When I served in AmeriCorps from 2009-2011, one of the requirements was that we make MLK Day a “day on, not a day off.” What this meant was that even if the establishment we were stationed at was closed, we were to commit ourselves to work that day in the form of volunteering.
Now that I have children of my own, it’s all the more important to me to establish this idea of service to others. I’ve previously spoken about volunteer ideas for those with kids, but as I write this we’re at the start of 2021 – and still in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. So as we head toward this Day of Service, I find myself wondering – what socially distant volunteer opportunities can I do with my two young children?
Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I may make a commission off any purchases made, at no extra cost to you. This in no way impacts my recommendations of any products or services mentioned below.
Socially Distant Volunteer Ideas for MLK Day
My little ones are in Kindergarten and 1st grade, so for the most part I’m coming from the perspective of me having to do a majority of the work in this effort. While I very much look forward to the day when we can safely work together at a service site, I won’t let that impede what we can do today.
Help Around the Neighborhood
Even though hanging out face-to-face with your neighbors right now isn’t a safe idea, there are certainly things you can do to help better your neighborhood and the community at large.
Fill a Micropantry
When the pandemic first hit, residents around our city didn’t hesitate to take action. One of the things that came up often was the establishment of micro-pantries. Much like a “little library”, these pantries are a take what you need, give what you can sort of project. They’re especially great for those in need who may not have transportation to a bigger food bank.
Snow Shovel Coupons
We’ve had one snow fall thus far this year, but I’m hopeful for more – heh which isn’t something I’d normally say, but it’s already been 10 months of isolation and I don’t see us going anywhere any time soon. One thing you can do is create “snow shovel coupons” (or yard clean-up, if you live in a warmer climate!) Drop these off to those on your street who might need the assist, like those with new babies or the elderly. Be sure to include your name and phone number so they can reach out when they need you. You could also include your email address, but keep in mind there may be some without access to the internet or the know-how for email.
Bake Bread for Friends
Ahh the good ol’ trend of bread baking in 2020 – one I will admit I myself took part in. Personally I’ve become a Challah baking expert, fearful of the task that is sour dough, but there are even easier recipes out there that require little more than flour and yeast. Brighten someone’s day with a warm, fresh loaf of bread and go ahead – keep a loaf for yourself, too. I won’t tell.
Set Up a Book Exchange
If you don’t have a little library in your neighborhood nor the desire to take on the task of building one, you can still set up a porch pick-up book exchange. Personally I’ve read far more since the pandemic hit than I have in years, so I’ve gone through a LOT of books! (*psst* if you haven’t yet read The Secret Life of Addie LaRue, it’s a MUST!!)
This service project is one I’d only recommend opening up to select friends, as you don’t want to have to constantly disinfect the space, but it’s a great way to get some new reads for the family whiledecluttering your home of books you’re done with.
Offer Virtual Tutoring
If you have a slightly older child, you might consider utilizing Facebook or Nextdoor to offer some free virtual tutoring sessions. So many kids are struggling all the more these days, that just a few tutoring sessions can literally change their lives. This is one that might even inspire a “pay it forward” situation where it snowballs from your child offering help to dozens throughout the entire community doing so.
Random Acts of Kindness
While these next service ideas are certainly ones that can be done within your neighborhood, they’re also ones that can help the community at large. With these service projects, especially if doing them on MLK Day, you might also consider including a note. This way it’s not only a random act of kindness, but one that educates the recipient on why MLK is a day on, not a day off.
Redbox Rental Surprise
If you have a Redbox in your area, consider leaving a goody bag for the next renter. This can include a couple dollars to cover the cost of the rental plus an unpopped bag of popcorn or similar goodies. And if you don’t happen to have a Redbox in your area, you could still partake in the fun by sending a love one a Redbox Movie Night Care Package!
If you’ve been around a bit, you know that creating blessing bags for the homeless is something we try to do at least twice a year. For less than $7, you can create a kit for someone that could literally change their lives. When I was in AmeriCorps, I spent a lot of time working directly with those living on the street and learned a lot. One thing I found out was that one of the most sought after things when homeless are a quality pair of socks. So while things like toothpaste or soap might be items that immediately come to mind for these kits, socks, chapstick, and bus tokens are sure to go a lot further! Whatever you include in the kit, be sure to keep scented items packaged separately – no one wants to eat a granola bar that comes with a floral aftertaste!
