It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one.

becca-garber-building-community.jpg

Last week, a friend asked me to come speak at an event she was hosting on our Navy base (Sigonella). Elizabeth called it a “Parenting Toolkit Workshop,” and there were speakers addressing nutrition, relaxation/downtime, and children’s emotions. She had been reading my blog and we’d been emailing since before she arrived, so she thought I might be able to add a “real life” aspect to the parenting talk.

As I thought about what to say, it really boiled down to two things:

  • It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one, and
  • Sicily is a place to unplug and restart your parenting.

I thought I’d share a little bit from each of these points as an encouragement to other parents out there. If you’re here in Sicily or about to move here, hopefully this discussion will also be a resource and a guide for you. However, I hope you’ll feel a fire lit under you no matter where you are or what your stage of life you’re in.

So here we go with my first point: it takes a village!

One thing that many people comment on in Sicily/Sigonella is that they feel isolated. I don’t know if this is true of all military base housing, but here in Sigonella, it’s a common refrain. There are so many reasons for this, I’m sure:

  • Base housing is a fishbowl. People appreciate privacy. It’s hard to balance privacy with vulnerability.
  • They miss the community they left.
  • They don’t want to be there. (Perhaps they didn’t want to move to Sicily. Perhaps they wanted to live out in town.)
  • Closeness is uncomfortable sometimes!

But base housing isn’t really that different from living “out in town,” ie. in an Italian house or apartment in an Italian town near the base. Out in town, people feel isolated too.

  • There are a language and cultural barriers, which means… no friends to go outside and see/talk to.
  • There are very few outdoor, public community spaces to go hang out in (at least in my town).
  • It’s easier to interact with a computer, or with food in your kitchen, or with your own kids in a safe space, than to go outside.

However, becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. You may disagree with me on that, and so perhaps that’s the fodder for another blog post. But I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.

Even if we can’t speak their language.

The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.

If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is YOU.

Ok, that was the tough stuff. Here are some personal examples of things I am glad we did here in Sicily to build community.

And then there are some things I wish I’d done.

  • Things I am glad we did 
      • We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.

     

      • We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.

     

      • I got very involved in the women’s Bible study… that became “my thing.” Maybe that’s because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends at Sigonella.

     

      • We vacationed with another Sigonella family. The first time, they invited us to join them on a trip to Cinque Terre. The second time we invited them to rent a house on the beach with us in Sicily. Both of these trips were messy at times, but ultimately so much more fun than going by ourselves.

     

      • For awhile, I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.

     

     

      • I invited other moms to go on adventures with me, like to Taormina, or to the train in Catania. Or on a hike with their dog if they don’t have kids!

     

      • I invited myself over. A LOT.

     

  • Things I wish we’d done 
      • I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.

     

      • I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.

     

      • I wish we had sought counseling when we needed it for our marriage or our parenting. There are resources through the chapel and the Fleet and Family Support Center. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective.

     

      • Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is PB&Js with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.

Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?

Maybe can answer that question with… what did you love in your last home? Was there a mom’s group that organized activities for you and your kids that you relied on each week? Were you a part of a book club? Did you gather your friends to relax over beers on your back porch every Friday night? Were you involved in a sport or social activity?

Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people.

You need them so that someone can watch your child or pets overnight when you go to the hospital to have another baby.

You need them so that someone can pack up your house for you and sell your cars when you get terrible news (illness, death) and have to move back to the States immediately.

You need them so that you can walk up to someone’s house and say, “I drove all the way here and forgot to bring lunch for my kids… can I borrow some food?!”

You need them because exploring a new place, taking your kids to the playground, or having a picnic are always more fun with friends!

If you don’t like something where you live, don’t isolate yourself. Don’t gossip about it. And don’t just grin and bear it either. DO something about it.

If you don’t like something where you live, change it. If you don’t have something, get it. If you don’t want to be there, make it a place where you want to be!

This is a little corny, but it says it best: be the change you wish to see in your community.

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18 Responses to It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one.

  1. Elisabeth Crosby April 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    Becca: This post is filled with such wisdom! I agree with all of these ideas and I used some of it for the many places I have lived all over the world, but then forgot to use it when settling back into like here in Canada. Thanks for the reminder of how to have a rich life.

    • Becca April 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      I know moving back to the States will be a challenge for me because in some ways it feels more familiar, and I’ll also be out of the instant community of a small military base (and, for you, a small missionary community). It will be challenging to keep thinking this way, I know. Thanks for your encouragement!

