It Takes a Village

March 24, 2024

The hardest thing about being a single parent is, well, being a single parent. We all know life would be easier if we had a partner to do all the parenting things with: juggling meals and school, car rides, finances, work, youth group, homework, the list goes on. It’s a lot. And so we get tired of doing it all on our own. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had a village of people around us supporting us and lightening our load? I say yes. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about.

We’re going to talk about it in three different points. Number one, we’re going to talk about the meaning and purpose of a village. Number two, how to build said village. Number three, we’re going to talk about roadblocks that might hinder creating a village.

What exactly is a village and what is its purpose?

It’s so important, and I think we’ve all heard the phrase, it takes a village to raise a child. It originated from an African proverb and it’s the idea that we aren’t meant to do life alone. We talk about that a lot here at Solo Parent and it’s incredibly true, particularly when we are juggling so much, caring so much, trying to do and accomplish so much as single parents, maybe more than ever. We need a group of people around us who can help support us on that journey. We wear so many different hats and we can’t do it all. So a village is essentially the people around you who support you, who come alongside, offer you guidance or practical help or wisdom or a safe place to share. And we live in this fractured society too, where families aren’t close together anymore. Living here in Tennessee, I have no family here. And so my friends have become my family and I’m super thankful for the rest of our Solo Parent circle. But then even beyond that, because my mom is in Minnesota, most of my siblings are in the north, we just have such a transient world now. Jobs and school take us away from our nuclear families more than ever before. We need to create a village and build one so that we can have the support we need.

I feel very lucky that growing up I didn’t just have my parents, I had my grandmother who was very close, all of my aunts who helped raise me, and their husbands and everyone was pouring into all the kids’ lives. And that’s been on the forefront of my mind because I’ve lost a couple of my uncles in the last several months and late last year. I’m just reminiscing on all the things that I’ve learned and the ways that I was surrounded growing up. And from a child’s perspective, it makes me sad that my son doesn’t have that same experience with my siblings. And he’s close to my parents of course, and they spend a lot of time with him, but it’s just different. And it’s crazy how the world has changed, and people’s nuclear family isn’t necessarily who’s in the village anymore.

It says a lot about our culture as far as that goes. But it’s a great thing that we can have a chosen family; we can have a chosen village. It’s just a mentality that we have to come together and figure out how to do that. And I think it’s definitely showing up for one another and bringing dinner. “I’m cooking dinner, so why don’t you guys come over tonight?” Or “Hey, I’ve got the kids today, I’ll take them to baseball.” Or “I’ve got the kids today, I’ll take them to school” or whatever it is. I’ve got a community. Luckily I have a neighborhood—the community around me—that shows up for each other in that kind of way. But I think it could even go deeper. I have very formative core memories of being taught how to bake cookies. My uncle taught me that. I was taught how to sew. I was taught all kinds of things. I was just given a place to just be myself and have the freedom to show up without fear of getting in trouble with my aunts and that sort of thing. And so I think there are deeper ways that we can show up for each other, especially with the kids involved and create those core memories in the formative years.

I think so much about having grown up in Africa and specifically the first four or five years that we were over there, we lived amongst the Zulu tribes. And tribal living is literally grass huts and mud floors and all that kind of thing. But everyone served a purpose. And Chip Dodd talks about how if we make a stew, someone brings carrots, someone brings meat, they don’t want to look the same. If everyone brought meat, we’ll barbecue and that’d be great. It really is about bringing different things that make up a group of people that is beyond community—I think that’s the difference between village and community. A village is committed not just to doing life together, but really feeding off of each other and recognizing that the greater good is accomplished with us coming together.

I wasn’t super deliberate about the idea of forming a village, but I also know that fortunately for me, there were things that happened in my solo days that became my village and really helped me with my girls. And that’s why this fits so squarely in parenting because it is about taking care of us. It’s about taking care of our needs, a safe place to go with our feelings. It also is about teaching our kids formative memories. It really is recognizing that there needs to be people in your life beyond just family. And if family is part of it, that’s great too. But don’t you think that there’s part of family that almost has a bias in a certain way? My mom wasn’t close to me. I mean, she was close as a person to me, in proximity. And so other friends that took some of those roles were really vital. My mom took what happened to me and my ex personally. And so with every conversation I had with her, it felt a little bit loaded. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s not super helpful.” It wasn’t like she came out spewing every time. But sometimes people that are a little bit outside the family can bring support that might be a little bit more subjective. It might be healthier as a counterbalance.

