One of my favorite parts of being a new parent is the sense of camaraderie and bonding that I experience now with other parents. Prior to being a parent, I really didn’t “get it” and didn’t respect the immense impact of such a miraculous life event. Even when close friends have had children, I couldn’t reach out to them in the way that I now wish I had, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
But now that I am a parent, it’s a whole new world. I find myself connecting regularly with strangers just based on the shared experience of having gone through the birth of a child. Anywhere I go with the baby in the stroller I have an instant bond with anyone else I happen to run into with a stroller. When I run into another parent with an infant child, one of us will surely say hello and we will likely have a brief conversation about our babies (“Boy or girl?” How old? How is he sleeping?”) Should circumstances allow for more than a brief exchange, we might get into deeper conversations covering everything from diapers and baby bottles to our future hopes and dreams for our children.
The sense of community also extends to parents of older children—even full grown children. “It keeps getting better,” they will tell me, or “cherish these moments—they go by so quickly.” Or maybe they will just smile and nod with a look that says, “Been there, done that—I know what you’re going through.” It’s like I’ve become a member of an enormous elite club. One that always existed right under my nose, but I couldn’t access it because I didn’t know the secret handshake.
This sense of community reminds me of other “clubs” that I have belonged to, like when I’m wearing a sweatshirt from my alma mater (UC Santa Barbara) and a passerby yells “go Gauchos!” Or when I pull up at a stoplight next to another car in Westchester County, over an hour away from the ocean, and we both have surfboards strapped to our roofs. Or when I used to live on Maui and drive my Jeep Wrangler around the small island. Other Jeep owners would flash their lights and wave and laugh, like we were in on a joke that the rest of the world couldn’t get while boxed into their sedans and SUV’s. As a Jeep owner, I knew that I had something in common with other Jeep owners—a love of the outdoors and a passion for living life to the fullest.
Sometimes, world events bring about a similar sense of community. Walking around New York City in the days following September 11, 2001, I felt a kinship from everyone else in the city that you would not normally expect from New Yorkers based on their (our) reputation. Recently, soccer fans the world over experienced a sense of community as they huddled around TV sets everywhere to root for their favorite teams in the World Cup. Nowhere was that community felt more deeply than in South Africa, where the games were held (also see “Happiness in Wake of the World Cup” from the New York Times.)
There is value in these kinds of exchanges. They infuse participants with positive emotions and give a transcendent feeling of being connected to something larger–the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. By drawing attention to areas where we share common interests and beliefs, we have more understanding, peace, and happiness in the world. Imagine the infinite numbers of different kinds of “community” that bring people together into diverse networks of interconnectedness.
What clubs are you a member of? How do you contribute to the different communities that you are a part of? And what do you get back in return? How can we create more feelings of community in the world to bring people closer together in spite of our differences? As a reader of my blog, you are already an important part of my community. Welcome to the club.
References and recommended reading:
Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon and Schuster.
Putnam, R. D., Feldstein, L., Cohen, D. J. (2004). Better Together: Restoring the American Community. Simon and Schuster.