My aunt recently asked me about the term “Tribe.” It’s a bit of a buzzword lately, and I see it pop up in a lot of the hippie-esque groups I follow. But what does it mean?
Here are some synonyms that come to mind regarding “tribe”:
Sounds nice, right? Basically, it’s a group of like-mindedness, often where the members share defining life circumstance.
I first started hearing the word “Tribe” in connection with motherhood.
Build your Mom Tribe. It was the first REAL advice I got on post partum depression treatment. Build your Mom Tribe? Like, what does that mean? And why is it important? And how the heck do I go about it?
Why Tribes are important
You know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Yeah, that was just a saying before I gave birth. Now that I am fully responsible for a tiny, 100% dependent human, that saying is REALITY. Let me be clear: I CANNOT RAISE THIS CHILD ON MY OWN. I will go crazy. I did go crazy.
Way back in the dark ages before electric light and social media and all the stuff we can’t live without, raising a child as a village was reality. The community cared for the child as a whole, giving Mama lots of breaks, collectively teaching the child and ensuring they didn’t kill itself (because kids are really set on hurting themselves). Now, however, the built-in Tribe looks like this:
Yep, there it is. Three people. Mom, Dad, baby. None of whom have a clue what they are doing. How terrifying is that?
So yes, Mom Tribe is HELLA important; it’s the new Village. Mom Tribe offers information. How many times have I wondered, “Is that normal?” Almost every day, raising this little boy. Mom Tribe offers me seasoned information, trusted because they are experiencing it. Mom Tribe offers help. Any parent knows the torture that is sleep deprivation. Or even just the torture of not getting a break. Mom Tribe takes the Little One off your hands for an hour so you can shower or nap or do something by yourself. Mom Tribe offers support and love. And THIS is the big one. Parenthood is the single most isolating thing I have ever experienced. Mom Tribe fosters a sense of normalcy in something that really doesn’t feel normal for many women. It helps you know that you’re not alone.
Maybe you know all of this, about Mom Tribe. If so, great! But I want to take it a step further.
We need Tribes. Yes, that’s multiple Tribes. We need Mom Tribe, yes. But while motherhood is definitely PART of who I am, it is not ALL of who I am.
I need a Teacher Tribe.
And an Ex-Mormon Tribe.
And a Family of a Recovering Addict Tribe.
I need communities of information and help and support and love for many aspects of my life. I need my metaphorical village for lots of giant, complicated messes because life doesn’t come with a manual. And even if it did, I would want to read through it with someone.
So how do I build my Tribes?
It’s simple and not simple. The idea is simple, the execution can be tough. Like the word “build” suggests, it takes continual effort. My advice is this: Get out, Reach out.
Now, I personally know this is harder than it sounds because I am currently experiencing it. Three months ago I moved a state away and I’m still having trouble building my Tribe. Part of it is that I am resentful that I moved. I miss my Tribes in Colorado. Part of it is that I am terrified. How do you even go about finding like-minded people?
Go to activities where common interests are shared. For me, this is storytime at the local library. It’s free, they have one for babies, and other mothers will be there. Actually, the library is a good place for lots of activities. My local library has clubs and meetings out the wazoo, everything from the obvious (book clubs) to the not-so-obvious (board game enthusiasts and practice speaking Korean).
Attend support groups. There are support groups for everything. My support group is Al-Anon, which is for families and friends of alcoholics/addicts. They have meetings all over the country. In the building I attend these meetings, I see support groups for the whole gambit: sex addiction, food addiction, life with a terminal illness, grief. Pain bonds people in a powerful way; and this bonding aids in healing.
Use social media but don’t let it become a crutch. I loooooooooove Facebook groups. I have a group for everything: big groups, little groups, Mama groups, teacher groups, family groups, buy/sell/trade groups. My problem is that my groups give me the illusion that I have lots of Tribe. But the reality is that Tribe must be experienced in person, in addition to on the phone or over a screen. Groups can offer the gateway, though. Local groups have get-togethers, buy/sell/trade groups force physical meet ups, even just admiring someone active in your group can spark a friendship. Some of my husband’s best friends met through online games.
Reach out and talk to people. Some life situations already force us to “Get out.” Work and family obligations force you to interact with people. But “Reaching out” is different.
Offer vulnerability. Vulnerability (like saying, “Hey. I like you. Let’s get coffee.”) breeds intimacy or connection. The first person I added to my Mom Tribe happened just like that. I knew her from a birthing class. I admired her. I asked her to coffee. While at coffee, I decided to be open and vulnerable about my struggle with post partum depression. Now, she’s my best Mom friend.
I once worked at a place that had weekly get togethers at a bar. At first, it was awkward. I couldn’t even remember the names of the people I was sitting next to, let alone maintain a meaningful conversation. But I still went. And several weeks down the line, those that were attending the weekly bar sessions were closer than those who weren’t. That alone, just being present, builds Tribe. I took it one step further by inviting myself to one of these coworker’s house. I believe it went something like this: “I’m going to come over to your house, drink your beer, complain about my mother in law, and you can play with my baby.” Now I consider that person’s family my adopted family. Tribe.
If you are just attending things, that’s a good start. Attending a support group, going to storytime at the library, those are good places to initiate connection. But if you don’t reach out, true Tribe is lost. Tribe demands vulnerability, and if you can’t get to that place, then you will struggle to feel the full benefits.
Rinse and Repeat
Keep at it. I have a tendency to do something once and then act like I do it all the time, all while not actually continuing to do the thing. DO THE THING. Keep getting out, keep reaching out. With time, you build your tribes, and life gets a little easier and a little safer. Sooner than you’d think, you’re not the one begging for advice, but giving the advice.