This is another easy one that the little kids are sure to love, but the whole family can easily partake in. Now that the holiday season is coming to an end, many of those living alone or in nursing homes find themselves once again forgotten. Take an hour or two and create some cards to send to those who might be feeling lonely in the new year. What might seem like a simple act to you can truly make someone else’s entire week so much brighter.
Rainy Day Activity Kits
I actually prefer to refer to these as “crazy day kits” – an activity set for parents whose children need a special distraction. Similar to the blessing bags, I pick up a pack of gallon size baggies from The Dollar Tree. Then I buy in bulk such items as: craft kits, coloring books, sticker sets, chalk, dress-up clothes, and more! I love that they have affordable activity options that serve as a nice little surprise for the kids and a much needed break for parents. Just don’t forget to avoid items that require parent supervision if you truly want this to be an act of service.
My husband originally suggested this idea and my gut reaction was “Seriously who still watches DVDs??” But the I checked myself (and my privilege) because hello – not everyone can afford streaming services. We recently did a big DVD clean out, including a ton of TV series, and offered them up to anyone who might make use of them. While it was hard to part with my dearly beloved 7-Season Set of BTVS, it’s worth it knowing it can be loved by a fellow Joss Whedon fan.
Yet again – simple service, but effective! Not only is this great in that you’re supporting the USPS, but you’d be surprised at how helpful this can be for someone who might not otherwise be able to get out to the post office. For example, I have an 85 year young aunt in Minnesota who still loves to send physical mail and I know that a book of stamps can go a long way in helping her stay connected with loved ones. Plus who doesn’t love getting something (other than a bill!) in the mail.
Do you have a friend who had a new baby in 2020? Or perhaps your parents haven’t seen their grandchildren in almost a year? Or heck – do you just know someone who was maybe a wee bit stressed out (har har!) Whatever the reasoning behind it, one thing you can do as a beautiful act of service is to create a photo project for a friend/family member. This is again something that your kids can help with, regardless of their age, as they can suggest photos, colors, and designs to include. Personally I love using Printerpix to create photo books! While I often use them for myself – it’s the only way I actually have physical photos from over the years – they also have so many personalized gift options. While many might say they don’t wish to remember 2020, it’s not one we’ll ever forget, so might as well focus on the fun!
Acts of Appreciation
While I’m optimistic that this year is sure to brighter than the craziness that was 2020, acts of appreciation are still very much needed. A simple “thank you” goes a long way in making someone’s day brighter, but today I encourage you to take it one step further.
This one seems like a no-brainer and possibly even a head scratcher – how can making a video call be an act of service? Well I don’t know about you, but I know there are certainly friends and family that I’ve done a poor job keeping in touch with as this health crisis has worn on. If there’s someone you’ve been meaning to connect with lately, make today the day to do so! And even if there’s no one that comes to mind, put your kids to use and have them video call a friend. Like the “crazy day kits” this can be a great distraction for parents who need a moment to themselves.
Thank Our Delivery Friends
This is another one that I think becomes a big deal during the holiday season then tapers off as we head into the new year. Provided you have the time to gather up supplies, set out a basket with bottles of water, mini hand sanitizers, and snacks. And if a grocery store run isn’t an option, you could still create a sign or even leave a note letting those dropping off your mail and packages know that you appreciate them!
Create Hope Rocks
Painting rocks might seem like an outdated trend, but I most definitely disagree. Gather up some rocks from your backyard, bust out the acrylic paints, and get to work creating rocks with positive messages. Then go for a family hike or walk around the neighborhood and place these rocks in semi-hidden areas. It’ll be a fun and day-changing surprise!
Chalk the Sidewalks
Like the idea above, this is one that is fun but effective! While winter may not seem the season to bust out the sidewalk chalk, there’s no reason not to, provided there’s no snow in the forecast. Already dealing with the wet white stuff? Chalk your windows instead! When we had to celebrate my daughter’s graduation virtually, we picked up a set of chalk markers from Amazon and went to work on the windows of our van and the front of our home. It’s a great activity for the whole family and one that can have a big impact on anyone who happens by.
Long Term Service Ideas
These are some ideas that I would recommend starting off on MLK Day, but carrying on throughout the entire year and longer.
