Chris became a mama over three decades ago and is nothing short of a baby whisperer to her five grandchildren now. Married to Chet, she is a retired educator, a writer, a quilt-maker, a big fan of the Oregon coast, and a larger-than-life fan of her babies up in Washington state. Enjoy her words on community today…
Over three decades ago, I became a mom for the first time.
My husband Chet and I were pretty much on our own in this new journey since neither of us had family living nearby. While I knew my parents were just a phone call away should I have any questions about what to do with this nine-pound bundle of joy that had just come into our lives, that didn’t take away my feelings of isolation. They lived in Alaska and couldn’t just hop on a plane whenever I needed them.
There is much to be said for “presence” and Chet and I began to seek out people who could be family for us in the absence of biological connection. We joined a church, made friends in our neighborhood, and enrolled our son in a cooperative preschool. But it was joining a babysitting co-op that truly taught me the importance of living in community. Those women became my lifeline to sanity during those roller-coaster years of raising children.
Many of the women in the co-op were stay-at-home moms, but a number worked part- or even full-time. As we got to know one another at our monthly meetings, we learned who had belief systems that meshed with our own, whose children were most likely to play well with ours, and whose schedules would align with the days we might need their services.
Life with young children was often an endless blur of diapering, snack prep, whining, non-stop chattering, and teaching thank you, please, be kind to others, no hitting and share. Hours were filled with laundry, play time, picking up toys, arguing about naps and reinforcing good behavior. It was exhausting. It was so freeing to be able to pick up the phone and call a co-op friend to arrange some much-needed ME time, knowing I’d return in a few hours with my equilibrium restored and my energy and patience renewed.
My children loved having built-in friends to play with as much as I loved watching the interactions that showed so clearly the character qualities each child was developing. Most of the moms approached the babysitting the same way I did, and fast friendships formed over the bonding opportunities and enriching experiences we provided.
We read books, did puzzles, went on nature walks, made peanut-butter play-doh, and built fantastic Lego creations.
My children enjoyed hours of creative play at other people’s homes, finger-painting and putting on plays—things that are always more fun to do with friends.
That co-op became my family, my village, my community. When mysterious maladies struck, or maddening behaviors surfaced, we didn’t thumb through Dr. Spock’s childrearing book or Dobson’s The Strong-willed Child (although that book did become dog-eared over time); instead, we called a friend from the co-op whom we knew would understand and be able to offer wise counsel.
We met each other’s needs in so many ways: we provided meals when health crises arose.
We donated breast milk when one of our members’ baby’s very life depended on it.
We came alongside one mama whose baby just didn’t wake up one morning. We were her sounding boards and shoulders to cry on.
Later, once our children were mostly grown, a group of us went on weekend retreats where we’d look back and marvel at our good fortune in finding each other. We drank deeply from the cup of our shared experiences, sharing tears as well as laughter.
One friend said that having trusted friends to leave her children with was like hitting the REFRESH button on a computer. Our desire for our children’s safety ranks right up there with our desire for their happiness, and they were definitely happiest when playing with their co-op friends.
As for me, I will be forever grateful to the women who helped me raise my children, who loved them in my absence and who helped them become capable, caring, contributing members of society.
These remarkable women gave my children the ultimate gift: a sense of belonging. My children cherish the lifelong friends they made in the babysitting co-op, and it’s my hope that they’ll pay it forward, now that they have children of their own. My grandchildren deserve it!
I am a better mother because of this community.
Thank you, Chris. Would you like to write a post about how your community has made the difference in your life? Message Cara today! Otherwise, help Cara’s writing continue to grow by becoming a fan of Be, Mama. Be on Facebook, or by heading the Home page, and clicking on FOLLOW button in the left-hand column.0