In Absence of a Village, Build One

Do you feel like you have a village? People to rely on when you’re in a bind, friends to turn to when you think you can’t handle one. more. nursing session, one more set of misplaced keys, one more disagreement with your spouse, one more toddler tantrum?

I recently received this text from my sister-in-law, who lives two states away:

“I’m going to call and order you guys pizza 😄🍕 for dinner tonight.”

My husband had been in China for almost two weeks, and my sweet sister-in-law figured I could use an easy night with no cooking and no cleanup. (I’d do anything for no cleanup.)

It occurred to me that even though she is 600 miles away, my sister-in-law is part of my village. The distance that separates us doesn’t have to keep us from supporting each other.

But man, this village thing? It’s a tricky concept.

Some of us feel like we don’t have one, like we live too far away from family to lean on them and we’re too busy running our lives to really invest in our friendships.

Others of us feel village-less… that is, until our kid breaks an arm and friends start appearing with balloons and Sharpies.

Others still are trying desperately to build a village but keep running into obstacles.

In this beautiful post, writer and life coach Beth Berry highlights one of the things that makes modern village-building so exasperating:

“We’re forced to create our tribes during seasons of our life when we have the least time and energy to do so.”

Absolutely! The time when you need a village the most also happens to be the time when it’s hardest to build one.

After stewing it over in my mind for the eight years (what?!) that I’ve been a mother, and after discussing it with many of YOU via social media, I’ve pulled together some of the most common barriers and most powerful tips—to help you slowly but surely build a village you can fall back on.

The truth is, the time when you need a village the most happens to be the time when it's hardest to build one. 6 Critical Tips to Help You BUILD Your Village Barriers to Finding Your Village

(Which ones have you experienced?)

1. The age of fellow moms in your life—and the ages of their children 

It can be easier to relate when ages (loosely) line up.

2. The arrangement of work & life

For example, mothers who work outside the home may have a hard time connecting with moms who stay home. There are only so many hours in the day…

3. The courage it requires to reach out to another woman

This is a big barrier for many of us, because no matter how good the woman’s reason for not picking up your offer, it can still feel like rejection. We thought we left that feeling behind with our dating years. 😉

(Need some help getting conversation rolling? Try these 16 conversation-promoting questions to ask your friends.)

4. The feeling that the women around you already have a village in place

This can be exacerbated by social media, where people often appear secure and connected when in reality they may need someone as much as you do.

5. A fragmented village

Maybe you have people who care about you and people you care about, but when those people don’t live in the same place or don’t know each other, you may not feel the security of a supportive network.

The truth is, the time when you need a village the most happens to be the time when it's hardest to build one. 6 Critical Tips to Help You BUILD Your Village 6 Tips to Help You Build Your Village

1. First, believe that you don’t have to do motherhood on your own. 

What would it be like knowing your children could play in your neighborhood with other watchful, protective eyes on them? What would it be like to know that encouragement was only a text away or that in your lowest moments you could just show up on a friend’s doorstep, no questions asked?

“When my twins were born, I built my village. My parents, in-laws, sitters I trusted, friends to text when I felt ready to give up… I only wish I had built it with my first baby, instead of believing I was mama bear and had to do it all alone!” Melissa Hunter-Noori

2. Next, get comfortable (ironically) with vulnerability. 

One of the advantages (if you can call it that) of not having a village is that no one has to know that you don’t always have it together—that you are exhausted and lonely and can’t see above your laundry pile.

But with that comes the feeling that you’re parenting in a vacuum. Without girlfriends and family to witness your life (the good and the bad), it almost feels like you aren’t really living it; you’re marking time instead of experiencing it.

“I have learned to drop the façade and lay it all out, and in return they do the same.” Mary Stockton

Vulnerability allows us to take friendships to a much more meaningful level, and in turn we find ourselves feeling happier and more comfortable in our own skin because of the authenticity we’ve developed in the safety of close relationships.