Host a Virtual Fundraiser
This is one that people often think about when their birthdays roll around, as Facebook often suggests holding a fundraiser for your favorite not-for-profit. Why wait! As a family, vote for your favorite not-for-profit, set a monetary goal, then utilize your social media and connections to make it happen. While things like food drives are great in “normal” times, they’re not as safe an option right now. Plus did you know that raising money directly is actually a far betteralternative to food drives?
Hopefully this is one that’s already in place in your house, but if not – start today! And if your family is already great about recycling, today is a great day to remind your kids about why it’s so important.
Set Up a Moonjar
I was first introduced to the idea of amoonjarwhen my kids are itty-bitty, like way before acat convinced me to quit my jobto run this blog! A moonjar consists of three sections – spend, save, and donate. While it’s a great tool overall toteach your kids about money, it’s also a nice way to open the conversation about the importance of donating to those in need.
Speaking of helping those in need, MLK Day is the perfect day to reflect on social issues. While 2020 taught us many things, one thing that will certainly carry through is that the United States is in serious need of bettering (and has been for quite some time!) While I won’t go too far into my own political beliefs, there’s no denying that we owe it to future generations to do better. No matter your child’s age, it’s essential that you not only start conversations on social betterment, but that you keep that door open to them for the rest of your life.
Some books to consider:
No matter what service project you choose to do with your family, I hope it’s enjoyable for all. It really is so incredibly important that we instill within our children a sense of service to others. There’s so much pain and suffering in this world, but it only takes a few moments to help heal a small part of that. If we work together, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and every day beyond that, we can make it so that our children are the shift needed for a healthier, happier, safer future for all.
In honor of Pride Month, I’d like to share with you our favorite LGBTQ-friendly books for children. We’re avid readers in this house and I love that the world of children’s book is far more diverse than it was when I was growing up.
Children’s Books to Read in Honor of Pride Month
Teaching Children about the LGBTQ Community
While we’ve always reaffirmed to our children that “love is love” it’s great to have these books to help them learn all the more about LGBTQ history and icons, breaking gender stereotypes, and what it means to be nonconforming. I’m by no means an expert on this myself, but I nevertheless want to use this space to encourage you to check out at least one of these books (if you haven’t yet!)
Now of course some of the links below are affiliate links – which means I may make a commission should you click through to purchase – but this in no way impacts my recommendation of said books. And of course if you have a book to recommend that didn’t make the list, please comment below and share with us!
LGBTQ Stories for Younger Children
Julián Is a Mermaid
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love is an absolutely beautiful book, both through the story itself and the imagery. In this story, Julián dreams of being a mermaid and one day decides to dress up as one….only to be caught by his abuela. Curious what happens next? You’ll have to read it for yourself!
This book by Robb Pearlman breaks through the stereotype of pink vs blue and empowers kids to express themselves using any color of the rainbow they wish. It also reaffirms the idea that each person should feel free to enjoy doing whatever is they love!
Love is Love by Michael Genhart is a story about how love is what makes a family. I’ve written before about why we should ditch the step in step-child, but this book goes beyond that. When a boy is taunted for “not having a real family” he quickly learns what that actually means.
This board book is absolutely phenomenal and one that the whole family is sure to love. It’s full of pictures, sound words, and a cute cat on every page for the little ones to find. Not only will this story help your child learn his ABCs but it’s sure to inspire and delight everyone!
When Errol finds his best friend Thomas feeling sad, he soon discovers why – Thomas wishes to be Tilly. How will Errol handle this unexpected change? Buy the book and share this “gentle story about gender and friendship” with your little ones today!
While the title may make it sound like this is a story is for little ones, it’s actually an in-depth book on sexuality and gender. It also includes a dictionary/glossary to help readers understand the various terms used. It’s a great book for older children and adults!
This story by Barbara Dee is absolutely brilliant. In it, Mattie finds herself crushing on Gemma during their school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Oh but wait – she’s also really into Elijah, a boy she’s liked for “like forever!” What will happen when Mattie suddenly has to step in as Gemma’s Romeo? Only one way to find out…
As if being twelve wasn’t hard enough, Shane (our story’s main character) has a secret that he feels he can’t tell anyone, even his family or best friend Josh. While I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that Shane’s assigned gender at birth doesn’t quite match up with who he really is…
George by Alex Gino is another story about a trans child who yearns for acceptance…well that and to play the role of Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. Luckily George has her friend Kelly to help her make the world see her for who she truly is!
