Life as a parent in cohousing

Neshama Abraham Paiss lives with her family in the Nomad Cohousing Community in Boulder, Colo.

As a business executive who had spent very little time with children before having two of my own, I was not prepared for the ongoing demands and selfless role of parenting. While I longed to spend more time with my children than my parents did with me, I had no model for my ideals.

The solution came in an unexpected way. I married a man who is committed to the creation of cohousing communities around the country, as executive director of the Cohousing Network. These are resident-developed and managed neighborhoods.

I agreed to try cohousing for two years - with the understanding that we would move to a "regular" home if things didn't work out. That was nearly three years ago, and I have come to appreciate the benefits of living in a cohousing neighborhood, and to recognize the challenges.

Our community, Nomad Cohousing, is located on a one-acre site about two miles from downtown Boulder, Colo.

There are 11 households here, including 18 adults and seven children. Our girls, Zipporah, 1, and Halonah, 2, are the youngest.

As is typical in cohousing, our kitchen window faces a central courtyard where parents can watch their kids playing. The families all contributed to buying a playground set, and we have also jointly purchased other children's items.

The courtyard has become a focal point for the children. Usually if one child is outside playing, others soon follow. I've appreciated the spontaneity and the children's growing closeness. The courtyard is also a place where other residents spend time with the children.

Being able to walk outside and have people to hang out with has been great for me, especially when I've needed to talk with adults for a change. And, there have been several times when I've needed a break or a few minutes to get something done, and have been able to ask another resident to watch one of our children.

Like most cohousing neighborhoods, we have a Common House, similar to a clubhouse in a condominium complex, where we share community meals twice a week. There I host a weekly Mom's Support Group, a children's play group, and music classes for young kids. I appreciate the convenience of not having to drive the children to activities.

Halonah loves community meals. It's also been a welcome relief when a neighbor sees that my husband or I need a break and volunteers to hold one of our babies while we eat.

On the downside, mealtime has sometimes been tough: I have had to contend with our two-year-old not eating much and wanting to play before the other children were done. Sometimes, she has been so stimulated from a community meal that it's been an effort calming her down before bed.

However, what has posed the greatest challenge for me as a parent has been needing to agree with others who have different parenting styles.

Since we operate by consensus, everyone needs to be comfortable with decisions. This has been difficult when, for example, some people wanted to let the children jump off the furniture in the common house and I had safety concerns.

Ultimately, we come to an agreement and, although sometimes it's uncomfortable, working through our conflicts has made us closer.

Through our conversations, I've learned useful ideas from the more experienced parents.

Knowing your neighbors, which is a hallmark of cohousing, is both the best and most challenging aspect of living in an intentional community.

Overall, my life has been enriched by cohousing, though it hasn't always been easy.

I have been offered social contact and support from other adults when I needed it. And I have seen how well socialized our children are, which I attribute partly to living in such a community.

I look forward to the next 10 years, watching how close the adults and children become, as we continue to shape each others' live

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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