3. Watch for women you can bring in.

“I put myself out there over and over and it seems everyone is happy with the status quo—their current situation, friend-wise.” Chelsie Hatch

A village gets stronger with numbers. If you already have a support network, keep your eyes open for women like Chelsie who might need what you can offer. Be a people connector.

4. Keep working on YOU.

I was so inspired by Tina’s comment on Facebook:

“For those who are yearning for a community connection, keep working on yourselves until the right women are presented to you. Your vibe attracts your tribe.” Tina Jheeta

Your vibe attracts your tribe. I couldn’t agree more.

5. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. 

I would have been fine without the pizza that my sister-in-law ordered for me. We could have eaten cold cereal that night. She knew that. But she also knew that sometimes it’s not really about the action; it’s about knowing that someone is there for you.

Accept that feeling wholeheartedly when it’s offered to you. (Read about a time when I didn’t accept it here: When Perspective Keeps You From Feeling Your Story.)

6. Offer YOUR help. 

I saved the most crucial element for last: Being willing to help others—to be their village—is the biggest key to creating one.

“I am responsible for creating my own village. I realized it was about reaching out to other moms and being of service to them. That is where my village came from.” Amanda Roberts

I’ve noticed that in my own life, the people who help me and the people I help—that’s where it’s at.

I know it’s not nearly as easy as following six simple steps. Not nearly so easy. It takes courage to reach out, to risk rejection, even for something you know has huge power to affect your happiness and the wellbeing of your family. But…

Let’s reach out. Let’s open our eyes to the village we do have. Let’s nurture it. Connect our friends. Help them. Invest in them. Let them invest in us.

Helen Keller on building your village: "I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light."So, I’m sure you saw this coming… 😉 How are you feeling about your modern village? (I’d be happy to share more about the state of mine in the comments!)

Tips for Building Your Village


  • Reply
    September 26, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    I have family far away and friends far away. I speak to the important ones enough but I definitely feel on my “own” a lot with work, three kids, kids schoolwork etch. I limit our activities because I don’t want to feel overwhelmed. I have three friends that I lean on and I am happy to have a few important people. Less is more for me but a strong connection to community is important.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 27, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Hi Joanna! Our situations sound so similar! I have long-distance friends and family that I keep in touch with and some local girlfriends I can rely on, but I do often feel pretty independent (“on my own”) as well. I’m very grateful for what I have and always looking to build it up! Many best wishes as you continue to connect with your people!

  • Reply
    Melissa P.
    September 27, 2016 at 8:07 am

    It’s been years since I’ve had any real friends much less a village. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that those who do have villages are people that tend to be needy. Every single day they need someone to do something for them. Take their kids to school, bring their family dinner, drive them to appointments, clean their house. It’s pretty constant. And the people that make up their village are people that need to “save others”. They are amazing and overly selfless. Maybe even enablers sometimes.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with these types of people. But I’m neither of these types. I never need people to do things for me and while I love helping someone out when needed, I’m not an enabler. I have no wish to run someone’s life for them. I’ve even been told that my independence makes me intimidating. I’d just love to meet other women like me who don’t “need” others in a dependent way but just want others for friendship, to spend time with, make crafts,play card games, etc. but it seems we are few.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 27, 2016 at 9:22 am

      What a unique and interesting perspective, Melissa. Best wishes as you continue looking for your tribe; I think they’re out there!

      • Reply
        Liz C
        October 2, 2016 at 5:13 am

        Melissa P.
        I feel the same way you feel. I am a single mom of 2yr old and it’s overwhelming at times but I’m afraid to ask for help because I feel they will abuse our friendship and be the needy one. So I struggle and keep going. I have some what of a village tribe. They help me with clothes, toys and prayers for my daughter but I would never ask them to babysit. I don’t want to be the needy one either.

