Sometimes people will ask my kids what it’s like growing up in cohousing and they receive a blank stare. Not because they asked a question of a 15 year old and 17 year old, but because my kids know no other life, except in cohousing.
My oldest was two years old when we moved into Wild Sage, and our youngest was born here and I am thankful nearly every day of their experiences as kids, our experiences as parents and the benefits of being surrounded by community neighbors.
Years ago my husband and I both had jobs that required us to be on call. One night while my husband was on duty, I got called to work and needed to leave very quickly, too fast to wait for my mother-in-law to come to our house from a neighboring town, so I called my neighbor. In my neighbor’s house, his wife was a nursing mom of two little kids, so instead he came to help. It was about 2am when he came over, he grabbed a blanket and curled up and went back to sleep. In the morning my two year old woke up, saw my neighbor instead of me and said “Mama?”, he said “Mama went to work”, she said “oh. Daddy?”, he said “Daddy is at work”, she said “oh. Lee-lie?” and he said, “let’s go get him to play”. Lee-lie is what she called my neighbor’s son, with whom she spent a lot of playing time with. What stuck me, was that even in an unexpected situation, she felt so comfortable with our neighbors, because they were known, and I was grateful for the help.
Years later that same neighbor family went on vacation and when they got to the rental house, the kids ran outside with excitement, and then slowly circled back to the house in slight confusion, finding no instant playmates out the back door. A few days later when the parents were dreaming aloud of buying a house right there on the beach, the older child pointed to each of the other nearby houses and said “…and that can be the Smith’s house and that one the Jones’ house and that one the Miller’s house…” and proceed to name many of the families from his cohousing community ‘back home’.
As our kids get older, I appreciate the relationships that they have with community neighbors and knowing that as cool of a mom as I am, my daughter can talk to Mama D (her ‘other mother’) about things she ‘can’t’/(won’t) talk to me about. And that my son (who is seriously car obsessed) can talk someone else’s ear off about stage-2 clutch shifting.
I believe that our kids have gained communication and interaction skills. Except for the brief 7 year old shyness and 13 year old surliness, both of them are quite comfortable speaking with the adults in the community and have no problems playing tag with the school age kids or scooping up a crying baby.
I often wonder if our kids will choose to live in community as they get older, or when they have a family. I do think that someday they will both be able to identify what they ‘got out of it’. Would I choose it again? There is no doubt in my mind, absolutely yes.
Karin Hoskin is the President of the Cohousing Association of the US and Bryan Bowen (the neighbor who came to the rescue at 2 am) is a cohousing architect and owner of Caddis PC. They reside in Wild Sage Cohousing in Boulder, Colorado. Karin and Bryan will be speaking at the 2019 National Cohousing Conference this year.