The roles of mothers and fathers have changed dramatically in the past three decades.

In 1975, when I was ten, my father went to work while my mother stayed home to take care of my two brothers, our big suburban house and me.  This arrangement was pretty standard practice from house to house in our neighborhood.

Today, when I look around my own suburban town I see a very different dynamic.  More women are going to work to support themselves and their families.  More and more men are taking an active role in the daily care of their children, some staying home altogether.  Today, the title of “head of household” is more likely to rotate based on need and ability, rather than gender.

In addition, the families around me are being created, combined, and reconfigured in a multitude of ways, including through adoption or remarriage. Today’s families are a splendid mix of cultural backgrounds, of religious and racial complexity, and of educational, political and economic diversity.

What’s been gained seems obvious — greater freedom and satisfaction for everyone.

But what’s been lost is not so easy to recognize.

In the decade since I became a parent, and made it my business to talk to and about parents, I’ve observed a common problem: families don’t feel truly connected to their communities.

It used to be that your community came with the three-bedroom house you bought.  Your Village came with your backyard, or front stoop, and that village often included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  By virtue of location, one could assume that you and your neighbors shared a certain set of values, block by socio-economic block.  There was daily and weekly contact with your neighbors, too, and kids played together in the street without adult mediation.

Now, it’s not unusual to live many miles away from where you were born and raised. Or for your siblings, parents or extended family to have moved far from you. Now, when mom and dad need a break there’s no relief in sight that doesn’t come with a fee.

Community building is hard work

Particularly when the previous, traditional points of community contact — the school yard, grocery
store, church or temple — won’t do anymore, because both mom and dad are working, or because five kids on any given block attend five different schools and a multitude of different after-school activities. It’s hard to feel connected when your next-door neighbors are having very different, daily experiences. Even getting your entire family together in the same place at the same time, more than one night a week, seems impossible!

These increased choices as to how and where we live and where our kids attend school are changing the very nature of our villages.

An increase of choices in how and where we work has changed our village, too.

Many moms and dads now work from home, and it is their children that do the commuting. But even working from home is no guarantee that you’ll know your neighbors because it’s often a single, solitary affair punctuated by trips to Staples or the post office, in your car.

The way our children make friends has changed, too, often having to accommodate a working parent’s schedule.  My friend’s children became my daughter’s friends in large part because that’s whom I chose to spend my free time with. Because we didn’t live on the same block, or even around the corner she couldn’t simply go outside to find her friends; it was up to her Dad and I to nurture her friendships. This included lots of drop-offs and pick-ups, long play-dates and sleepovers.

It narrowed the number of friendships my daughter could make on her own, and required a deeper commitment on our part, and on the part of the other parents, to make it work.

Building your Modern Village

Without immediate family around, or the ready-made community of yesterday, contemporary parents need to build their villages from scratch.

Parents must foster friendships with other parents and families, some who will become surrogate family members, and they also need the help of babysitters, teachers, tutors and therapists. Making these connections requires time, energy and research. Turning these connections  — which are part employer-employee and part familial — into your sustainable network requires an entirely new set of skills.

I created The Modern Village to teach and share these skills with parents and caregivers.

Our programs feature the best local and national experts in the parenting space. They offer parents, and caregivers, the information, tools and strategies needed to successfully build and navigate our increasingly complex, modern villages.

Program topics include:

• how to create strong relationships with your caregiver
• how to help your son or daughter manage their anxiety
• the best habits for healthy technology consumption
• the importance of speech and language development for learning and living well
• how to navigate separation, divorce and remarriage
• how to increase your and your kids’ scientific literacy

and much, much more.

Our overarching mission is to increase the social and emotional health of today’s families. Presently workshops are being offered in the NYMetro area, with podcasts, webinars and  live-streamed classes coming in 2014.

Visit our website for more details and a description of all our classes.

— Lisa Duggan

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