As if suffering through the destruction of a tornado wasn’t enough, our main character Ivy realizes her journal has gone missing…a journal filled with drawings of girls holding hands. Suddenly, though, the drawings start to reappear in her locker along with notes encouraging her to come out. The thing is, though, Ivy’s sister blew up over her best friend coming out…will she do the same when she finds out her sister likes girls?
This book by Mary Hoffman does such a beautiful job of featuring all kinds of families and their lives together. It’s not only great to help children better recognize that everyone’s family is different, but it’d make for a great classroom addition as well!
If you can’t guess from the title, this story by Stacy B. Davids is about how much Annie loves wearing her plaid shirt. Then one day she’s told she’ll have to wear a dress to her uncle’s wedding and she’s anything but excited. Annie doesn’t understand why her mom doesn’t get that she feels weird in dresses! Then Annie has an idea…
Entertaining yet insightful, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall is about a blue crayon being mistakenly labeled as red. No matter what his teacher, friends, or mother says about being red, this crayon knows who he really is. It’s a great book to teach children about self awareness!
I’m not sure if I’m just a sap for sweet stories or if it’s because this one is based on a true story, but I LOVE this book. When two male penguins became inseparable and formed a bond unlike any other, the zookeepers at Central Park Zoo gave them a motherless egg. Then (much to everyone’s surprise!) the pair hatched the baby!
It’s hard not to know who Jazz Jennings is, but have you shared her story with the kids? From the age of two, Jazz always knew she was a girl born in a boy’s body. Through this book, the author shares how important it is to respect each other’s differences and recognize that everyone has the right to be who they are.
Oook so maybe this one isn’t actually a true story, but the idea certainly stems from one! When I heard about this book from John Oliver, I didn’t hesitate for a moment to pre-order it. It is by far and away one of our family’s favorite books…even if it has led to my children calling a certain man a “stink bug” (hehehe)
Last but certainly not least, This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is a beautifully done reflection of the LGBTQ community and what it means to celebrate pride. What I love most about this it that it includes a reading guide full of facts surrounding LGBTQ history/culture as well as a guide on how parents can talk to children about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Narrowing in on this list of LGBTQ books to read to children wasn’t an easy task. There are so many great books out there to not only help you celebrate Pride Month, but to teach about diversity and acceptance all year long. While we still have an incredibly long way to go toward a more peaceful and accepting world, reading books like these to our children is a great place to start.
Are there any books you think I missed that are an absolute must for this list?
As parents, anxiety and stress often come with the package, especially before big and special events. It’s also relatively common for people when they are faced with new situations or something they may have a fear of. The good news is, one way to help you relax and soothe your nerves may already literally be laying at your feet!
That’s right, your pets and domestic animals can be great stress busters. Even better, sometimes you’re not even really consciously aware of how your pet’s presence may be helping you get through the tough times. In this article, we take a little look behind the scenes at some practical ways your pet may help your mental health.
How Having a Pet Can Calm Your Nerves
Pets Help You Think About Something Else
If you’re feeling anxious and stressed, a common tactic recommended by health professionals is to find a distraction or diversion to focus on. Call it dog diversion, cat deflection if you will, but the presence of your pet can help you re-frame your thinking away from the thoughts or the situation that is bothering you.
This can be particularly helpful for people with fears and phobias. If you’re anxious about being alone in the house, the presence of a pet with their super-sensitive radar to anything out of the ordinary will soon alert you if there actually is something or someone nearby. In the same token, if you have a fear of getting out and about, having a dog walk alongside you can help overcome those anxieties.
Pets Make You Move Around
Exercise is good for both our minds and body. Most of us already know that. What we often don’t realize is that even the very basic act of taking care of feeding your pet forces you to move your body. Combine a few yoga stretches when you’re reaching into the cupboard, or placing your pet’s bowl on the floor and it’s a win-win mind-body situation for both of you.
If you’ve got a dog, no matter what size, they’re going to need regular exercise. Likewise, a cat, even though we tend to think they look after this themselves, a piece of paper on the end of a string can help you both move and entertain yourself at the same time. Take their cue. Many pets instinctively know when it’s time to get moving (aka the cat crazies!). Take the time to get a little exercise at the same time your pet does, and you’ll reap the rewards.
