Parenting as a Tribe
July 24th, 2016
The kids and I went to a pig roast at a friend’s farm a few weeks ago. It was a fabulous evening. There were a good forty people there – some I knew, some I didn’t – including what seemed like about a zillion kids. Any farm is a magical place for children, but this one even more than most. The biggest kids trooped down to the creek while the younger ones swarmed the swing set whose slide someone had cleverly set to empty into a large wading pool. There were dogs to pet and rocks to investigate and – of course – a whole pig cooking contentedly nearby.
In those sorts of large, comfortable social gatherings, parenting becomes a tribal activity, instinctively shared without formal agreement. A couple adults followed the kids to the creek. Someone filled Kung Fu Panda’s lemonade for him and another guest gently suggested that Birdie not try to ride the dog. I refereed a dispute in the wading pool that didn’t involve any of my kids, just because I happened to be closest at the time. I didn’t always have eyes on my kids, and that was okay. I knew they were safe and supervised.
I love communal parenting. Somewhere over the past decade or so, my generation of parents has convinced itself that parenting is an individual, competitive sport. We work hard to be perfect all by ourselves and judge our accomplishments in relationship to other parents who are also trying to do it all on their own. That’s just plain crazy.
Parenthood is hard and it’s messy. Kids throw tantrums at inconvenient times and it never feels like you’ve got enough hands. I’m convinced that the best thing we can do is find a community of like-minded parents and spend as much time as humanly possible together.
I’m fortunate enough to have a couple different tribes. Every summer, I spend a week at my parents’ house in the town I grew up in. One of the highlights of the trip is a now-annual afternoon at the lake with girlfriends I’ve known for nearly three decades. We congregate with our kids for an afternoon of frolicking and reconnecting. There are five of us with a dozen kids aged two to twelve among us and we parent as a happy collective, slathering kids in sunscreen, taking turns at the grill, and sitting on the shore with our toes in the water while the littlest kids dig happily in the sand.
Here in Danville I’ve got a tribe, too. It’s taken me four years to build it. Communal parenting is a conscious decision and you’ve got to find parents whose mindsets and styles and temperaments align with your own. It’s an act of trust to parent as a group – to open yourself up and expose your flaws and imperfections. It’s an act of faith to say –“These children are making me insane. Please take them from me for the afternoon” – and to know that the other person isn’t secretly furrowing their brow at your utter lack of parenting abilities.
But once you find a tribe, there’s freedom – a subtle lessening of tension and relaxing of your parental shoulders. It’s knowing that it’s okay if your youngest child refuses to eat the dinner your friend cooked and that your son’s rugby tackle of a younger child won’t be held against him (though it will be discouraged!). Some clichés become cliché because they’re just so darned true that you can’t help but repeat them again and again. “It takes a village to raise a child.” Amen and amen.