There are many ways in which living in cohousing challenges contemporary American norms: smaller-than-average homes, shared resources, making decisions by consensus, community meals. But I think perhaps the most subversive, radical and wonderful thing about cohousing is its potential for a truly intergenerational living experience... and the opportunity to put the adage “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” into practice.
In the urban and suburban experiences I’ve had growing up and into adulthood, I rarely get an opportunity to have meaningful relationships with anyone other than my own family and my peer group. I don’t really hang out with people who are much older than I am, nor do I often have ongoing interactions with children other than my own. Actually, even finding time to hang out with family, or with friends my own age is hard, since everyone is so spread out, and so busy with their work and families!
So I relish the opportunity cohousing gives me to form lasting intergenerational bonds. In our own community, there’s so much to enjoy from the folks from previous generations: I hope to learn to knit and hook rugs from Coleen and Marion, talk long into the night with Jeffrey, contradance with Jim and Edie. And I’m excited to sit around chatting with Maya or Pia or Soren or the other kids, each so different from one another and from my own, and to watch them become the adults they’re going to become. This seems like an enormous gift to me, to know these families almost as deeply as I know my own. (And maybe next time I’ll write about how cohousing also lets me to have actual friendships with men other than my partner... another rarity in our culture!)
Lovely visions to ponder, right? But I promise you, they’re real, and they come true every time our community gets together. I already have had Coleen help me knit, and Marion lent me a rug-hooking frame. I’ve colored with Pia and talked about colleges with Maya. We haven’t even broken ground yet, and already I feel invested in these people, these up-until-recently strangers, in a way that fills my life with meaning and richness.
I have a four and a half year old and a baby, which could make it hard for me to fully participate in cohousing meetings—goodness knows it makes it hard for me to fully participate in nearly everything else in life! But because cohousing values the kind of interconnectedness and shared life I’ve described here, not to mention how our group values small children, it isn’t hard. Various people take turns holding my baby, passing him toys, making sure he doesn’t tip over or chew on something he shouldn’t. Meanwhile, my daughter runs off to play with the other children and the teenage babysitters as soon as we arrive at a meeting. I love to imagine how, once we’re living in our community, my children might spend time reading, or sledding, or stargazing, or cooking, with another adult in the community, talking about things they want to discuss with a grown-up but do not want to discuss with their own parents, or just getting a different kind of attention and energy than they could from us. I never had that as a kid: I’d love it to exist for them.
Does any of this call to you the way it does to me? If so, I urge you to become an Exploring Member now: we’re filling up quickly, with a spring deadline. Coming to our meetings is the best way to get to know our group and whether or not this life is for you. At the meetings, you will see first-hand how everyone holds my baby and the other babies: the grandparents, the other young parents, the kids, the folks who have not had their own babies. Babies represent all that is good in the world, all that is hopeful and fresh. The way people care for them, or don’t, says a lot about a culture. And so the way babies get passed around at our meetings is truly one of the most beautiful things about our group, in my opinion. And if you want, you can hold my baby, too.