"It takes a whole village to raise a child" - as the saying goes. I, for one, am all for communal parenting. That is how children are meant to be raised, if you look at the history of humankind, and for the longest period in our history (until the last generation), most children have a strong network of extended families who contribute to parenting toddlers to adulthood, through turbulent teenage years. Indeed, many sociologists cite the breakdown of the extended family network for the ills of modern society.
I am a strong advocate in communal parenting because of two reasons: (1) Two adults - the parents - could not possibly meet all the myriad needs of the growing new person, and every positive influence, sharing of values and contribution of perspectives can only enrich a child and (2) we do not own our children. We do our best to give them a stable foundation and we let them go with no attachment of who or what they will be. We NEVER own our children.
When my children were young, we lived less than 500 metres from their grandparents and my brother's family. My brother had kids who are of similar ages to my children, and all of them were brought up as siblings rather than cousins. My son Jack, who needed calm and structure, benefited from my sister-in-law's household, just as my feisty niece needed me to know that she is not crazy or wild. For me, the greatest joy is seeing how close they all are in adulthood. And though my sister-in-law and I have very different values in some matters, I don't think any of our children suffered from their years of being parented communally. Far from it. I think they have benefited tremendously. That's the children in Switzerland one magical summer:
My youngest child unfortunately lives halfway across the world from her many siblings. I am thus grateful that she is being communally parented by her boyfriend's family. She had been dating this boy for two years and she spends a lot of time in his house. We always give our thanks to God that she has found a boy with two sisters of her age and parents who go to the same church as us and who share our basic values. The fathers play football together. So when people asked me - in disapproval - why she spends so much time with her boyfriend's family, my answer is why not?
I think she has gained a lot, namely a different perspective of life, but most importantly, she has learned to live harmoniously with another family. Teenage years are after all a practice for adult life, and what she is learning is that relationships are not all about exciting dates and drama (which a lot of her peers participate in), but working together, doing homework, going to the gym, spending family time, living through disagreements, having boring moments and talking honestly to each other. It just so happens that she is being communally parented by her boyfriend's lovely family, rather than my own brother's. But love is love, is it not?
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com