but I’ve learned a lot from my past shortcomings and I think I’ve landed on a decent formula for building friendships and ultimately, community:
Availability + Authenticity = Community
Availability: Time is the best gift you can give.
You cannot be a good friend if you have no time to spend with the people you’re trying to be friends with; and you cannot build community with a group of people if you are not able to be a good friend to them.
Having time is much easier said than done in a culture that values busyness. In fact, I’m not really a fan of the term “having time.” We all have the same amount of time in a day and very few of us "have" a lot of those hours to spend with other people. What I’m learning is that you don’t HAVE TIME for other people, you MAKE TIME.
Making time means building margin into your schedule. It means saying “no” to things that don’t matter and saying yes to things—to people--that do. It sometimes means putting aside your desire for “me time” or putting away that to-do list in order to have coffee with or take a phone call from that friend you want to connect with.
Most importantly, being available means letting your “yes be yes.” As previously mentioned, I used to be the QUEEN of broken commitments. My husband is the exact opposite. If he tells you he is going to do something, then come hell or high water, he is doing it.
Early on in our marriage, he caught me trying to break commitments to some of my friends; and he called me out on it. I believe his exact words were “Let your ‘yes be yes,’ Jenn.” This is also a Biblical truth, so ya know, I couldn’t really argue with him.
Nearly 10 years later, I still remember that conversation. I legitimately try to do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it--regardless of how much I might not feel like it (I am a homebody at heart) and no matter how many other things I might have to do. (Disclaimer: This is where being a mom to tiny humans makes availability a bit tricky. Breaking a commitment due to sick kids or even questionably snotty ones is always OK. No one wants your kid’s boogers to become their kid’s boogers.)
Authenticity: If you can’t be real, you can’t be friends.
Don’t confuse sharing basic information about yourself with authenticity. People can know a lot about you without really KNOWING you.
Being authentic means being real, genuine and unafraid to share yourself and your opinions regardless of how different they might be from someone else’s. I spent years stifling my point of view and trying to be who other people wanted me to be. If my friends didn’t like something, I didn’t like it either. I just wanted them to like ME.
People can tell when you’re not being YOU. The older I get, the more comfortable I become in my own skin and the more willing I am to share my thoughts and opinions on things. And ya know what? The friendships I have now are some of the best I’ve ever had.
Additionally, the older I’ve gotten, the better I’ve become at discerning the type of people I cannot be my authentic self around. Honestly? I try to limit my time around those people or choose to hang with them in group settings in order to minimize one-on-one interaction.
Don’t misunderstand me, though: Just because someone has a different lifestyle or point of view on a certain issue than you DOES NOT MEAN you can’t be your authentic self around them.
The best friendships are the ones in which you can be honest with each other and talk through issues when you don’t see eye to eye. The best communities are the ones composed of different people from different walks of life, striving to live, learn and love alongside each other. That’s how we grow as individuals, how we grow together and how we change the world.
The Kindergarten Dilemma
I still don't know where my son is going to Kindergarten, and there's no real way to tell if the community of people at the school we decide on will be everything we want, until we get there. What I do know is how I'm striving to build community with the people I'm surrounded with RIGHT NOW. Teaching my son to do the same once he launches into his own community of friends is one of the most important lessons I think I can teach him.