My need for a parenting village became clear when I found myself sitting in my son’s school valet line belting out the lyrics to Barbara Streisand’s “People.” The chorus of horns behind me was drowned out by my off-key karaoke: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!” I was sleep deprived, coming off a slew of stressful doctor appointments for my middle son, and I had decided it was best that I pick up in valet since I had worn the same shirt for three days in a row.
It was during this frenzied moment that the first of many friends I didn’t exactly know I needed knocked on my car window. “Jeez! Look at you! Where have you been?” she asked.
I had taken a sabbatical from college teaching with the goal of carrying out research for my campus, completing my novel and ushering my son into third grade while managing the nuanced details of his rare medical diagnosis. Seeing that my sabbatical was only a semester long, I was clearly delusional in my expectations of what can be done in 16 weeks.
I had barely cracked my car window, but this unwavering mom friend was relentless in her expressions of concern and care. She stuck her hand through the narrow slit of the open window and wiped a crumb off the corner of my mouth. (I had been eating a bag of chips found in the backseat of the car.) At the sensation of her touch I started to cry. We spent the rest of the afternoon at a park near the school, catching up, letting the kids play. I knew dinner would be late, homework prolonged and my weary mom spirit renewed.
This aforementioned mom is one of the five friendship varieties that comprise what I believe is a vital village for helping parents thrive. It’s been suggested it takes a village to raise a child, but I would argue the village is far more valuable when designed with parents in mind. The five types of friends needed for an inclusive village are:
- The Warrior Friend. This friend is always ready for battle. She is armed with quick wit and fierce loyalty, and won’t let you succumb to defeat. If you have an IEP meeting, she will volunteer to show up with you. If you lose yourself to the soundtrack of “Funny Girl” in the school carpool line, she will wipe crumbs off your face and remind you of the outstanding parental force you truly are.
- The Let-Loose Friend. There will be no pity party with this friend, but there will be a party. She will orchestrate milestone celebrations or, more importantly, “just because” celebrations. Making it to Friday is worthy of wine or pizza or play dates – all in a judgment-free zone. With the Let-Loose Friend you can breathe and crash and belly laugh. You can put some of your worries on a shelf. This friend’s car is likely as messy as yours.
- The Rally-the-Troops Friend. Also known as The Group Texter, she is the one who will keep the village in sync. Like a choir director making certain the voices all sing the same tune, The Rally-the-Troops friend has a knack for garnering the group support needed during good times and bad. This friend understands that attitude is as contagious as a common cold. For this reason, she endeavors to spread positive thinking throughout the village. When she kicks off a group text, you will eventually sign off feeling grateful and empowered by the village dynamics cheering you on.
- The Savvy Friend. This friend is connected and seems to know a little something about everything. She is the first to inform you of new interventions, up-to-date research or inclusive activities for the kids. She is also an astute researcher. Whatever she doesn’t know, she’ll find out in the time it takes you to navigate evening traffic.
- The Ally. This is a friend who may or may not have kids of her own, may or may not be involved in an inclusive community and may or may not have known you before you changed your identity from person to parent. She has an allegiance to you separate from your children; therefore, she sees you as an entity with your own needs and your own dreams. She loves your children unconditionally, but there is no obligation for you to talk to her about the trials and triumphs of parenthood. When she asks, “How are you?” she truly means you. However, she is equally eager to know how she can lend support through your unique parenting journey.
This village serves as an anchor symbolizing hope and reliability, and on that day outside my son’s school, I was in desperate need of an anchor. For far too long, my husband and I had managed to isolate ourselves in the day-to-day voyage of parenting. This could happen to any parent, but forging a village can become even harder when raising a child requiring distinct care.
Lately, I’ve started saying “Yes” more. I opened my window, and then my door, to invites, support groups and social events. I’ve been telling people what I truly need. In a humbling and liberating feat, I asked for help and I accepted it. I even did the unthinkable and began answering my phone instead of letting all calls go to voicemail. And since a village is built on the spirit of reciprocity, I have discovered some elements of The Warrior Friend, The Rally-the-Troops Friend and the Savvy Friend in me. I have become the one willing to show up at someone’s IEP, because the tide can pull us all under if we don’t have steadfast friends acting as lifeguards.
Ryane Nicole Granados is a L.A. native who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in publications and live shows including The Manifest-Station, Mutha Magazine, Expressing Motherhood, The Nervous Breakdown and Scary Mommy. This wife, writer, professor and devoted mom laughs loud and hard, even in the most difficult of circumstances. As a result, she hopes her writing will inspire, challenge, amuse and motivate thinking that cultivates positive change. When not managing her house full of sons, she can be found working on her novel, grading student essays or binge watching reality TV shows while eating her children’s leftover Halloween candy.