      • Reply
        June 22, 2017 at 8:25 am

        I”m so there with you! I had my kids when I was 38 and 40. 10 years later, I’m nearly 50, I’ve been married for 22 years, my kids are almost 9 & 11 and we homeschool. I had a great career that I chose to give up when I had kids. I’m super independent, pretty capable and although I’m not shy in the least, I’m an introvert. I find that either I’m a magnet for crazy hot mess moms or there are a ton of them out there. The moms of my kids peers and friends tend to be AT LEAST 10 years younger than me if not 20 years younger than me. I find that the “tribe” is very needy, has issues with boundaries and honestly just isn’t worth the trouble most of the time.

        • Reply
          June 22, 2017 at 7:57 pm

          I’m an older mom with young kids, and we homeschool. I also left a career and am somewhat introverted. Just curious what else we might have in common, should you care to correspond further. 🌻

    • Reply
      September 27, 2016 at 11:30 am

      Sorry you’ve had to see these things! Sounds like more of a toxic village of people! But Yes I hear you and can relate to your independent style ! My thoughts are a village would be like any healthy relationship of give and take. But yes also a place where there is support, openness, and some fun!

    • Reply
      October 3, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Do you happen to live in Oregon? Because you’re my kind of girl!

    • Reply
      October 18, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Melissa, I feel the same way. I have had what I thought were villages, just to realize that I was always there for my friends, but when I needed someone, no one was there. I went into a bubble of sorts for a while and figured the tribe thing just wasn’t for me, but recently I have put myself back out there and have found some friends who understand the give and take without it being mechanical and tit for tat. I believe you can find it too, it is just something that sort of has to find you too. This is coming from someone who has been on the look out for a tribe for ten years. Don’t give up!!

    • Reply
      October 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      I feel the same way , since I became a mother. My husband is the only village, tribe, good neighbor, best friend, everything. Eventually his job complicates it even more because he works far from home everyday, years of not being home every night ( trucking). Rarely, I have seek for help and helped back but just like that, very mutual.
      When I hear other moms complain, and their close family and friends are just around the corner, husband is home every night by 5-6 pm, I do not not what to think or to say to them.
      I just say to myself, you are doing an tremendous job of raising your kids and supporting your family indipendently! God thank you for being with me every moment!

    • Reply
      October 31, 2016 at 10:21 am

      I have just been reading through some of the difficulties you ladies have voiced about building a village. So, decided I might share some of what I have learned during my time on earth. First, you don’t have to “”create” a new village. there are many out there so start shopping. They are found dead in church groups, quilting guilds, fitness clubs, or scrap booking clubs. Juse think of something that interests you and give it a try. You can Google groups in your area. Even though it may not be a perfect fit, your may find one or two kindred souls.

    • Reply
      January 7, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Glad to read this response after that article. Everyone is different in their aspects of wanting or ” needing” a village My husband and I raised my 3 kids on our own , with little help. in addition we don’t have normal healthy children…. they all share a chronic rare disease. So I read this article thinking there was something wrong with me and made me feel bad for not having help or ” a village”.

      • Reply
        Erica Layne
        January 7, 2017 at 9:43 am

        There’s nothing wrong with being YOU! If you’re satisfied with the life you’ve built and the network you have, then for sure stick with it! Best wishes, D!

  • Reply
    September 27, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I’m so blessed to have found my own “tribe” with my girlfriends from college. However, now that many of us have young children, the distance that we easily used to close with road trips on the weekends feels harder to close. We do make an effort to get together with our families when feasible, and we also have traditions (i.e., Christmas party, summer cottage getaway) that make it easier to stay connected. But seeing these ladies live from 2 to 16 hours away, it’s harder to call on them in times of immediate need. I’m lucky that I do always have an ear to listen though through Facebook messenger or even Facetime when times get rough.