  2. Alica April 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    This was a great post, Becca. It makes me think of a situation here at home that we were unhappy with..our church (of many years!) A place where we should have felt welcomed and included, but felt isolated. It may have helped if we had done some of these things! We have since moved on, (a good move for our family!) and have felt so welcomed, due in part to people who have taken these steps that you’ve mentioned to reach out. We’re working at doing the same. No matter how old our kids are, or what stage of life we’re in, these are great reminders!

    • Becca April 24, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      I will be the first to admit that I get cold feet and LOVE moving on to the next thing, so I probably would have been with you on the move to a new church! It’s so much easier to have a short-term assignment (like ours here)… or to just cut your losses and try for something else (work, church, even friends or a marriage). And sometimes those are the RIGHT things to do — there is no doubt about that. But other times… what would a little more elbow grease do? A little more humility and a lot more grace? I am sure I’ll have to learn that the hard way in the future…

  3. Bethany April 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Becca. We’ve been in our new home about six months now, and we’ve done some of what you said, but we could definitely be doing more to build the community our hearts long for in our neighborhood, in our church, and in Brandon’s academic community. This post was inspiring.

    • Becca April 24, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      Thank you, Bethany! I know my parents always said it takes 6 months to really get settled into a new home, community, church, job, etc. Maybe now you’re finally there and so you can start thinking about how to enrich and encourage your community? It takes awhile to get settled and get your bearings!

  4. Esther April 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Isolation is SO crippling. And I struggle so much with putting myself out there and being clear about my needs without being demaning but I’m working on that in counseling!

    I love reading your life experiences and the wisdom you are gaining as a result!

    • Esther April 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      *demanding ;)

      • Becca April 24, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

        I have learned here that I need counseling! I would really love to get regular marriage counseling after we move back to the States so that we can talk through and address things before they grow into big issues. I hope we do that.

        • Esther April 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

          It is SO worth it. And worth finding someone that you really jive with – individually and as a couple. I’m on my 4th counseling professional and it’s finally working. And God used it to open some serious doors as far as my physical health – more coming on that in the future. ;-)

  5. Steph @ meet.make.laugh. April 24, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    Thank you! I so needed this right now! I’m packing up and moving this weekend away from so many close friends. While I am excited about the new adventure it will be such an adjustment fitting into a new place! I needed that reminder that it is up to me to make it what I want it to be :)

  6. Becca April 24, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Wow, what a huge life change! I hope everything goes well and that you move into a wonderful new community that welcomes you and inspires you. And that you can help to grow into something even better!

  7. Carrie April 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    I liked reading through this post. These are great tips/thoughts.

    It inspires me to sit down again and think through/write out my expectations for where we live and then put some action plans in place for how to make those a reality.

    It seems to me that you’ve done a great job for connecting in Sicily – I am always in awe of all the adventures and things you share here on the blog.

    • Becca April 28, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      Thanks for your encouragement, Carrie. I have been feeling convicted about this post even since I wrote it, though, since I feel like our devotion to building/investing in community has lagged this past year. I’m ready for a fresh start… I need a kick in the pants myself!

  8. maggie April 28, 2014 at 6:02 am #

    Hello Becca,

    I have been a lurker here at your blog since soon after your family moved to Sicily. I moved with my Italian naval pilot stepfather and American mother to Catania at age 6 and went to Sigonella school for 2 years. We moved back to the States when I was 10. I have so enjoyed your photos and prose about a place I remember so very fondly and wish to visit again. You have also given me a wonderful insight as to what my mother’s experience must have been like as a mother of four children 6 and under. I learned to speak Italian at the local school. I am still fluent and have no accent, though afraid that my younger siblings no longer speak it. It is true, however, that some parts of our Sicilian experience live on in our family, and I am sure that will be true for yours as well (including a love for blood oranges and using the Italian name for odd things, finocchio, arancini, ciclamini (the flower), bombola (the gas tank).

    I apologize for rambling on here, but I wanted to express my appreciation for your blog before your family returns to the States and embarks on its next adventure.

    Sincerely,

    Maggie

    • Becca April 28, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      Maggie, thank you so much for saying hello! So many fun connections here. I’m so impressed that you still speak Italian fluently with no accent! My friend Elizabeth (who organized the class I mentioned in this post) is the only person I know here whose kids will be able to do that; they are old enough to speak and remember Italian AND are in all-Italian schools right now. I know your family gave you such a great gift.

      Thank you for reading along! I’m so glad to know you’re here.

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