Pets Help You Relax
Pets can help you relax in so many ways. There’s the physical act of stroking and patting an animal. This is a repetitive motion that both of you will are likely to find very, very soothing. There’s the humor in seeing your pet do something that is so outside of the behavior that we are conditioned into as humans that you can’t help but laugh. If you’ve ever clicked on any funny dog/cat/rabbit videos online, and who hasn’t, you’ll know what we mean.
Pets Can Help You Love
The love and companionship of a pet are unconditional. Their affection for you is based on knowing you treat them well and love them to bits. The look that a pet may give you, with soft knowing eyes full of love, believe it. It’s real. Studies have found that the same bonding process and endorphins that are firing between a parent and child happen between people and their pets. So yes, it is indeed mutual. Both you and your pet feel the love, and more relaxed and warm and fuzzy as a result!
Pets Help Lower Your Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure. That’s got to be good news for anyone whose blood pressure potentially rises with their anxiety and stress levels. Even better, just your pet’s presence helps with healthier blood pressure. Anytime you do pat, stroke, or get in some daily exercise with your pet is an added bonus for your BP.
Pets are Social and Emotional Support
As many pet people will attest, a pet often intuitively and instinctively seems to pick up on when you are out of sorts. They may seek to reassure you or keep their distance. Both of which can be a good indication that you need to address your anxiety levels.
People who love animals also usually consider pets as a part of their family. If you’re feeling a little disconnected with other people, it is entirely possible to have a close connection with your pet and know that you’re not alone. The friendship of a cat curled up on your lap, or a dog by your side can do wonders to help with any worries around loneliness or isolation.
Pets Are Good Listeners
Did you know that there are therapy animals that help kids and adults with reading difficulties? There are many schools and libraries that recognize that the quiet non-judgmental presence of reading to an animal can help people with learning difficulties gain confidence and new skills.
What’s more, if you talk to your own pet they will respond. Okay, maybe not a specific answer that you’re trying to work out, but many pets such as cats and dogs love communicating with the people in their life either vocally, or through an affectionate rub, full body lean, and even the gentle head butt of a cat.
People Can Help With Your Pets Too
If you do have a mental health condition such as anxiety, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), domestic animals can be recognized as part of a treatment plan. Check out information on emotional support animals (ESA). Your ‘ordinary’ pet can be elevated to be an ESA for you if its presence alleviates and helps you manage symptoms that limit your quality of life. Aside from the benefit to your health, there is some legal protection from discrimination for having an emotional support animal in rental housing and during air travel.
Do you have a pet?
Tell us about your furry friend in the comments below!
I never considered holding a food drive to be a potential waste of resources until I spoke to the CEO of a food bank in our state. As I stared up at the walls of dry goods available, she remarked, “I’m not saying food drives are a bad thing, but if you’re thinking about spending money to then donate goods, think again.”
Not all food banks are created equal, but in general, it’s far better to donate money than food.
See most food banks have what’s costed a “cost sharing” program through which food pantries can purchase additional goods at a significantly lower cost (at the food bank I visited, the cost was about $0.16/lb!)
Now as someone who has worked in fundraising and not-for-profits, I get the psychology behind donating a “good” versus money, but it’s time to re-consider where your dollar is going.
We’ve all seen those “brown bag offerings” at grocery stores, where you can “buy” a bag to then be donated to a family in need. It’s great that you want to help, but guess what? Not only is the grocery store still profiting from this good deed, but your $20 would go 100x further if given directly to your local food pantry or food bank.
Even if you were to shop at Aldi, $20 might get you 10-ish boxes of dried goods to then send off to someone in need.
But $20 at a food bank? Heh well that could get you nearly this entire pallet of Cheerios:
The best part is that most food banks will allow you to donate funds to them and direct those funds for a specific purpose (i.e. if you’re looking to help one specific food pantry vs general food bank costs).
So if you’re considering hosting a food drive, might I suggest a few alternatives that are not only way more fun, but also far more beneficial to those in need.
Food Drive Alternatives
Hold a Garage Sale
If you’re going to be asking people for physical donations anyway, why not skip the food and go right for the goods. When done right, it’s easy to hold a successful garage sale and you’re not missing out on the “feel good” vibes people get from donating something other than money.
