The last couple of years have been hard ones. I’ve been let go of by people who I thought were close friends, and have had to re-imagine my idea of community, letting go of communities that no longer matched my values or supported my family, and creating community in unlikely places.

It’s been hard. I won’t lie. But I have learned or re-learned several important lessons:

  1. True friends, the ones who really have your back, don’t just take, they give. Now this might seem obvious, but many of us – particularly us woman – can give until we’re blue in the face without expecting a thing in return. Friendship is a two-way street. It requires balance. I don’t mean tit for tat, like I picked up your kids from school once so you owe me. But in the bigger picture, both parties should be benefiting from the relationship. Consider letting go of relationships that drain you.
  2. True friends contact you just to say hi and see how you’re doing. How about sending a text or email to a friend right now just to let them know you’re thinking of them? No other agenda.
  3. True friends aren’t jealous. A friend is not in competition with you. They are in a mutually supportive relationship with you, such that you should be able to celebrate each others’ successes – not be jealous of them. Do you have a friend who you can write a short sweet note to, appreciating them for a success, large or small? Feeling a little jealous? Reach out and appreciate them anyway. You might find that the jealousy melts away.
  4. True friends confront you quickly and directly when there is a problem – and conflicts will arise. They don’t talk shit about you behind your back. Don’t let small wounds fester. Did you have an interaction with a friend that felt just a little off? Call them (DON’T TEXT!) and share how you’re feeling and your desire to clear things up because the relationship is important to you.

And let’s talk a little about community. Community is something that has taken a back burner to individualism in many countries around the world. The irony is that we need communities in order to thrive as individuals.

In times past, communities filled the role of many of the services lots of us now pay for. People lived close to one another and could rush in to help at a moment’s notice. Rituals provided care for women after childbirth, and celebration of life-cycle events.

Now, most of us need to create communities for ourselves, and the task can be daunting. Many parents seek community through their children’s schools or through a religious affiliation, but what I’ve discovered is that the right community isn’t necessarily where you think it is, and you won’t necessarily find it through your kids.

My tips for building a community of people who will celebrate your successes and laugh and cry with you when things go south is very similar to my tips for friendships.

The best community is one that accepts who you are as an individual, shares common values, and offers a framework of support for you and your family.

Every community is great when things are going well, but you need a community that is there for you when things are tough.

As you build or look for your community, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I able to be my authentic self here? (Pretense doesn’t lend itself to building authentic community.)
  2. Is this group interested in my thoughts and ideas, so that I can contribute meaningfully? (Swimming upstream is not fun!)
  3. Does this community have the same values priorities as I do? (Sometimes we think this is the case because we share common traits, but it is not always so. Better to ask yourself what values you hold so dear that you would really really fight to uphold them. Then take note as to whether your priorities and theirs are the same.)

I don’t need to tell you that parenting is hard, but I will tell you that when you have friends and a community that have your back, it’s a hell of a lot easier! It takes work, but if you’re true to yourself and your values and you’re persistent, you’ll get there.

How have you found or built friendships and a community that really has your back? What are your secrets to success? Or where do you struggle? Please share your thoughts below. I always love to hear your thoughts.