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Availability is the key to relationships

“If you are standing with other women in a circle and there is a woman standing alone in your circle’s vicinity–the thing to do is notice her, smile at her, move over a bit and say, ‘Hi, come join us!’ Even if she decides not to join your circle–even if she looks at you like you are crazy–inviting her is STILL THE THING TO DO. This advice is meant for both literal and figurative circles. WIDEN YOUR CIRCLE. ALL THE TIMES.”

Also, “Horseshoes are always better than circles. Always leave space. Life can be lonely. Stand in horseshoes.” Glennon Doyle

And so the conversation began. First in 2014, then again in 2018, and, now, still in 2024. 

And yet we are lonelier than ever. I created The Mother Heard to dedicate a space for moms to come together to share their stories and build community. I have dedicated my time and attention to reading all the research I can get my hands on and talking with the experts about loneliness and, finally, I have a view that I’m ready to start to share. 

A paradigm. A design. An idea. 

Taking the idea of the circle–ages old, community focused, a way to come together to share ideas where no one is at the head and everyone’s voice matters coupled with an entry point, a place dedicated to expanding the circle, inclusive, kind, welcoming, accessible, open to all.

When I read or listen to others, I visualize what they are saying and then I have to put it down on paper. This time, it is my own thoughts and it has taken nearly a decade for me to finally be able to articulate my thinking and realize that it is worth sharing. One part of that being harder than the other! 

Years of standing on the outside of circles and wanting to be included. Baseball games where I hear the conversations and wonder if my voice still works because I’ve no one to engage with. On the inside, wondering if I’m in the right circle or if I need to be paying more attention to the circles I’m not in. Offering myself to help to a point of exhaustion wondering if I’ll ever be accepted. Turning myself inside out to finally finding a place and a space where I’m comfortable in my own skin, able to smile, able to join and making choices to stay where I am and how to include others into my spaces. 

And now, The Mother Heard. An online and in person community dedicated to moms, people who love like moms, have always wanted to be a mom, people who have a mom, basically anyone engaged in the art of raising people up into a world that can be hard and cruel, beautiful and redemptive. 

So come on my path with me, picture a starting line where you show up as your authentic self. You know your values and purpose and the goals you have in life or even the goals you have for the day, the hour, the conversation. 

You offer yourself into the world or even to another at Kindergarten drop off, what you need from the other side is a little bit of attention and curiosity, as you are more authentic and vulnerable, you need others to show kindness and generosity and you both have to be available. 

Availability, for me, is the key in all of this. Many people will say it is all of the other things and I believe those to matter greatly. Brene Brown has written extensively on vulnerability and every thing she says is gold. 

I have learned how to discern values, define your purpose, set your goals, I understand authenticity in my bones. There is incredible research on the power of friendship, attention and curiosity and what it means for connection. We teach kindness as random or intentional and the generosity we share with others is often hardwired and takes dedicated skills to learn to do it differently than how we were shown and yet, we understand those things or there is a pile of research we can read to get better at them. 

But availability–it is the lesser known key to these relationships we are trying to build and I think something Glennon was hinting at as well. You can’t make friends with someone that isn’t looking at you. You can’t engage in a relationship by yourself, you have to have a place to put your vulnerability. 

Shasta Nelson talks about this in her priority setting approach in Friendtimacy, “This comes down to an issue of priority and the understanding that relationships matter more to our health and our happiness than any other factor. We have to do it frequently in order for it to be meaningful. The more often we step into something, the more meaningful it’s going to be, and the more we’re going to see the results of that. If we make it more of a routine or “ritual” – something we do every Tuesday at 7 o’clock – it’s easier on us, easier on our kids, and easier on our partners because everyone gets used to it and expects it.”

I want to go a step further and really talk about what availability means on the daily. Availability means knowing yourself, knowing what you want, and knowing what you have to offer. Availability pulls on your boundaries and says, can we welcome more here without creating a strain, could the potential connection be life-giving rather than life-draining. If I can be available to my phone for 15 minutes, could I put it away and be open to new people for the same 15 minutes? Could I reach out to someone and connect rather than scrolling past their social media? Is there a good question that I could ask that shows that I want the new mom at baseball to join our circle. (I know, I talk a lot about baseball, but substitute anything where you spend a majority of your time–you know people and there are new people, is there a way to include them?)