Partner with Food Trucks
Here in Springfield, IL (and well…pretty much everywhere these days) food trucks are a big hit. There’s little better than grabbing a breakfast burrito from my favorite food truck as I meander my way through our local farmer’s market…well except if said food truck was then donating a percentage of their proceeds to our local food bank! While it may take a bit more technical work and scheduling that a regular ol’ food drive, you might consider hosting an event when a number of food trucks come together in one specific area for a night and then donate part of their profits to your community food pantry.
What’s better than you getting dinner while helping someone else get theirs!
This was a fun one my students came up with prior to my quitting my job at the college to become a professional blogger. Each club participating would receive one point for every penny donated, but would then be docked points for every silver coin donated “against” them. During this week long event, they raised nearly $300; more than enough to buy over 3,360 cans of tomatoes –
Hold a Raffle
Once again if you’re going to ask for donations, why not ask for goods that can then be raffled off? Some of the baskets could even be “food centered” – i.e. a date night basket in which you have a box of spaghetti, some marinara, a movie rental coupon, and a bottle of wine. While it may only go for $15, that $15 can then be turned into 6 pallets of Nature Valley bars:
And that’s just one basket!
Run a Virtual Food Drive
Know someone who can build a simple website? Have them create a one page site that allows for monetary donations, but gives donors the opportunity to “shop” for the goods they wish to donate. When someone can see just how far their dollar will be stretched, they’ll be all the more likely to donate a bit more than they might were they simply shopping for products themselves.
Battle of the Bands
This is another one that I just LOVED putting on when I worked in Higher Ed. Not only is it a great opportunity to showcase the talent in your local community, but you’re almost guaranteed a massive turnout. Charge $5/person and hold a 50/50 raffle or sell t-shirts and you could be looking at raising an easy $1,000!
Sell Those Tickets
We’ve all been to events where you could bring a canned good for your entry fee, but what if the company were to simply keep selling tickets and instead donate proceeds to a food bank? If you highlight where the money is going, it’s unlikely that you’d see a significant decrease in attendance, but you WOULD see a massive increase in how you’re helping your community.
I get it – as far as donations go, it feels far better to say “we collected over 1,000lbs of food this month!!” than simply “we raised $500 for the food pantry this month!!”
But put yourself in the shoes of a food bank employee and imagine getting twenty 50lb boxes of mixed donations – some expired, some smashed up beyond recognition, and sure plenty of good food…that now needs to be sorted, put away, and stored somewhere. While those donations will certainly help someone in need, the time, energy, and (yes even) money then impact just who is helped and how.
And if you still feel the need to do something beyond writing a check – or if you simply don’t have the funds to do so – consider volunteering your time at the food bank or pantry itself. That in and of itself is so incredibly valuable, not to mention is sometimes a volunteer opportunity you can do with children (note: always check with any NFP regarding their age requirements for volunteers!)
It’s important to give back and if you’re motivated to host a food drive, by all means, go for it. But if you really want to stretch your time and money, consider an alternative route that can make a much bigger difference.
Do you agree or disagree with the idea that donating money is better than food?
Comment below and let me know, I’d love to hear from you!
I truly cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told this throughout my life, it’s pretty much my family’s motto. And it’s only now – at nearly 31 – that I’ve started to recognize how to be grateful for those angry words.
My mom was only 20 years old when she had me and while she did briefly marry the guy who knocked her up, it wasn’t for love but rather a fear of judgement, mainly from her parents.
She was lucky in that her parents let my mother live in their basement, providing her with a tribe of caregivers that included her brother, her parents, and her grandmother. I would include “Dad” in that situation, but he once “forgot” to tell anyone he was leaving the house and ended up leaving me alone for an entire day when I was only six months old – a story my family loved to tell to reinforce just how awful a human being he is (as if I didn’t know that…but more on him later).
Despite a house filled with family, I apparently stressed them to no end, wanting to be held constantly and crying should anyone dare put me down. I was once almost abandoned on a neighbor’s doorstep by my frazzled mother, only to have my grandmother rescue me before the authorities were called.
Now before we get too deep into the dysfunction, I want to make it clear that I’m in no way angry with my family. This is not a post to rage against them or put them in a bad light, but to help others recognize that through the chaos, we can in fact emerge with clarity….even if it takes 30+ years to happen.
