Last week the participants at one of my events came up with a time-related problem experienced by many parents. I was at Tauriko School, Tauranga to run a time management seminar for parents. (It's a fund-raising opportunity for communities and based around my new book 'Getting a Grip on Parenting Time: 86 commonsense lessons from the trenches'.)
The issue landed on fertile soil, for I've been having an ongoing conversation with my friend Gloria Hurst from Oamaru about the very same topic.
'We moved here from Auckland a few years ago,' said one of the participants. 'We don't have any close family support for the times when there are just too many things going on or we have an emergency.
A common example: my husband has a key client meeting so can't get out of work, one of the kids is sick, and I have to take the other one to a sports event. It can be a real challenge.'
Tauriko School principal Suzanne Billington chipped in. 'We have a lot of new families moving into this fast-growing area with that problem. When I show them around the school I ask if they've got any nearby family or helpful friends for the emergency times. Many don't.'
We started to think about who else in a community could do with support. Apart from young families, there are many lonely or isolated people, including emigrants and retired folks.
And then we thought of the people, including those recently retired, with time on their hands, looking for connections or interesting projects. Or, they might be happily engaged in their various activities but have capacity to help if they know about a need.
The group started to bubble over with ideas.
Here is a smorgasbord of them, in no particular order.
• Skills survey. Run a survey of your community to find out what skills are hiding behind quiet suburban doors. Many people won't push themselves forward, but if asked are happy to share their skills, knowledge and time with appreciative learners.
• Record the information in an easily accessible form. Create a database of individuals' skills and contributions that they'd be happy to share with others. It might be craft or technical skills; it could be time; surplus garden produce; meals or assistance for new parents or families with children in hospital. The possible list is endless.
• Web management of the information. Perhaps it could work a bit like Airbnb or Trademe but with a community focus - those with something to offer can post their offering. Those who would love some extra help can post the help they need. (Would the community website Neighbourly.co.nz be sufficient, or does it need to be a different entity?)
• Safety. How to keep vulnerable people safe is always a concern. In the few minutes we discussed the concept we didn't arrive at a simple answer, but I'm sure there is one. It might be as simple as honest feedback by users and providers; that works on the Trademe and Airbnb-style websites. Perhaps there also needs to be a local coordinator or group.
• Honorary grandparents. Some older people, with time on their hands and perhaps no grandchildren, or none living within easy distance, would be very happy to be involved with nearby younger families who don't have local support. When my own parents were alive and living in Te Puke, with their many grandchildren all living in different parts of New Zealand, they loved filling this role for a number of their local church or neighbourhood families.
• Find a champion organisation. There might be one or more community or service organisations in each community that would champion it in their local district. It could be a school or early childhood group, a church, or a service organisation such as Rotary or Lions.
• Other examples. Check out the Men in Sheds movement and the New Zealand equivalent. My quick view of their information indicates that their initial aim was primarily to support retired men sitting around at home, lonely and bored.