Finding Community

Over the weekend I attended a large family Passover seder with about fifty people in attendance.    The seder is a dinner with a liturgy that tells the story of how Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  It got me thinking about the value of community in raising children.

Participants ranged in age from late eighties to seven years old.   The elders told a  little about the family’s origins in Poland and their travel to America, and they reminisced about seders of fifty and sixty years ago.

Two little girls shared the responsibility of reading the four questions at the beginning of the seder.  As the evening progressed everyone, including the table of teens, took turns reading from the haggadah, the  booklet that gives the order of prayers, readings, and songs.  Later we all joined in songs and the teenagers sang with great gusto and tapped on their tambourines.  At one point we all marched around the room singing “Go Down, Moses.”  These were not alienated teens, at least not at this event.

Between courses I talked to people and learned about their connections.  There were strong connections between aunts and uncles and their nieces and nephews, including  long distance visits.  An elderly couple joked that they had been “adopted” by this extended family.

There was also sadness.  All were aware that the woman who had graciously hosted  this gathering for decades was unable to now due to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Yet the next generation had prepared her recipes for us to enjoy.  Another man’s whole extended family gathered because they expected his mother’s death in a day or two.  There was a sense of knowing these losses and embracing them as part of the story of the family.  There had also been separations — one family was returning to repair a rift started over fifty years ago in the previous generation.

I might be idealizing, yet the experience got me thinking about the value of community where ever one finds it.  For some young adults in this family there were adults other than their parents to consult when they needed guidance.  There were other adults to value them when they were at odds with their parents.  As the evening wound down I observed people of the same age gathering to chat.  Perhaps they were talking about caring for aging parents;  or about the challenges of raises those spirited teens; or about their work and plans to finance college or retirement. The thing is, there were people who had similar concerns and who had known them for a long time.  The gathering expressed shared values.  Whether the young folks will take on the customs and beliefs of their elders is unknown, but they have a firm base to push off from.

Many of us exist in a variety of communities.  Some find community in a religious institution.  Others find it in the sharing while they watch their children play sports.  Some are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where people have decided to know each other.  Some parents of special needs children find community in advocacy groups for their children.  There they find others who understand living with a challenging child and who do not judge.

In his book, A Fine Young Man, Michael Gurian concluded that a boy needs support from within and outside his family at every stage of development.  He likened this circle of support to a clan in other cultures.  I would say that all children and parents need this support.  In our current culture it is unusual to find all the support in one community.  It takes work to find and nourish communities so that they are there for you.  Where do you and your family find community?


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Photo credit:  Nonie Vogue on Flickr


13 Responses to “Finding Community”
  1. What a beautiful post! I especially appreciate the multigenerational aspect of the particular gathering you described and how sharing across generations is particularly valued. I sometimes fear that intergenerational interaction is greatly lacking in our society.

    You’re right – community can be found in many places, and it takes some work to be part of a community. Our family discovered that when we moved to our home last spring. It took some effort to become part of the neighborhood community (something my husband does much better than I do), but it sure is wonderful to have neighbors to share responsibilities with when folks go out of town or when bad weather hits.

  2. P.S. As a music therapist, I did pay special attention to the role music had in this community gathering. It’s hard to build and sustain a community without music, I think. 🙂

  3. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that building community takes work, but it is so worthwhile. Decreases isolation, increases support–when it works well.
    And I agree about music. Knowing and sharing the songs was quite powerful.

  4. Sana Quijada says:

    Cannot get enough of our need for community. Thanks for speeding out. Keep on

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Sana,
    Thanks for your comment. I think we can find community in a number of places, depending on what we need. There are communities of like-minded parents, communities of neighbors. There are professional communities and family ones. All support us.

  6. Carolyn,

    What beautiful images you created with this post. Today, which is also National Healthcare Decisions Day, I was struck by the awareness of aging and death which seemed incorporated into this gathering. What a wonderful way to approach an issue that all of us will face. And I know that, as a parent, I rely on other parents in my communities to help me remember that the challenges I face with my kids are normal and sometimes even developmentally appropriate. Thanks for this post!


  7. Arlene says:

    Thanks for the reminder of how important community is. I believe everyone needs to be a part of a community whether it is in your neighborhood or a faith community. Thanks for sharing.

  8. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, the gathering did demonstrate that death is a part of life. It was just there. I’m glad the the sense of the seder came across so well–from playful children to elders.

  9. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your comment, Arlene. Yes, we all need community, and we can find it in many different places in our lives. This was just one extended family gathering.

  10. What a beautiful post! Community is SOO important and a real human need…so lovely!

  11. Hi Carolyn, What a lovely post. Such a good reminder that the hard work of parenting is meant to be shared and not happen in isolation. This year I also felt deep community over passover when we joined with another family with young children to celebrate. The things that might have been chores if we were on our own (as our families were unable to visit for the holiday) because a cause for connection. The kids had playmates and everyone enjoyed themselves.
    Thanks, Allison

  12. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Kathy,
    Thanks for taking a minute to comment. I do think it’s a human need, and yet I know so many people who’ve had bad experiences and avoid community. That’s why we’re in this work, isn’t it?

  13. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Allison,
    I’m so glad that you also had a good Passover. I like what you say–parenting is meant to be shared. As parents we need to talk to others who have “been there.”