Monday, October 02, 2017

Building Up One Another, Together

When we decided we were going to have a child, my wife Jennifer and I were living in Germany. The first thing we did was move back to Seattle to be near our parents, siblings, and our oldest and dearest friends. It wasn't until years later that we became aware of how good that decision was.

From the moment we became parents, we were surrounded by a community that supported and loved us. There was always someone we could count on for support; our daughter Josephine was never left with a paid sitter. When we had questions or when we were confused, frustrated or frightened our community was there for us, any time, day or night. We weren't "trapped" at home with the baby and we didn't feel guilty leaving her for a few hours with "the grands," the term we came to use when discussing our parents, who always joyfully said "yes" when we asked.

This isn't the experience of many new parents, who far too often find themselves on their own, overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired. Too many mothers, often despite their chatty and chipper social media persona, find themselves depressed, angry, alone and lonely with no where to turn:

No, my little people bring so much goodness and purpose into my life, but I need other people also. I need people who build me up so that I turn around and build my family up. I need people who will invest in me so that I have something to give.

Many if not most of us don't live close to our extended families. Indeed, in this nation of transplants, many of us have no established community and are in a constant process of making new friends. And the whole idea of turning to paid child care is fraught with the challenge of finding ones you trust and can afford. Without other adults to talk to, to rely upon, to complain to, and cry with, too many new parents find themselves feeling isolated. The antidote to that is community.

When Josephine was two, we discovered cooperative preschools, where parents get to attend with their child. It's a place I've returned for the past twenty years, first as a parent, then as a teacher. I keep coming back for both the children and the adults.

I've watched countless life-long, friendships get their start right there in the classroom as we hang out with our kids. Most of the time we're focusing on the children, but with such a well-staffed classroom, there is always time to make jokes, share stories, trade advice and generally enjoy one another's company. Parents help one another out, trading "work days," sitting for one another, carpooling, exchanging play dates. I'll be the first to admit that a cooperative school isn't for everyone, but for those of us who do it, this is part of why we do it. We build up one another, together. Every school becomes a community of children: cooperative schools become a community of families and that ultimately is what keeps us coming back.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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