Regardless, I do fully believe that part of their lamenting stemmed from deflection – I’m still reminded even now that I was a “terrible baby” and a “spoiled, selfish child.” Neither of which do I believe to be true of myself, but I do think certain family members say it as a way to comfort themselves for their own character flaws.
Now as I mentioned earlier, the male involved in my conception has never been a great guy, but I tried off-and-on over the years to have some sort of relationship with him. It became clear, though, when I enlisted in AmeriCorps (the US version of the Peace Corps) that this guy and I would never be father/daughter…or really much of anything in fact.
Upon learning of my enlistment, I received this e-mail from “Dad” as he raged about my desire to serve my country:
It’s bad enough you’re not continuing on to law school, but now this? You went to college for a good job, not to “volunteer.” If you had any concern for me you would start making money now, it’ll be your turn to take care of me soon, ya know. Ever see the play or movie Hair and the song that asks how can anyone be so cold especially ones that care about justice and strangers…Amber that reminds me of you. Are you trying to find yourself, do you get a real legit sense of purpose and accomplishment or do you have a mask of altruism that makes you feel accomplished when you get others to help others or is it for your resume…I mean how long will you continue to do this to yourself….and forget about the military its one thing to serve as a socialist pawn quite another to be part of cannon fodder for Obama‘s war machine! Have a nice life.
That was the last time we communicated, and frankly I’m okay with it. My lack of a father figure reinforced long ago that I would never marry a man who would fail as a father; and despite my husband growing up without a dad, he’s the best damn father to my children that I could have ever hoped for and then some.
Not only did my family’s lamenting ensure I’d end up with a man who made for a wonderful father, but they also made me an incredibly strong mother.
As a woman with her own high-needs baby (and without a village), I spent the first two years of my daughter’s life with her more-or-less attached to me constantly. Had my family not instilled in me what a “terrible baby” I was, perhaps I would’ve been less tolerant of my child’s needy nature…but probably not.
See I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “terrible baby.” Every baby – every human – has varying needs, some are okay with a bit of distance while others need constant reassuring. No child should be made to feel they owe their caregivers for….well, giving care. If nothing else, I believe most babies will feed off the energy of those around them and clearly the energy of my upbringing was often anything but comforting. And even though it’s taken me 30 years to recognize this – I’m grateful for the dysfunction, because while my altruism may have originally stemmed from a need to prove I’m not in fact terrible, I’m now all the better for it.
I struggle to say this in such a way that doesn’t make me appear to be a braggart but I am in fact a very altruistic person. I believe in teaching children to volunteer and in leading the way myself however I can.
I don’t do it for a “sense of purpose” or a mask to hide behind, but because I want this world to be a better place, not just for my own children, but for all the children. Every person, regardless of country, skin color, religious beliefs, or otherwise, deserves to be able to find peace and the only way that can happen is if we all strive together to do so.
There’s an innate need in me to help others and it doesn’t stem from a need to be recognized (in fact, I’d prefer not to be) nor do I necessarily believe I need to be good to get into Heaven – but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another time.
I truly think I’m good because for so long I was made to feel like I was bad. By schoolyard bullies who beat on me for being poor. By my family who berated me for being a child who cried. By teachers who would punish me for my mother’s tardiness. And of course by the man who disowned me as his daughter for serving my country.
I’m not selfless because I’m good, I’m selfless because I’m terrible.
They say “it takes a village” but what do you do when you’re a mother without one?
When I was in college, I interned at New Salem State Park – an interactive historic area where interpreters (such as myself) would dress up as characters from the early 1800s:
I didn’t actually eat him, promise! 😉
At certain times, it was quite literally hell – or what I imagine hell to be like, because I’ve never been so hot as when I had to wear a long-sleeve dress with petticoats and a day bonnet while stoking a fire in 95 degree weather. Despite the heat, I truly loved it, as the sense of community there was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before…or since.
It was the closest to “a village” as I’ve probably ever been.
In grade school, I was cast aside by my classmates for being poor. There was no village to be had there.
In high school, I was “the new girl” but had no idea what to make of those wanting to be my friends. I’d spent the last eight years of my life trying to hide from everyone and had no idea how to trust those who wanted to get to know me. There was no village formed there.