    Who is my local village? I can call on my parents, in-laws, and daycare provider during certain times of need, but it’s harder to be able to pinpoint local friends that might help me. I’ve got many “friends” who are willing to go out for lunch during the workday, but these are not friends I’d feel comfortable calling on to watch my kids in a moment of need. We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood where the children do play together in a pack, so now that my children (ages 4 and 2 years-old) are starting to get old enough to partake in the neighborhood playtime, I’ve realized I also need to branch out and get to know the moms in my neighborhood. There is a lot of risk and vulnerability in doing that though. In some ways, I’d rather just wrap my kids up in a little bubble and have them play in our backyard by themselves. I know that’s not best for them — or me — but putting myself out there and risking having others judge me or my family is tough.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 27, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      Oooh, yes! Opening ourselves and our families up to possible judgment from others? Let’s add that to the list of barriers! That one is real. Loved hearing about your experience, Christy! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

  • Reply
    Linda Sand
    September 27, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    As my husband and I prepare to move into a retirement community we found ourselves needing to address this issue in a new way. We will be setting up financial and health powers of attorney naming his sister and her husband. They are people we trust to make sensible decisions on our behalf if we can no longer make our own. Our daughter is also trusted but she lives a long way from here so cannot respond as quickly. Even at our age, it takes a village.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 27, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Great point, Linda! It never really goes away, does it? I hope your transition goes smoothly! <3

  • Reply
    September 27, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    I’ve lived in this house for almost 5 yrs.
    Been a mom for 6.
    It really took a while for me to finally feel like I have a village. I have one good neighbor. One ok neighbor. One awesome friend who’s 5 mins away. And a mother in law that is priceless. You really need a handful to rotate and not burn anyone out including yourself, I feel. I don’t constantly need help, but man does it burn when having my sister at arms reach constantly shut me down when I reach out for help! For a long time I had certain expectations for family and was consistently disappointed. I’ve learned to let that go and build a village beyond family and it’s what’s given me the most success and joy. I needed to find people that reciprocated, because I was always the one giving but not receiving. It’s been a LOT of trial and error. But much needed and worth it. Although I really think it has something to do with timing, I have a school age kid now and one in TK and just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that they won’t always be toddlers really lightens your perspective, don’t we agree? It’s those infant-toddler phases that make you or break you, probably both! They break us and make us 🙂

  • Reply
    Andy Mc
    September 28, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Here’s another tip…

    Men can be in a village, too. As a stay-at-home dad, my village is small, in part because so many women exclude me by default. We have the same issues and concerns as mothers, could use some help, and can offer some help.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 28, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      Well said, Andy! I know a couple dads in my neighborhood who stay home (whether full or part time), and we help each other as well. Even if it’s just as simple as watching the kids play at the community playground while the other parent runs to put dinner in the oven. 🙂 🙂

      All parents have got to look out for each other!

  • Reply
    Alice Duff
    September 28, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    This post is amazing! It goes to the heart of my business Born by One. (It’s launching in middle October) I love how this post is so real and goes to the heart of a struggle many new parents face.

  • Reply
    Lorie S
    September 28, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Really like this post and think you hit it nail on! Those obstacles are so real! I know one of the things that held me back in the beginning is that I felt like I had such amazing friendships and tribes in family and college besties that when I moved away and now had my own little family, I felt it was impossible to ever bond with people in the same way and how could I ever make as good of friends as the ones I had made in the past. And then I felt stressed that if I tried, I wouldn’t have the time to be a “good” friend. I think it was when I realized we are all stressed for time and, in a way, to keep expectations low, that I had the courage to try and start building one. Is that bad? Starting friendships with low expectations? :S

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      September 29, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Hahahaha, Lorie, this is why I love you. You’re so funny and honest. And I totally GET THIS! When you’ve had really great friendships (especially during those amazing, formative college years!), trying to build friendships that live up to them is daunting. Depressing, even! So yes, in this case, I think low(er) expectations are perfectly appropriate. 🙂 🙂

  • Reply
    Susanne de Munck Mortier
    October 1, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    Dear Erica

    Love your post about building your own village!
    Please look at our website for our project in Italy; an HspVillage.

