What does it look like to pursue and grow a community when you have small children?
As a mother of young kids, I understand some of the complications of trying to build a community amidst another spill, constant interruption, and the inability to put a sentence together. During the last almost 9 years of motherhood, God has gifted me with friends who have come alongside me and showed me intention and a deep love. To those reading this who are in that camp, thank you. I hope the following will be a help to you who are in this season of life or to you who want to minister to people like us!
We have moved internationally three times in these 9 years, and through it all, my husband and I pursued people the same way—we made lists. Because I’m a total list geek. Looking at our circumstances, i.e. jobs, number of kids, how busy we are, etc., we assess how many people we can consistently pursue. I’m not saying we aren’t open to having many different people at our house or inviting a new person over for Sunday dinner. I specifically mean the people with whom we want to move into a deeper friendship and live our lives alongside. Our list usually contains 2-3 options. After we make the list, we begin our pursuit. We start inviting this person or couple or family over and keep inviting them consistently. I follow up with texts or cards to see how they are doing, being specific in what I say, trying to remember what they had mentioned the last time we met (sometimes I even write it down secretly in the kitchen because of “mama brain”!). If it’s reciprocated, then the friendship continues and hopefully deepens. I would guess that 50% of these attempts develop into true friendships. In the world of business or medicine, that’s pretty bleak. But those 50% have lasted to this day and were worth every minute invested.
I won’t lie: it’s painful when you pursue someone and they do not reciprocate. Or they just plain reject you. I’ve fought obsessing with what I’ve done wrong or what it is about me that someone doesn’t like. I’m the one who writes an apology text after someone comes over because of something I think I said wrong or did wrong. (I know my friends are reading this and nodding in remembrance!) Don’t do that. In the end, we just have to trust that God is in control and He meant for that person to have a different relationship. And that’s okay!
Since we are a busy little family, our idea of pursuit is often including people in our activities. We invite adults to kids’ birthday parties, have college-aged students over to hold a baby and watch a baby DVD, invite my single friend to help cook, or have a young mom over while I clean. We often plan things later in the evening, around 8 PM, if we want to have more serious conversation. There just simply is no other way for us to live life alongside people if they don’t enter in. The quiet, perfect moment won’t ever come for us right now, so you might have to plug your ears and be ready to be interrupted every five minutes while I train my kids to let adults talk.
Over the years, God has led people to pursue us. Can I just tell you that when that happens, gratefulness overwhelms our hearts! One of my favorite pictures of being pursued as a young mother is my lovely friend, Liz, who is a mother of 9. She remembered having 4 kids in 5 years like me, so she recognized my delicate and tired state. In her pursuit, she visited me once every week, just for a chat and a tea. Adult conversations mean a lot to a mama! Often she brought a meal with her or she sent over a daughter to help me. By the end of our time living in community together, I had the opportunity of getting to know four of her precious daughters. Not to mention, my children had a number of people investing into them and loving them—a huge gift to a mother’s heart, especially when there is no family close.
Another way to pursue a family is when others offer to do something fun with the kids. When you’re in the midst of potty training, sleep training, trying to homeschool on top of normal household chores, “fun” doesn’t always happen. We’ve been extremely blessed when people have taken one or two or all the kids to the park or the beach or even just out for a walk and ice cream. It gives us as parents a breather, and it’s an eternal investment into our children’s hearts. As our family grew, dinner invitations came less and less frequently, which is understandable and completely fine. So an invitation now speaks volumes to our family. We recently went to a pastor’s house whose big kids took our little ones to play while the adults sat and talked. I could have cried tears of joy! Although we enjoy doing family things, it’s nice when people invite us out just as a couple. Being able to put the kids to bed and be an adult, not just mom or dad, rejuvenates us and reminds us we don’t just have the one role!
We have friends who invite us to the beach or swimming. The kids don’t have to talk in their “indoor voice” at the ocean and we can BBQ or pack sandwiches and picnic with another friend or couple (no dirty dishes!). They don’t have the pressure of hosting and we don’t have the pressure of keeping the kids quiet and clean (like that’s ever happened!). Inviting families to other, budget-friendly outings shows that you’re interested in them and want to love them.
Pursuing families with rambunctious littles running around can look suffocating, crazy, and impossible, but I’m here to say, it’s not and it’ll be a great investment! If you’re younger, think of those kids as future babysitters…take them bowling and remind them in ten years. Just kidding. But, seriously.
Pursuing as a family can look equally daunting, but start small and keep moving forward. The rewards may be friends with whom you can go on vacation and lifelong friends for your own kids.
More than anything, we want to reflect God’s glory and His people and pursuing people in all different stages of life is one way we can do that. We honor God as we show the world that having little kids is a blessing and they are worth investing into. We honor God as we seek friendships with those around us and show them priority even in the midst of changing another diaper and wanting extra sleep. Simply put, we honor God by loving others where they are.