How do you define ‘community’? And why is that even important? What lesson is there in ‘community’ for your kids?
All good questions, am I right? But not easy to answer. According to the dictionary, the first definition of a ‘community’ is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Sure, that’s all good and well. I am more interested in the second definition provided, though (the Big C community): a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Overseas, we are big C Community to our fellow post-compatriots. More than that, to some, as we become the at-post family that we all crave and need. Community and a sense of belonging and acceptance are all vital to our flourishing and happiness.
What does this mean to you? When you are far from your extended family, it behooves you to turn to others for the support that is hard to gain from across an ocean. Your extended family is more than likely wishing they could be closer, but fact is they aren’t. So rather than become isolated and aloof, we turn to our neighbors. Perhaps those with the same employer, or those we meet through school and church communities. Regardless of whom you turn to, shortly after arriving to a new post, you instinctively start to create your ‘new’ family. Who are you going to call when your child is sick and you need someone to stay with the others while you run him to the doctor? Who are you going to ask to your Thanksgiving shindig? Who are you going to share the happy moments and the sad ones? Your family, sure sure, but also your ‘family’ at post. When folks bake sale together, that is a bonding thing. You’ve heard that expression, right?
To be part of a community, you have to contribute, and to participate. You have to be there for your post family when they need you, and you have to be supportive when they ask. Be a friend. Volunteer for things – even if you’d really rather not – because it is a good community member thing to do. Bake cookies for the bake sale. Help out for the kid events. Go on group trips. Be there and be interactive. Yes, it IS easier to stay home and do your own thing. Yes, it IS safe to not let others in and open yourself to being vulnerable when they don’t reciprocate the friendly gesture. But … is it always best to be safer and for things to be easier? Sometimes complicated pays off. Sometimes being the first person to walk up to the new people and introducing yourself is the community thing to do. And sometimes, it pays off with a new friendship that can bloom in the time you have at post together.
What lesson herein lies for your kids? First, be sure to take into consideration their personalities and interaction preferences. Don’t push them to do things YOU would do, but rather what THEY would do. Remember that they are your offspring, not your mini-me. So, that said, pay attention to when another child includes them in an activity or reaches out to them, and then follow up on that by asking them how it made them feel. Remind them of that feeling when you are talking to them about reaching out to others. This is especially important for younger kids who are still more self-centric. This would be an effective tool, too, as kids get older (read: preteen and tweens), when they are more interested in how making an overture might benefit them, rather than how it would benefit another individual, so make it about them. Discuss with them how it would benefit them to reach out to others. What’s in it for them? And in the end, it turns out to be about others. Motivation to take that first step can come in different versions; the important thing is to take the first step in the first place.
You know, humans are social creatures. Some of us may be happier than others in different sized social circles, but we all need, rely on and benefit from contact with others. Friends, reach out. Be a contributing positive member of your community. Show your kids how to do that, too, and how amazing it feels to include others and to reach out. It pays off to make an effort. It’s not as easy as sitting by and letting things just happen, but I promise you, it is much more rewarding to actively take part.