It takes a village to raise a child? Or so the African proverb tells us. Whilst this may still be the case in many parts of the world, it is something that seems to be embraced less and less in Western society. Maybe this is something that could be argued as detriment to the well being of our children and ourselves. This past week, I witnessed first hand the many positive aspects of communal family living.
Last Sunday, my husband, myself and our 5 children, along with 6 other couples and their families, set off on a week long holiday down the coast to celebrate the 40thbirthday milestones of my husband and his mates (years ago they conjured up a dream trip to Las Vegas minus the family, however renovations, babies, work commitments and visions of ‘The Hangover 3’ saw the trip somewhat change in nature to a family beach holiday less than an hour down the road). Fourteen adults and seventeen kids descended on accommodation reminiscent of school camp. A huge long hallway with bedrooms either side that housed bunk bed upon bunk bed, communal male and female toilets, large kitchen, dining and lounge area and a room out the back for the kids to run wild, became our abode for 7 nights.
A fabulous time was had by all, but here are a few aspects of this type of living that stood out to me as having a great impact on parent and child well being and certainly aspects of which should be adapted to everyday family life.
Sharing the Load: For us this meant that each couple had a night where they took care of dinner and bought and cooked the food for the rest of the gang. Now whilst there was a bit of an effort put in on your night, give me one night a week to cook and still ensure that my kids get healthy meals all week and I’m as happy as Larry! Aside from the cooking, there were many adults to share in the cleaning, the supervision of kids in the pool, the washing and hanging out of wet towels and bathers and the holding of the baby. I probably got the most out of this shared parenting thing, as having the most kids, my load felt substantially lighter. I don’t think I ever walked down the hallway without having a parent or older child offer to take the baby for a cuddle.
Being part of a larger group: these days many households are smaller in number, and thus kids are not required to get in and help as much. It is often seen by parents as quicker and easier to do things themselves. Going back to this idea of large families requiring help and input from members of all ages provides a great grounding for kids to learn to work as a whole and do things for the greater good of the group. Children learn that they are part of a larger community and sometimes decisions need to be made that benefit the group as a whole rather than the desires of the individuals. They all still felt loved and secure I am sure, and certainly all had a great time, but without being so individually indulged.
No chance to be lonely: With that many kids (and adults), there was always someone to play with, have a chat with, laugh with or go about solving the problems of the world. And for those times when you needed some space, there were enough rooms to slink away to and enough parents around to watch your kids should you feel the need for a walk to the shops and a dose of caffeine.
Exposure to other parenting styles and personalities:Whilst I would say the expectations of the parents and similarly the behaviours of the children were all pretty much on par, exposing our kids (and ourselves) to all sorts of personalities and styles of parenting need not be a bad thing. Whilst this can often be where it goes pear shaped for many families when they holiday together, I think it is also OK that our kids must get used to dealing with other styles and personalities. Afterall, when they enter the adult world, they are going to be subjected to a myriad of different personality traits from bosses, work colleagues and the like.
So whilst I realise that this is not really a feasible way for us to parent our families on a daily basis, what we can take from these experiences is the importance of exposing our kids to the wider world outside our family home.
- We need to include grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends in the lives of our kids. Allow them to have sleepovers, spend time with other families and go on weekends away with others.
- Promote involvement in the wider community through sports activities, community and youth groups or theatre groups.
- And hand over some of the chores to other family members.
Whilst as parents we hold the greatest responsibility for our children and their upbringing, it is important to sometimes reach out and let the village take up the reigns.
Have you had experiences of extended family and friend holidays, either good or bad? Do you let other people play a part in your child’s upbringing?