And I think we do have to look beyond family because family offers a certain type of support that’s really beautiful. But when I think about the idea that a village is different from a community, I think about having a tight circle that helps with specific functions, maybe a strength that they have that’s a weakness of yours. Or when I was a single mom, I had some flexibility in my schedule, so I would often be the one to pick up kids and bring them to or from events. Another single mom had Jade go with her for their week-long vacation at the beach. And at that time, I didn’t have the resources to do that. And so looking beyond family to neighbors or teachers for my son with learning differences, our community at school was part of our village to help him learn what he needed. Coworkers or people at church are another idea. Look creatively beyond your immediate circle for those people who can help lighten the load for you and help share the burden a little bit.

As we’re talking about the meaning and the purpose of a village, I think it goes both ways. It’s not just people that feed into us, but we have to recognize that we bring value and purpose to other people. So when you’re in a village, you’re not just a charity case, you’re actually participating in life. Whether it means you actually do something like take kids to school if you have more flexibility or being a safe place for each other, it’s important to recognize that finding a village is not just trying to find someone that you’re dependent on or a group of people you’re dependent on. But it’s also realizing that stepping into a village is contributing, which helps our sense of purpose.

So, if we know that the village is a group of caring and committed people who support, love, and rally around us with our kids, how do we build a village?

Some of the answers to this question might be, “I’m already doing this,” and some might think, “Oh, I haven’t thought about that.” I think the first step is really looking around at what you already have at your disposal. Who are the people showing up for you consistently and you’re showing up for them? It feels like a relationship where it’s a give and take, not a tit for tat, but you’re just showing up in the ways that you can, and they are too. And recognizing that for what it is because it could be that you already have the start of a village happening. It’s just pouring into it intentionally and looking at it intentionally. And then the second part would be looking at what opportunities you have and saying, “Oh, well, I struck up a conversation with this other parent at the playground. They happen to be a single mom too.” Going ahead and being intentional about reaching back out to them, inviting them into your world and into your life, finding out how you can be a part of theirs and not letting it stop at the playground. Keep it moving.

I think that in an interesting kind of way, COVID provided an opportunity to think about how to help other people. I think about if we were stuck at home and needed groceries, I had someone drop off groceries at my doorstep one time and vice versa. It was like, “Hey, I can leave you some things?” And so we had to learn some things about creating a village in the midst of unusual circumstances. And when we talk about how to build a village, I think it’s important to recognize it takes work, it takes commitment, but it’s worth it. And we may have to get creative, we may have to go outside the box, we may have to get out of our comfort zone. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It can be built little by little. You might make a friend who is able to bring kids to and from soccer or that one person who loves to cook and is like, “Hey, I’ve got leftovers. I’ll bring some over.” Or another person who’s great with taxes and can help you figure that out. Villages are made up of all different types of relationships that can help support you in specific ways, big or small, that we cultivate over time.

One thing I wish I did differently is related to taking an accurate assessment of some deficits in my life. Whether I need help driving the kids to school, or I’m terrible at meal planning, or I don’t have a safe place to talk—maybe list four things. And I wouldn’t share that with anyone necessarily, but just so that you are self-aware about keeping your eyes open for this kind of person. I’m such a big believer in “You get what you look for.” If you keep this front and center and prayerfully go, “God, I need someone to step into the space of helping me raise my boys. I don’t know how to do it.” Or for me, “I don’t know how to do this with my girls. I don’t know how to do hair. I don’t know how to deal with the first time of the month comes. I don’t even know what to say.” But you can be deliberate about listing out some areas you feel there’s a deficit, and also, what are things that I have to contribute? What are things that I’m good at? Maybe I have extra margin for cooking or driving or listening or whatever. But building a village takes intention.

And I don’t think everyone has to necessarily be all in one group. Like you just said, your group doesn’t necessarily have to be that you’re having one village that fills everything and everyone’s friends. I also don’t know that everyone has to be in the same geographical location either. If you’re part of our Solo Connect chat on the app, there are people on there all day, every day, asking, “What do I do about this?”

