Last night at dinner, my wife and I turned to each other and couldn’t contain our grins. We understood each other without speaking our feelings: “This totally rocks.” What revolutionary event in our parenting lives sparked this tsunami of warm satisfaction?
We had kids over without their parents.
Two kids, to be exact — a brother and sister from up the street — and just for three hours or so while their dad was at a meeting. And we did exactly what you’d expect: the guests and our daughter Fern drew Halloween ghosties, played ball in the basement, danced and sang and played from our musical instrument box. I made dinner with a little “help” from some toddlers; we ate. No big deal, right?
But here’s the thing: before having kids, both my wife and I dreamed of just this sort of community moment, when we could help out the neighbors by watching their kids, and they would do the same for us — and it wouldn’t really be unusual. Not worth mentioning. Everyone in the tribe watches the children, right?
Except — we hadn’t ever done it. Up to now, we’d very rarely watched anyone’s kids, maybe five times total and only the kids of old friends. Those idyllic childhood memories of cooperative parenting never seemed to ring quite true for us.
And last night it was easy to care for the three kids. Three is a great number — everyone was entertained by one another and no one needed much intervention. We had a great time and much macaroni was eaten.
The question remains, though: why was this such a rare event? The notion that people can take care of the neighbors’ kids is hardly novel: we somehow just never got into it. Many factors probably contribute to this lack: Fern is only two and a half, so is just now entering the age where she can easily be dropped off with other adults she doesn’t know well. And since we haven’t done any daycare or preschool, so she’s not used to that sort of arrangement.
Really, though, I think it comes down to two glitches of today’s society. First, everyone’s too busy to get to know their neighbors well enough to feel comfortable asking them to babysit. Second, and most sadly, many parents seem to feel that asking their neighbors to watch the kids is somehow an imposition — even when it’s understood that the favor would be reciprocated in the future.
And that’s a shame. Because the experience of being “baby-sat” in your own home by a teenager is fine, but not nearly as primal — and educational — as being watched by another family, by other parents with other kids. The “village” experience is sorely missing in our parenting circle, and critically important.
Photo graciously provided by 09traveler, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved