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Looking for a Better Way to Raise Children?

Certainly many parents are. One young mother writes about her sense of isolation in a recent New York Times article: “I hadn’t foreseen that motherhood would turn our home in the suburbs, a Dutch colonial with a box-hedged yard, into a site of solitary confinement…”

Our toddler brigade of girls pose with their moms.

Two Cohousing ABQ explorers, Laura and Cindy, remember that sentiment well. They both raised three children while working, Cindy with extended family 2,000 miles away, and both recall the lack of support and how tough it was.

“Nobody has ever asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do,” famed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in 1970. “With no relatives, no support, we’ve put [the nuclear family] in an impossible situation.” Mead thought it was preferable for children to be raised in a network of caring people, as she had observed in her studies in Bali, New Guinea, and Samoa.

This belief that a caring community is the best environment for both kids and parents is the reason many families are drawn to multi-generational cohousing communities like Cohousing ABQ. Fact is, we’re dedicated to having as many children in our community as possible. That’s why we made sure our recently redesigned site plan has 3- and 4-bedroom homes for larger families as well as smaller, more affordable homes with kid-in-mind spaces—like the extra 13 x 7 feet flex space in our 2-bedroom, and the added large loft space in our 1-bedroom units.

But there are many advantages for kids and parents in cohousing beyond what individual homes will offer.

Imagine Cohousing ABQ from a kid’s perspective

There are lots of kids for me to play with!  I can always find other kids playing somewhere outside or in the Common House or at a neighbor’s house. If not, I can visit one of my neighbors to see what they’re doing and probably get something yummy. (As one of our cohousing parents said: “I imagine our doors being open and herds of kids going through, getting snacks, going on to other houses, and not needing to find our own kids until dinner time.”)

I don’t have to watch for traffic, because cars are all parked near the entrance to the community. There are lots of fun play areas outside for kids, a climbing wall, even a zip line! And we have the pool next to the Common House for hot summer days. A short walk south is a public playground, and when we’re older or with the older kids, we can head out the east gate to play along the river or bike down the trail. 

There are special events just for us kids. Like game night, art projects, treasure hunts, special outings around town (like the zoo, Explora, children’s theater, apple picking), or a kids’ sleepover in the Common House. When one of us has a birthday or gets special recognition, the whole community celebrates with us. More presents! And sometimes a bouncy house or trampoline!

Because my neighbors are also my friends, I can go to them for help if I can’t find a parent. Or if I just want a different adult to talk to. All of my neighbors share their interests with us. Mary teaches knitting; Patti takes the older kids hiking; Jim shows us how to use tools. Alexej and Nolan make the best blueberry pancakes at potlucks! Pat reads books out loud, sometimes with voices, sometimes with the older kids taking on different characters. And we help our neighbors, too—with gardening, cooking, and cleaning up after common meals. We’re also in charge of the chickens and egg production!

Advantages for parents and other adults

All of this kid energy and curiosity adds vibrancy to community life. As one member put it, “They make a space come more alive. My heart expands around kids.” And while some of these specifics are only imagined for now since our community isn’t built yet, some are already happening regularly among members living in Albuquerque as evidenced by the photos here.

From a parent’s perspective, having other adults and parents involved in their children’s lives frees them from the overwhelming demand to be everything to their children—caretaker, educator, and entertainer—all the time. For Alexej, who is passionate about being a dad, “I’m excited to learn from other parents in cohousing and to be able to share the highs and lows and even the everyday experiences of raising kids.” 

What about when cohousing kids grow up?

Once they’ve left the nest, do children who’ve grown up in cohousing think their upbringing was beneficial overall? Here’s a sampling of testimonials found online.

Imagination and creativity. “[In my cohousing community] we would spend all day playing out our elaborate imaginary games: We’d be orphans running away from the orphanage, we’d set up camp and start some mud soup for dinner. If the boys ever found their way into our game, they would have to be the “bad guys”; we would run from them, through the common house, down the green road to the garden and onto the trampoline. Through unsupervised play, we gained independence, creativity, as well as rooted communication skills.” 
Teamwork, collaboration and leadership. “The older kids decided they were in charge of designing the playground and went through several rounds of planning. At one point, they came to their parents and asked for help facilitating their meetings. Then they told the community they would be fundraising so they could have more control over what went into the playground. This from a group of kids whose median age was about five.”

Skills at conversation. “Our weekly check-in meetings, garden work parties, and shared meals developed in everyone the skill of open, honest conversation, which I have relied on my entire life and believe is really valuable in any situation.”
Intellectual curiosity and community building. [from a grad school application] “I largely attribute my intellectual curiosity and prioritization of the collective good to my upbringing in cohousing. From an early age, I was participating in lively discussions about the Iraq War and cooking dinner for forty of my neighbors. Joining finance and landscaping committee meetings showed me the challenges and opportunities of building consensus and participatory decision-making.”

Cohousing offers the opportunity for children—even of pre-school age—to develop close friendships that can last a lifetime.

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