Availability is not just about the time you have to give or the practices you can modify to allow new or existing people in your life to be closer, but it is about the mental availability. Do you have the actual bandwidth in your brain to take on more information? Are you working so many hours that you can’t ever turn it off and focus on other things? I know that is a problem for me, my work becomes my life and I always want to talk about connection, innovation and doing things better. Sometimes people just want to talk about what they saw on The Voice or at the mall. If I’m tired, stressed, disconnected, how available am I for new or existing relationships? And the opposite side is true as well. Is the person I’m connecting with available to hear what I’m saying? I think about this with phone calls. 

Sometimes when I’m really busy and I see a call coming in I truly don’t feel like I have the time to pivot to talk, but I know that person matters to me so I have to figure out an alternate approach. What my mom and I have worked out is she’ll send me a text to call her. She’ll mention if it is urgent or can be later in the day.  Today, her message said, “FaceTime me!” I don’t even have an iphone and I stopped everything and did. I knew that she needed something immediately and it was visual! I almost knew she was going to tell me she fell down before her bruised face came on the screen. 

Essentially, to better connect and communicate, we must offer times where we are available so the people in our lives have an opportunity to jump on the train next to us and share. When we are vulnerable, we need attention. When we are authentic, we need kindness, but none of those can happen if we are not showing up in those moments to be available. 

If you look at the relationship loop, you’ll see two sides to the infinity loop with one side including everything I just shared–I believe this is how we make new friends, create connection and deepen our relationships, the steps, the needs, the skills. And there are so many incredible resources to do each step of these that I feel we have everything we need to engage. Additionally, you will see it is open, always an onramp for new people to join, the purpose of the infinity design is that all of those things on the right side need to continue. It isn’t enough to be vulnerable once or to give your attention once, you have to constantly be looping through the engagement side of the loop and move to the relationship side as well.

When you do that–you build trust and when you cross over the trust center you move into the relationship side of the loop. Here you will see the Circles of Connection from the Connection Curriculum at Only7Seconds. It starts with you at the center and then circles moving out that house your relationships. Closest in are the people you spend the most time and energy with, who you get the most from and who you invest the most in. Out from there are the other relationships in your life. You’ll notice that the lines around the circles are dotted, this is to represent that the relationships change over time the circles are permeable. I drew a dark circle around self because I do think it is essential that we have our own personal boundaries that matter to the types of relationships we have but if the boundaries extend out to other circles I worry that we are creating in and out groups and contributing to the divide in the world today. 

Also, I know in reality things are more complicated than can be drawn, religions, clubs, groups, neighborhoods have rules and regulations that keep people in and out, I am just saying in a perfect world. We would hold our strong boundaries and as individuals those would create all the boundaries we need to live in a safe and civil community. 

However, with that said, for the purposes of this model, I think the simplicity is important. As you move to the relationship side of the infinity loop, there are opportunities to create deeper connections, build relationships and feel less alone. Those are when we have shared experiences with the people in our lives. Whether that be hard times, or being of service; rituals and holidays, or emotions of celebration and loss, trials and disagreements, repairs and reunions. Each time engaging with the practices on the engagement side of the loop–showing our values, authenticity, vulnerability while receiving attention, curiosity, generosity, kindness through mutual availability, building trust, time and again, with new and existing members of our circles. 

Each time looping through, you build more trust and share deeper, or pull back, you learn and adjust, you give and take, you receive and don’t, thus adjusting your circles, people move in and out, closer, deeper and then further away. There is loss because you decide to move on or life comes between, you have loss from relocations and death and you constantly have the opportunity to include new connections. I think of the model as a lake as well with deeper parts and those that are incredibly shallow. Time and trust  acting as the water that deepens the canyons, boundaries allowing erosion to stay at bay. 

And I believe the stories we chose to tell at every inflection point, the way we tell those stories and the way we listen are how we keep the loop in motion. Our stories can keep us in the shallow end or dive deep too soon. As we work on how we tell our stories, which audience we chose for the best parts and how we engage others through their stories is ultimately the purpose of this model. It is my hope that through The Mother Heard, we can teach, practice and engage with our stories so each member can build their own beloved communities.

Join me as we go deeper and find ways to connect. and Also, if it helps, I talk it through on the podcast.

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