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Building a “Village” to Raise a Child

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Rachel and Colin

As my son approaches his second birthday, the days blur together in a flurry of messes, play dates, tantrums and “eat, play, sleep” cycles. And although each day seems to blur into another sometimes, I remember those first few months of my parenthood journey so clearly:

- An endorphin rush at his birth followed by a hormone crash and weeks upon weeks of sleep deprivation.

- Navigating a whole new set of experiences and challenges, from the mysteries of infant sleep (“will he ever sleep?!”) to figuring out how to manage my time and get anything done with an infant who wants to be snuggled and/or fed 24/7.

- Feeling overwhelmed with attention and feeling alone all at once. 

- Trying to figure out how and where to meet other new moms while also maintaining my friendships with my “pre-Colin” friends who didn’t always understand why I couldn’t return to my late-night partying ways now that I wasn’t pregnant or why my plans revolved around a newly-developing nap schedule.

- Meeting another new mom only to find out that her family was house-hunting in the ‘burbs or moving back to their hometown to be closer to family, and secretly wishing we could move closer to our out-of-state family and have a built-in village, even though I knew it just wasn’t in the cards for us.

- Slowly building a “village” of my own, with a mix of new “mom friends”, families my husband met at the park on the swings, and babysitters who have become a paid version of extended family.

These “mom friend” relationships slowly developed into real friendships. Superficial discussions about introducing solids, nap schedules and teething turned to solid friendships, built on trust and camaraderie and all sorts of conversation topics beyond just baby. We would meet weekly (or more) with our little ones at playgroup, which I soon understood was an event designed by parents to spend time with one another under the disguise of “socialization for the kiddos.”

What I was surprised to realize was that the moms and families my husband and I “clicked” with most early on all had one thing in common: we were all a part of the Jewish community. I’m not sure why I was surprised, since we shared so much before we even met, from common childhood experiences to shared values. We didn’t meet at “Jewish events” and we weren’t actively seeking a “Jewish” connection, but in the end, we’ve all expressed how glad we are to have found each other.

Building my village was (and still is) a slow and evolving process. It’s not like there was a magical place to show up and be introduced to people who are in the same stage of new parenthood as you.

But what if now, there was? Ok, well it isn’t magic per se. But it has the power to create magic, I am certain.

JUF recently launched a brand new program called jBaby Chicago, which aims to be a resource for parents raising Jewish children from birth to 24 months old, creating a fun, social, supportive community to help navigate those critical first two years. Through classes, playgroups and special events across the north side of the city, jBaby Chicago will help parents find and build their “village” from the very beginning.

I think back to the beginning of my time as Colin’s mama, and I only wish that a program like this had been around for us. And I couldn’t be happier to be involved now.

Are you expecting or raising a Jewish baby under 24 months? Find more information at www.juf.org/jBabyChicago, or email me at rachelfriedman1@gmail.com. I would love to take you out for a cup of coffee (doesn’t every new parent need a cup of coffee?) to tell you all about how you can get involved!

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