Or even on our social pages, there’s lots of feedback that’s happening there and we’re showing up for each other in different ways, whether it’s through a word of encouragement or, “Hey, my son’s in the ER right now, I’m sitting here and I need someone to talk to. Is anyone available?” Those are things that you can lean on each other for, even if it’s a phone call or calling out for a quick prayer and just having someone send a word of encouragement or a prayer over the chat.

And it can be a patchwork. It really can be a bunch of different people filling different roles in little small ways or big ways. My sister has heard my story and the question, “Do you think I’m crazy?” about a hundred times, maybe a thousand. And then I had older women at church who filled a specific role where I would reach out to them for prayer and they’d send back encouraging words. My sister was my place where I could safely and emotionally vent and get some feedback. Another parent from school, Julie, was the person that I could trust to have Jade with her if I ever needed someone. And so each person played a different role and it was pieced together. And some played a small role and some played a really big role.

Whether or not they ever get together in the same place or time, it doesn’t matter. And most of mine were not. They were very scattered. But I would lean on different sections of my village for specific reasons. And one more thing is, I don’t think we can underestimate how big and robust and diverse and complex our village needs to be. I am a huge believer in community, and I think reaching out and accepting any opportunity to give or receive support is a critical element for single parents.

I thought of something as you were talking, one of the things that I don’t think I looked at, but I would encourage those of you thinking about getting intentional in forming and building a village: Make it as diverse as you can, think about those that are older than you. I have been blessed with some great friends that are 10-20 years older than me that I may not have gravitated to when I first became a solo parent. There’s a lot of wisdom with folks that are in another generation. And I’m not just talking about family members. I’m talking about men or women that have seen more life than you as a sounding board. Don’t discount that. Supportive villages are not instantaneous. It takes some time to build up little by little and gets more diverse as we go.

What gets in the way? What are roadblocks that keep us from forming a really healthy, authentic village?

I think one of the pitfalls was something that was really hard for me at the outset because of my pride: asking for help and being willing to receive help. I had this idea—maybe even more after single parent parenting—I had to prove I had it all together, that somehow I was going to be strong and check all the boxes and I was still going to be okay. And it’s like I had something to prove. And in reality, what was a good show on the outside was a crumbling facade on the inside. And it was so hard on my kids because I would present one way to the outside world, but at home I wasn’t a strong support when my kids needed it emotionally. I was exhausted and drained at the end of every day. And at bedtime, I would just be like, “Go to your rooms. I’m done.” And I would be depleted. I hadn’t been poured into enough by a village because I wasn’t ready to accept help or be humble enough to ask for it. And eventually it got so bad that I had to recognize my behavior wasn’t good for my kids. And I almost had no choice but to reach out for help because it had gotten that hard, where I was not proud of the way I was parenting pages of my story. I really needed a village.

I’ve gotten decent at asking for help, but on the other side of it, I feel guilty and like I have to be very calculated about how often, because I don’t want to take too much. I don’t want to be seen as the person who’s just taking. So I always try to follow up with, or at least be mindful of when someone keeps Jax for me. And he has some close friends whose parents are really good about taking him in if I need help or whatever. But I always try to be really mindful about, “Hey, I’d love to have the boys over this weekend” to kind of do a flip flop. And I know that sounds like a tit for tat, but I don’t know. I just try to be really aware of that. And I don’t know that they even think two things about it, but it’s my own guilt, my own struggle that I feel like I’m taking too much.

The nature of going through divorce, and maybe the nature (I haven’t lost a spouse to death) for any parent is to try to act like you’ve got it all together. And I know for me with divorce, I didn’t want to seem weak. I thought it’d be used against me in court, and I didn’t want to admit that I was in need. I did feel guilty for asking for help, and I did feel like I needed to repay it back. It wasn’t until someone said to me, and I really have no idea who it was, but I remember the profound feeling that I had when someone said to me, “Look, I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but would you mind helping me with something?” And I realized how that made me feel.