    Love, Susanne de Munck Mortier

  • Reply
    Janet O'Grady
    October 2, 2016 at 2:58 am

    We moved from a large city to a small town, where we had no connections whatsoever. I had a 2year old at the time & we moved into a cottage just outside the town. I knew I had two options; 1- hide behind my front door , just me & my little family or 2- get out there, do a bit of research and find my tribe. I chose door no 2! I went to a mother & toddler playgroup , it was hard going at the start to sit with strangers and make an effort. But here we are 9 years later, this small town feels like home, the tribe I made way back then are still going strong.
    But here’s the thing – it doesn’t stop with finding a tribe, you have to maintain your tribe too. Someone has to be the organiser/ go to person (you know, the one who has everyone’s phone number/ remembers birthdays etc) , so I became the unofficial glue that holds us all together. I have developed a few different tribes (to acommodate my different interests). As a stay at home mom, my tribes have kept me sane, we have shared plenty of laughs through the good times & cried buckets of tears through the sad/tough times. I love them just as they are and I count myself truly blessed to have them in my life. So, don’t hesitate, get out there and find your tribe, be the friend you want to have, show kindness & you can’t go wrong xx

  • Reply
    Liz C
    October 2, 2016 at 5:22 am

    Janet O’Grady
    Well said

  • Reply
    Anna France-Williams
    October 3, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    This is great! Thanks for writing it. My husband and I have built a village for each of our children by inviting our friends to form part of what we call a ‘Life Village’. Each friend contributes a skill or interest to our child’s village like reading to them, teaching them to sew, listening to them or educating them about their ethnic heritage etc. It works so well not only for our kids but also as it supports us as parents. Check out where I talk about how necessary the village is for parents.

  • Reply
    February 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Love your article! The editor in me did notice that you confused the words exasperate and exacerbate. In case you wanted to know :). And you can delete my comment if you want.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      February 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Haha, sweet of you to say that part about deleting it. 🙂 🙂 I’m surprised no one mentioned it up until this point! Thanks so much, Elise!

  • Reply
    February 28, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Hi! Thank you SO much for writing this! I really needed to see this. I feel like I had a very strong village when I lived in another state. My family was far away, but I had a strong base of friends and those friends had become like family. We moved a couple of years ago to be close to my parents (and help with my ailing father) and brother and I have been struggling ever since. While my family is here, I have not made friendships nor have I found a job that I enjoy here. I thought that by now I would have that good feeling of having a tribe. I also feel guilty for feeling this way because my parents are right here. I missed them greatly when we lived far away from them and now that we are right here, I fee l like I shouldn’t feel so alone and lost. Thank you again for posting this. It is helpful to see that I am not really alone in feeling alone 🙂

    • Reply
      June 20, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      This is me ! I keep hoping and praying for it to click . I’ve been here 3 years and only a handful of people I’ve met that wanted a friendship. I’ve been doing lots of self reflecting and I’ve gotta say it’s worse than dating IMHO . I’m part of a MOPS group etc . It’s just so hard . I miss having a tribe 🙁

      • Reply
        Erica Layne
        June 21, 2017 at 1:48 pm

        Sending many good vibes your way, Kimberly! It sounds like you’re doing your part; it’s going to click. <3

  • Reply
    April 18, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Gosh, I struggle with this. I had a village, an amazing village, but moved away from them. They are still part of my tribe when I need an ear or a girls weekend away, (they’re a 16 hour drive away) but in the 3 years since I moved, I haven’t found a new tribe. We moved somewhere where everyone is very friendly, but no one seems to need new friends. I’ve made one or two real friends that I can trust, but I’ve given up on finding a solid group to lean on. I just can’t keep doing the inviting and never getting responses or reciprocations.

  • Reply
    June 21, 2017 at 6:04 am

    What a great post. Thank you. I would add don’t limit your village to people your same age/circumstances. I’m a grandma but not all my grandkids live close by. I love it when younger neighbors ask me to help with their kids. I in turn can ask them for help when needed.
    Giving service and receiving service is a blessing for everyone involved

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      June 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      I agree completely! There’s so much beauty in an inter-generational village!

    Leave a Reply