Now here I am, soon to turn 31, and I am a mother without a village. Sure, I occasionally have friends I go out with, but they’re not moms themselves, so if they actually remember to even invite me (hello, mom gap), comments are often made that leave me drowning in mommy guilt.
And as a work-at-home mom, I don’t even have colleagues to turn to. I probably have more conversations with my cat than anyone else and while he sure makes for a great listener, he’s not exactly known for his focus (unless there’s a laser involved…)
We have no family to help us navigate the world that is parenting, no date nights or child-free fun to be had together. There’s no one for me to cry to when it’s been a hard day and I even had to have the awkward conversation with my child’s teacher as to whether I had to put down emergency contacts because frankly…there are none.
It’s certainly not easy, but in the five years since becoming a mother, I’ve slowly learned more and more how to cope as a mother without a village. Hopefully if you learn nothing else through this article, it’s that even when you feel alone, you don’t have to be.
Look to Your Children
My babies are three and four, so they’re not exactly great conversationalists, but they are the most magnificent human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. As a stay-at-home mom, it can be really easy to lose sight of just how fascinating it is to watch our children grow. Between the constant demand for food, the screaming over who had what toy first, and the general chaos that comes from those tiny tornadoes, surviving as a work-at-home mom is often just that – surviving, but not necessarily thriving. If you take a step back, though, and REALLY focus in on the gratitude you feel for the beauty that is their existence, it makes life without a village that much easier. It won’t be long before they’re off finding and building villages of their own, so cherish them while you can.
Balance the Work
If you’ve read the story of the med-free birth of my daughter, you already know just how demanding she can be. For the first two years of her life, I rarely put her down and she would often go on nursing marathons (we’re talking a latch time of 8+ hours!) Needless to say, I was the one sacrificing all the sleep during that time, but because of this, my husband is now the one who handles their bedtime routine. The best way to ensure a better life without a village is to ensure a balance between you and your partner. My husband works outside the home full-time but that doesn’t mean he then comes home, kicks up his feet, and calls it a day. Heh quite the opposite in fact! Typically when he comes home, it’s “tag, you’re it!” and he takes over the childcare duties while I tend to whatever it is I need to get done – whether that’s work, errands, or a much-needed bubble bath!
Last year we enrolled our children in a co-op preschool and it’s been by far one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Not only do I have a strong say in my child’s education, but I get to be as actively involved as I wish to be, which includes serving on the board as their Membership Chair. If your child’s school/daycare has opportunities to be involved, make use of them! You’ll be able to start connecting with other parents while also showing your children just how much you care. If there aren’t many opportunities there, then look to your local not-for-profits. Volunteer work is essential to a happy life and it’ll be made all the happier when you connect with others who share the same passions and values that you do. Obviously it’s not always easy to get out of the house when you have children and no support, but you can always look for volunteer opportunities to do with your children or virtual opportunities – if you’re skilled in social media or any kind of virtual work, I guarantee there’s a not-for-profit in your area that would LOVE to make use of your talents.
Build a Virtual Community
If you follow my services site, you know that one of the biggest things I attribute to my success is that I looked to build a community early on. While it’s not necessarily the same as having in-person support, you can connect to people you’d otherwise never meet, people who can relate to your struggles, celebrate your successes, and be there when you need them. There are Facebook groups for literally everything and everyone, so check a few out and start making those connections!
(And if you’re a blogger or entrepreneur, you are always more than welcome in my group.)
Pay Now, Play Later
One of the perks of not having a village is that I have more time to focus on my work as a professional business strategist and blogging mentor. It can certainly be exhausting to work almost every night and weekend, but I know that the effort I’m putting in now will certainly pay off in the future. The same goes for whatever “work” you have in your life – whether it’s outside the house or not, if you can get it done today, tomorrow will be all the better for it. So don’t mope and spend your nights watching Netflix (well, not every night anyway!) Take that “extra” time and build up additional incomes streams so you can pay down debt and be all that much closer to financial freedom. Your future self will thank you.
Being a mother without a village is exhausting. It’s painful, it’s scary, and you probably cry more days than not. That’s okay. It’s not easy, but the fact that you’re still pushing forward shows just how strong you truly are.
Here’s to pushing forward together and relishing the villages we do have, small and mighty that they be.