Over the weekend I attended a large family Passover seder with about fifty people in attendance. The seder is a dinner with a liturgy that tells the story of how Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It got me thinking about the value of community in raising children.

Participants ranged in age from late eighties to seven years old. The elders told a little about the family’s origins in Poland and their travel to America, and they reminisced about seders of fifty and sixty years ago.

Two little girls shared the responsibility of reading the four questions at the beginning of the seder. As the evening progressed everyone, including the table of teens, took turns reading from the haggadah, the booklet that gives the order of prayers, readings, and songs. Later we all joined in songs and the teenagers sang with great gusto and tapped on their tambourines. At one point we all marched around the room singing “Go Down, Moses.” These were not alienated teens, at least not at this event.

Between courses I talked to people and learned about their connections. There were strong connections between aunts and uncles and their nieces and nephews, including long distance visits. An elderly couple joked that they had been “adopted” by this extended family.

There was also sadness. All were aware that the woman who had graciously hosted this gathering for decades was unable to now due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Yet the next generation had prepared her recipes for us to enjoy. Another man’s whole extended family gathered because they expected his mother’s death in a day or two. There was a sense of knowing these losses and embracing them as part of the story of the family. There had also been separations — one family was returning to repair a rift started over fifty years ago in the previous generation.

I might be idealizing, yet the experience got me thinking about the value of community where ever one finds it. For some young adults in this family there were adults other than their parents to consult when they needed guidance. There were other adults to value them when they were at odds with their parents. As the evening wound down I observed people of the same age gathering to chat. Perhaps they were talking about caring for aging parents; or about the challenges of raises those spirited teens; or about their work and plans to finance college or retirement. The thing is, there were people who had similar concerns and who had known them for a long time. The gathering expressed shared values. Whether the young folks will take on the customs and beliefs of their elders is unknown, but they have a firm base to push off from.

Many of us exist in a variety of communities. Some find community in a religious institution. Others find it in the sharing while they watch their children play sports. Some are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where people have decided to know each other. Some parents of special needs children find community in advocacy groups for their children. There they find others who understand living with a challenging child and who do not judge.

In his book, A Fine Young Man, Michael Gurian concluded that a boy needs support from within and outside his family at every stage of development. He likened this circle of support to a clan in other cultures. I would say that all children and parents need this support. In our current culture it is unusual to find all the support in one community. It takes work to find and nourish communities so that they are there for you. Where do you and your family find community?

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. (www.drcarolynstone.com) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.