Structure

Sometimes I feel like as much as I appreciate the potential flexibility of my communities, re: family choices, relationships, etc., we really are still struggling to evolve structures that support people. Self-help books offer some of it, and support groups (both in-person and online), but when you think about the way that the village priest / minister / etc. had a whole host of rituals designed at least in part to support people through life’s transitions, it often seems like we’re really lacking those now. Everything is ad hoc and evolving, and so often, people are left floundering, not even realizing they’re lost and sinking.

That’s all very vague. Here are a few examples that have come up in the last few year:

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BIRTHS: A few of my local casual friends have had babies recently. I really love making food for them — it’s relatively easy for me to just cook double meals for a few days, freeze the extras, and then run them over once. When you’re dealing with a new baby, especially your first, not having to think about food prep is such a help. But it’s all so random — I happen to notice them mention it on FB or whatever (and FB doesn’t show everything, etc.). If you’re part of a church community, maybe this is more structured? People set up meal schedules for new parents? But if you’re not a churchgoer, where do you get these structures? You have to ask, probably, and the last thing you have energy to do is to ask for help…

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ILLNESS: When I had cancer, people rallied around and I had tons of support, boosted in large part by my blogging about it here. And still, it was horrible and hard and two years after treatment started, Kevin and Jed and various close friends all basically said, one after another, “Hey — we were patient while you were sick and recovering, but you seem fine now, and we are feeling quite neglected.” And they *had* been neglected; there hadn’t been any structure to remind me that now that I didn’t need to be quite so inward-focused anymore, I should maybe take a little time to cultivate and foster my significant relationships again.

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MARRIAGE / SERIOUS RELATIONSHIPS: I was talking to someone recently about how there’s basically no relationship counseling outside of a religious framework, unless you seek it out yourself. If you’re young, in a Catholic setting, you want to get married, you go to Pre-Cana, where at least you talk about some of the issues that might come up. In the old days, you’d probably be having babies right away (no birth control!), so the advice would be fresh in your mind, and of course, there’d be all that social pressure to stick together and work it out. Now, it’s gotten much easier to walk away, which is good in lots of ways, obviously. But if you actually want to stay together, even through hard times, and aren’t sure how, you need to seek out the help. And there’s probably a shame component to that still. We don’t get classes on how to have healthy relationships, y’know? Maybe we should. (My kids’ sex ed classes actually had a tiny bit of that, but they could use a lot more, both before and after they actually start dating.)

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And there’s a lot more — relationships with aging parents, for example. Mid-life career crises. Coping with unexpected financial hardship, or school failures, or addiction. Exploring monogamy / polyamory / a whole host of other possibilities. Seriously considering your own gender. Race / disability / and how it impacts your life.

I don’t know what such a structure would look like, that wasn’t organized around a church. But I think we could use more of it. I think what I want is some kind of humanist organization that normalizes healthy communication and community support. I guess the Unitarians do a lot of that, but it’s still a church, at least in some sense, and that makes strong agnostic me twitchy.

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This post brought to you by lots of people asking me for advice recently, in a variety of forums, and me feeling more than a little out of my depth!

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