Building a community

Here are some ways to build a community:

• Reach out to any family members who live nearby. Invite an aunt or uncle over for a meal, or visit one of them. If you are divorced, remember that your former spouse's family may still be important to your child. Even if you don't consider them to be part of your extended family, they are still part of your child's extended family. In certain situations, you may want to help your child stay connected to extended family on both sides by encouraging visits, phone calls, and e-mails.

• Get to know other parents with children the same age as your children. Connect with parents in your community—single parents and those in two-parent households, parents from work, your child's school, your faith community, and anyone else you meet. Arrange play dates with children at school and get to know the children's parents. If your children are older, talk with other parents about school, relationships, limits, curfews, and other issues. When you're the only set of eyes and ears at home and you don't have a lot of free time to hang out at school or at parent meetings, it helps to have a network of parents who can fill you in. It also helps to hear different parents' viewpoints on what's happening. Spending time with other families is good for both you and your child. It gives your child the chance to play and be friends with other children and gives you the chance to interact with other adults and make friendships, too.

• Pay for help. Hire a teenager to watch your child for a few hours while you go out or stay home and read a book or visit with a friend. If you are able to find conscientious, energetic sitters, they can become people your children look forward to spending time with.

• Swap child care. Offer to take a friend's or neighbor's child for a few hours every other week while he or she does the same for you. You might even try a more formal arrangement, such as a babysitting co-op with other parents. By trading hours of child care with other parents, you can gain free child care and some time for yourself.

• Seek support from other single parents. Part of taking care of yourself means connecting with others so you don't feel isolated or alone. Talk with other working parents and other single parents about how they handle work-and-family conflicts and responsibilities. You'll learn a lot and feel better. Try to include at least one supportive friend of the opposite gender in your circle to include a different viewpoint in your network.

• Connect with co-workers. If you are friends with people at work who have children, try to make stronger connections with them. Invite a co-worker who is a parent over for a meal or to take a walk together during your lunch break. Your workplace may also offer resources including lunch groups, seminars, online chats, and discussion groups for single parents. Contact the program that provided this publication for more information.

• Get to know other parents at your child's school. Your child's school or your child care center may also have resources that can help you, such as support groups or parenting classes.

• Get to know other families in your faith community. If you are involved in a religious organization, you may already have a built-in community for you and your child. Join a committee or volunteer your time and get to know the people there.

• Visit with and get to know your neighbors. You and your neighbors may be able to help each other by looking after each other's homes when one of you is away, caring for animals or plants, accepting packages, or even sharing household responsibilities like shoveling snow or taking out the garbage. Start a neighborhood tradition such as a block party or kids' carnival. Use the holidays to connect with your neighbors. Halloween is a great time to show off your children while saying a quick hello. It is also a great time to "treat" those who are shut-ins.

• Make connections online. You can build a virtual community by visiting message boards or Web sites dedicated to single parents on the Internet. See the resource list at the end of this booklet for the Web addresses of some sites for single parents.

• Take advantage of community resources. In some areas, parents can get practical support from organizations such as the county extension service (sometimes called the agricultural extension service). Other local nonprofit agencies and support groups can offer help with child care, parenting skills, and other issues. These organizations often offer help for parents of all kinds.

• Look for a parenting class in your community. When you're the only parent, it can be hard to know whether you're doing the right thing or making the right choices. It can be very comforting to attend a parenting class and find out that your baby isn't the only one who's fussy at dinnertime or that your teenager's refusal to cut his hair is par for the course. At a parenting class you'll learn strategies and techniques to use with your children. You'll also meet other parents with whom you can share insights, ideas, and experiences. Watch for parenting classes that offer child care, as this will allow your children to gain valuable social interaction and keep you from struggling to find (and pay for!) a babysitter.

• Join a single-parent support group. Many single parents find that support groups offer a chance to be with people who understand what they are going through and who can offer ideas, support, and advice. You'll probably have to attend a meeting to find out if a particular group is a good match for you. There may be a chapter of a national single-parent organization in your community. See the resource section at the end of this booklet for contact information.

• Start a single-parent support group if there isn't one available near you. This can be a formal group with regular meetings or an informal network of single parents who are free to call upon one another for advice, help, or a sympathetic ear. See if you can use a room in a local church or other facility rather than your own home for the meetings. Decide whether you want to have a single-gender group or include both men and women. Most groups include both. Try to locate a co-founder to share the work with you. Network with someone who belongs to an established group in another community, or visit the group's Web site for ideas about getting your group rolling.

Remember that community doesn't just "happen." You have to be active about creating one on your own and reaching out to others. Don't be afraid to take the first step by asking work friends or people that you know from school, work, or your neighborhood to do something together.

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