So, we’ve lost our neighborhood-based communities. Friends and family are often scattered over large geographic areas. Our kid’s friends are also scattered, and many families move every few years. We’ve lost our village.
In addition, our children have often lost the opportunity for free, unstructured, inventive play. Yet, this free time is the core of childhood. It is the time in which each child’s own individual self evolves and grows over the years. It is critical space in which we move along the slow path from immature wild beast into mature adult human. This process takes years and years in humans and the protected space and time of childhood is critical to its success.
With this loss of community, parents have also lost their adult support. In the past, a parent would not only know the next door kids but their parents, and the neighbors up and down the street, and the farmer in whose corn field the kids were playing. If your son rode his skateboard home from school… in the street… without his helmet… some one would call you. This kind of community that exists from simple geographic proximity and longevity in one location no longer exists in most places. But we need it to parent well. We need it for sharing the burdens of child rearing. And we need it for companionship, support, and friendship thru good and bad times.
And our kids need it in order to find a window of time preserved for childhood immaturity and exploration. So, you’re going to have to build some version of your own village.
My neighbor is a stay-at-home-mom with young kids. She has managed to create a whole network of friends with whom she swaps kids, hangs out at the park (aka. her “office”), shares cars, and takes day trips. On any given day, her house and yard are full of kids. Some are hers. Some are mine! And some belong to her friends. She has found her own kids are happier and fight less when other kids are visiting. Sometimes the moms come and hang out too. Other times they are working, taking classes, getting a break, focusing on another child’s needs. Creating this kind of community of friends can take some effort in our scattered culture, but it is truly precious once you’ve built it!
When my kids were very young, I started a multi age playgroup. We gathered in the back yard on Friday afternoons. We let the kids loose while the moms sat around a table hanging out talking. It can be so refreshing to just shoot the shit with other parents. And simply having older kids and other adults present makes “watching the kids” easier. If you time your afternoon right, then dads or working parents can join the group as the evening wears on.
Another way to build a village is to make a standing playground “date” with other parents. Let the kids play while the grown-ups talk. Be sure to welcome other parents on the playground and invite them over for an afternoon. Go on outings together. All trips with kids are much easier with another adult along and more fun too. Remember, you’re not the only parent in town feeling cut off and unsure. If your kids are in a half day preschool then arrange to stay late at a playground with the other families. Introduce yourself to the other parents.
Once you have these associations, start helping each other out. Offer to watch some one’s kid while they do an errand. Swap out-grown clothes. Share your snacks with a mom who’s run out and has fussy kids. Drop a meal off at the home of someone with a newborn. Then you’ve got a village. But it won’t happen by magic. You’ll need to step up and put some effort into meeting other parents.
The first five years of parenting are hugely challenging. If you can find a way to build this network of friends with kids, it can offer enrichment and grounding thru some crazy years.
Remember, No Parent is an Island!