Finding Your Village

A chain of blue, cut-out paper dolls, holding hands, stretches across the image.
Image by Freepik

They say it takes a village to raise a child…but how do you go about finding your village?! Do they just turn up, or do you need to fill out an application?

I’m joking, of course.  But finding your village isn’t easy.  Even when you do finally feel like you’ve found one, you know you’ll get orders to move again and have to start from scratch.  So, how on earth do you keep your village when you’re moving every year or two?! 

Two kids walking on a path through the woods
My military children

Maybe we should start with why it’s so important.  April is the month of the military child and raising a military child comes with its own set of challenges.  If you’re not lucky to be posted close to your original support network, you’re going to need someone to turn to.  Your child will inevitably get sick at the worst possible time and you’ll need help.  That’s just the way life goes, right?

Let me assure you, suffering in silence is not the way to go.  That will only lead to madness and severe burnout. If you’ve read my previous articles, you will know I like to wheel out a cliché every now and again… here’s another: a problem shared is a problem halved.

The best thing you can do is find people you can talk to.  Finding these people is finding your village.  You will need friends nearby who can babysit at short notice, or who will take the baby for a walk so you can take a nap, or drop off meals when everyone in the house is too ill to cook.  You know these things will happen, especially if you’re solo parenting!  

Your military child will also feel the benefit of your developing friendships.  Aside from the obvious playdates with friends who also have kids, they will also feel more secure and settled.  They will come to know your friends well and will, hopefully, know that they are in safe hands if one of them needs to babysit, etc.

It can also be lonely during deployment, even if there are kids in the house with you.  This is especially true when your kids are younger and you crave some adult conversation once in a while.  Knowing that you have a support network around you helps ease that loneliness, at least a little.

So now we know why finding your village is important, how do you actually go about doing that?

My top tip: Say…

colorful and playful background with YES in large lettersFull disclosure, someone else gave me that advice but it was a total game-changer for me.  I am not a naturally outgoing person and I was very anxious about how to make friends when we first moved. My friend’s advice was basically to just say ‘yes’ to any and all social invitations at first.  

Yes, that sounds very daunting, but it’s worth it.  Granted, you will meet plenty of people that you don’t particularly gel with, or even like, but you will also meet some of ‘your people’.  The social anxiety you may feel is definitely outweighed by the value of forging new friendships.

So say ‘yes’ to those coffee mornings and book clubs and walking groups.  Once you’ve settled in your new location and made some friends, you can be a bit more selective on what you want to get involved in.  Until then, say ‘yes’!

However, there is also a lot to be said for finding your village online. When we first moved to the USA for our overseas posting in 2018, I was only just starting to use Instagram.  I quickly found a whole community of military spouses and partners who understood the ups and downs of military life.  Much like the community I have found with the Military Mom Collective. The virtual support I received from people who ‘get it’ was, and is, invaluable.  

I also found it very cathartic to share my own ups and down with my online community, both through Instagram and on my own blog. It’s kind of like journaling but with the expectation that other people will also see it.  I call these online friends my ‘pocket friends’ because they live in my phone in my pocket.  My pocket friends are very much part of my village.

Pocket friends also have the advantage of consistency.  Even if you move twice a year, you will still be able to find them in your pocket.  Chances are some of them have been through it too and can empathise.

Granted, online friends aren’t so helpful when it comes to babysitting but that’s why it takes a village: not everyone offers you support in the same way.  It’s all useful though, so grab it with both hands!  

If finding your village seems straightforward, it might take a little more effort to keep them when you inevitably move.  Or they do!  It’s still possible though if you put in the effort to maintain the friendship.  When close friends suddenly become long-distance friends, you will find the friendship evolves, but it can often strengthen. 

When you move to a new location, you will need to expand your in-person village but the good news is, you’re not starting from scratch.  You still have those pocket friends and the longer-distance friends you made before.  They will give you the emotional support you and your kids need to start saying ‘yes’ to the next adventure.