In times of high stress and tension, it’s easy to shrink back from public view and social circles. While that can be restorative for some (looking at you, Jill), it can also do some long term damage and make some moms feel isolated. As an outgoing introvert, I know that I am in trouble when I stop accepting invitations and staying home for no good reason. It always ends up a downward spiral of doing things that aren’t conducive to happiness in the long run :: lethargy, drinking too much, eating too much of the wrong stuff, and feeling apathetic about my responsibilities. In short, staying away from friends and family can lead to depression for many moms.
Of all of the many places I have lived in the United States, New Orleans has blown me away with its dedication to community and plethora of free community events. It isn’t the reason I moved here but it is certainly a reason to stay, especially as a single parent. There never seems to be a day where there isn’t something going on at my son’s school, within my group of grower friends or our neighborhood association. Recently, though, I’ve been declining offers to gatherings and I’m feeling like I need a big social reboot to feel motivated and inspired again (I’ve said this in every post for the last two months but YES FOR CARNIVAL SEASON!).
Skills-based community building
For introverts, parties can be difficult – even when deep down you’re aching for a village. There aren’t standard rules or codes to follow and if you aren’t an expert at small talk, you can end up feeling awkward when you don’t have obvious common interests with other party goers. For this, I love meetup.com. It’s a national website, but the New Orleans chapter is as engorged as one would expect it to be. From knitting to hiking to book clubs of all types, there is no shortage of groups looking for more members and friends. It’s nice to have something to focus your hands and/or mind on when first meeting a new group of friends, and the awkward silences aren’t as awkward or silent when everybody is fixated on the topic at hand.
Another community resource not to be ignored is the New Orleans Public Library. There are beginner to conversational foreign language groups (French and Spanish) held at Rosa F. Keller branch, where children are allowed to either practice with the group or hang out with their favorite book (or on the kids’ computers) in the children’s area. Besides foreign language circles, I have also attended food, wine and cocktail tastings, complete with local history lesson on the drink (or cuisine) being showcased. Look for the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz events this summer – talk about an ice breaker. Be sure to arrange a Lyft home because the library throws a good party.
Bring on the reunions, boils and dinner parties: ASAP
Clearly, money can’t buy love. We all know that, but it is harder to come to that realization when many of our day to day decisions are made based on the amount of money it will lose or bring. Of course, we would all choose our children over tons of money (except really bad days, amiright?), and a gathering with my most beloved friends and family is so preferred to the money it costs to host one. These family and friend groups are the events I look forward to most every year and it’s certainly not because I’m making bank at them. It’s because I’m loving and laughing with my people.
Since having my son, I’ve fallen out of the dinner party circles, but a friend and I have recently decided to pull together eclectic groups of friends for dinner once a month. Potlucks are a great way to share recipes and not have to over plan or spend too much time cooking. My favorite is group picnics because kids can run around and be loud and the clean-up is easier on us parents.
Getting to Know New to You People in Your Community
I have found that it is truly worth it to get to know your children’s teachers and school administration. From simply asking about their lives and getting to know them to buying small holiday gifts, they respond faster and more intimately when they know that you appreciate them. During the recent tornadoes, our school sent updates and then personal replies when I had questions. I am sure they would respond to anyone with questions, but it feels good to know that they know exactly who I am, and who my child is.
Visit a local nursing home with your child. When I was a small child, my mom used to drop me off at a nursing home to visit a woman named Helen, who had previously rented a room with my great grandma. She always had little treats, gave me her full attention and even taught me how to play the piano. I never knew we weren’t related or even thought to ask because elderly people and children go together like cookies and milk. They are a great source of wisdom for you and your child and chances are they are quite lonely and will love the company. They also have a lifetime of hilarious, sad, and momentous stories to tell, which I find to be extremely entertaining (and at times, shocking).
Knowing what people’s talents and interests are opens up doors and strengthens communities; you never know when you might need to know how to tie some serious sailboat knots or build a website or pickle an egg. Good friends are a necessity, but reaching out to someone you don’t know or have previously had a conflict with is worthwhile, too. While it might sound counterintuitive, asking a favor from them is beneficial for both parties. One receives the tangible and the other experiences the joy of giving, which research has shown to make us happier than receiving. So go on and ask your cranky neighbor a favor (this is actual advice given to me from a professional mediator, by the way!)
Some groups I wish I could find:
There are a few skills that I really wish I had or could share with others, such as learning how to maintain vehicles (or at least understand what everything is and how it functions), DIY home project workshops and power tool instruction. If you or anyone you know is a woman interested in teaching me and a few friends, please let me know.