Give Your Kids a Tribe (instead of more stuff)

I have learned many important lessons during my eleven years as a parent. When you have to be somewhere, plan to leave at least 30 minutes early in order to get there on time. Embrace your kids’ individual personalities instead of trying to fit them into a preconceived idea of the perfect child. Laugh at their nonsense knock-knock jokes. Put together that ocean puzzle with them for the thousandth time because you will regret not spending the time with them later. And give your children a tribe instead of more toys.

When my oldest child was born, we lived far away from family and friends because my husband was finishing his doctoral degree. I felt pretty isolated, especially when he was an infant, so I spent much of my time roaming the mall and buying him cute toys and clothes. I used shopping as a way to compensate for my loneliness. What I didn’t realize until later was that what my son and I really needed was a tribe, or a close community of friends.

I eventually discovered a local play place and started attending it weekly. Despite my introverted inclination to hide out in a corner while my son toddled happily around, I pushed myself to start chatting with some other moms. We found things in common and I found my tribe. I instantly saw my son thrive. At home, he had ignored the mounds of toys around him, despite how much I tried to encourage him to notice them. But when we were out with our friends, he smiled and played and interacted with both children and other adults.

Unfortunately, that particular tribe was short-lived because we moved out of state. I started over again by finding another great play studio – this one with a focus on natural and open-ended materials. I met some great women that I really clicked with, I began homeschooling, and together we created a homeschooling playgroup that meets every week and has over a hundred members. My children have amazing friends and I have a tribe that makes me feel comfortable and complete.

If you are looking for a tribe, here is my advice for you:

1. Look for play studios or classes in your area. If you live in the Charlottesville, VA, area, here are some great examples:

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so many more great community-building opportunities, check out Charlottesville Family.

2. Start your own group. Come up with a concept that works for you and start it yourself. Use or a local online parenting network to advertise your group. In Charlottesville, we have a couple of Yahoo and Facebook groups that enable parents throughout the area to share ideas and resources. Some libraries also let you start and advertise groups in their space. I tried starting a few groups before one really worked, so don’t give up!

3. Don’t let the cost of classes or groups scare you away. They usually end up being way cheaper than buying tons of toys (and it’s way better for the environment).

4. If you are an introvert like I am, don’t get discouraged if you don’t start forming friendships right away. Give it time. It can be hard to find someone that you click with. Repeated contact with the same people is a must. Finding friends is a lot like dating and can be just as stressful. But it is a given that there are other parents out there who are new to the area or new to parenting and also looking for their tribe. And if all else fails, just ask a lot of questions about the other parents’ kids – people love to talk about their children!

Good luck and have fun!

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