I didn’t feel depleted. I felt honored. I felt like, “Wow, they think I have something to offer.” So I want to remind us all that asking someone for help isn’t an annoyance all the time; it’s not how much we ask. Obviously, there are limits to everything. It’s not every half hour. “Hey, now can you do this?” “Can you do this?” But within reason, know that when you ask someone for help, you are saying a couple things about them. You are saying they have capacity in the sense that they are maybe a little further down the line, or you respect their wisdom, or it is a place of honor to ask someone for help. It’s not just a dependency and “I’m so depraved.” You’re also honoring them by asking them for help. So keep that in mind as you’re building this village. You’re not always coming off as needy as you think. You’re honoring people by bringing them into your story.

I think about the group of women at the church that I went to who were older and had lots of extra time on their hands because of the season of life they were in. They felt a little bit marginalized as if they didn’t have as much to offer. Now, their kids were raised and they were in a different season. So we asked them to make flowers for single moms for Mother’s Day. And they were so honored by that. They were so thrilled to devote their time to doing that. And it became this beautiful thing where they were willing to pour into and really blessed the heart of every single mom who received those flowers put together by these beautiful women and delivered to their doorsteps on Mother’s Day. That to me is just a small way of seeing that a village brings intangibles like that. And it blessed the giver and the receiver.

And I would say it blesses the kids. When kids see other people show up and meet needs, it really does do something as far as forming resilience in them and believing there’s a greater community, there’s a greater good. It’s not like you’re in this all alone.


1. A village is a group of caring and committed people who support, love, and rally around us beyond just community. It is really someone in life with you.
2. A supportive village is not instantaneous. It takes time to build up little by little, and it can look very diverse; some people are a thousand miles away and some are right next door. But be deliberate about trying to find those pieces that make up your village.
3. Don’t get in your own way of having a village. Be humble. Take the approach of realizing we are not meant to do life alone. We are meant to parent with two parents and it’s really important to be humble and realize you weren’t ever supposed to do this alone, and you can’t do it alone. And that’s okay.

Listener Question

Can you share some positive stepparent stories, either from childhood or now as an adult?

Well, I was just going to say that the thing that’s common for all of us is that if you’re divorced or if you’ve lost a spouse to death, or if it’s unplanned pregnancy, chances are you are going to step into the role of stepparent or your ex is going to remarry and they’re going to have a stepparent involved in your kid’s life. So, I think this question is an important one.

I will say, I did get married again, and my girls were totally against it. It takes time and consistency. But now my girls have a great relationship with my current wife, and I have seen the value in stepparents, assuming that they’re healthy. And it feeds into this idea of a village. There’s facets, there’s nuances to every personality, and I think there’s beauty in stepparents. As far as positive things that come from stepparents, I think that if you’re intentional about pointing our kids in the right direction, it can be a great experience.

I was a stepparent. I still consider myself the stepmom to my ex’s two kids from his first marriage. They are incredible. I love being part of their lives even today. But I came into their lives when the oldest was seven (he’s now 25) and the youngest was eight or nine months old. She’s now 18 and about to graduate high school. And being part of that, being a friend was important because their parents were always butting heads, always at odds. And I tried to be Switzerland for nothing else than for the kids, and to be there with them and be that safe person and consistent person that they knew they could come to and rely on. And I cared about them and loved them and still do.

And so it’s a little different now that they have two parents they have to see when they’re doing life and holidays and all the things. So I have to take the backseat, and that’s totally fine. But I try to make myself part of their lives as much as I possibly can. And then I would say, even now, Jax’s dad has a girlfriend, and while she’s not his stepmom, they do live together. And I’m sure that she is contributing to his life in ways that I don’t really know. And anyone who’s listened to the podcast for any amount of time knows that that’s been a struggle for me. But I also am grateful that I’ve had my own experience as a stepmom to know that there is value in it. And I know that I brought and still bring a lot of value to my step-kids’ lives. They probably wouldn’t be who they are today if I hadn’t been in their life. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t had them in my life.

Life is messy. And things didn’t turn out the way we wanted when we got married. We didn’t think they would die or that we would get divorced. And the sooner we can accept that life is just messy, we can make the best of it. And it’s nuanced and it’s different, but it can also be really good.

Well, thank you for sending in that question. And if you want to send in a question, go to our website. You’ll find directions on how to email, call, or leave a voice message. You can also message us on Instagram or Facebook.