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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Interview of the Week – “It Takes a Community To Raise a Child”

Image courtesy of strikeael

This week’s interview comes from a series of conversations I conducted a few years back from a project about Mums rocking the world with kidlets, a book I very much hope will see the light of day when the time is right. But for now, I’m stoked to be sharing these nuggets of yumminess here at Club Comic Mummy.

I just love this one – namely because it shows that grand creativity doesn’t necessarily need to be career related, but indeed, can infuse itself into the very way we choose to live.

I also dig it as I myself have long held a vision (I’d say “fantasy”, except that implies that it’s not attainable, which, after meeting the wonderful Jocelyn Geraghty, shows that this is completely not the case!) of buying a lovely big chunk of land and setting up a community of like-minded families and artists.

Anyway, without further ado, let the interview spew forth!

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With six children across three decades (“I felt like I was having children for thirty years!”) Jocelyn Geraghty found that having weekly time to herself, pursuing her own life and creating a strong support network was absolutely vital to maintaining her own identity. She has since taken this a step further and established the ultimate support network – a communal family property where she now lives with several of her children and grandchildren.

Time out from kids

As my family grew, I made a very conscious effot to pursue my own life. I was very interested in art and painting, so when I had four or five children, I went out painting three times a week. That is something I would stress for everyone. A child who has an unhappy, unfulfilled mother isn’t going to have such a great chance. I know it’s often hard, especially for single mothers, but I do think you need to do whatever it takes. I remember at first there were times that I’d think “Oh my God! If something happened to me, this baby is going to die!” But I suppose that as my family grew, those feelings dissipated. I no longer think that you need to have that full-on, single-minded dedication to your child: you do need to look after yourself. Having that time painting made me a more happy and fulfilled person, which was the only way I could be of any use to my children.

Outsourcing childcare

I was very lucky because we could afford to have the children looked after, or sometimes I’d take the youngest one with me when the others were at school. Still, I feel it can be done without a lot of money. I always believed in staying with the children in the home, but I wouldn’t discourage anybody from having a regular day to put your child in childcare and have the day off to do what you like. I think it makes for a healthier, happier mother and a happier child. If the child is in a day-care where they’re all paid to be happy and they’re not allowed to get cranky with the child, I think that’s better for them than to be at home with a mother who’s cranky and depressed. If there was no money for that, I’d search around for grandparents, or if there’s none around I’d find a surrogate grandparent. I bet there’s a pool of middle-aged women out there who’d be more than happy to look after a baby for a little while if they don’t have any grandchildren of their own.

Community and children

There’s a saying that “it takes a community to raise a child” and I think that’s a really good thing to keep in mind: to try to be part of a community and put a bit of the responsibility of your child onto the community that you’re in. Years after I’d first had the idea of creating a community, it all suddenly fell into place. I had this notion that even if the kids didn’t live there all the time, they’d have some place to come back to, no matter what. There have been times when most of them have been living there. It’s lovely to have the kids so close, but it’s all bush between the houses so it’s still quite private. I imagine you could also do it in suburbia if you had adjoining properties with shared backyard space or if you lived close enough that the kids could just walk across the street to the grandparents.

I think having the support of a community is the only way for children and I hope it would be an outlet for the parents too. I can just imagine things getting very tense with two parents (or one parent) and several kids in the one hothouse. But if there’s some place else for the kids to go, to get out of the parents’ way but more importantly, safely out of the way – like down to Nana’s place – then it can relieve a lot of tension. My children don’t have to get babysitters in because at least one member of the family is always there. I imagine the friends of my children who do have to pay babysitters are rather jealous. I know my friends who don’t get to see their grandchildren often are pretty envious!

The community also forms a place where as a family you work together to cope with difficulties. There are more people to deal with problems and support each other, which makes life easier. One of my grandsons doesn’t have a father around, so my eldest sons have taken him under their wing, while the other girls mother him as well. I also think it’s good for kids to be exposed to a range of age-groups, skills, personalities and parenting styles.

Overcoming challenges

There are a lot of difficulties associated with communities, mainly personality differences. It’s almost impossible to get a group of people who have exactly the same ideas about everything! You just have to roll with that and accept that there will be different opinions. We deliberately didn’t set up many ground-rules, except for what had already been family rules, like treating each other with respect, and whoever’s looking after the kids at the time is the boss! We do have a circle with the usual group rules that everyone can be heard, to talk about things that are major issues. So a few things get solved that way, but it’s not something we do very often. Despite the challenges of community living, I do think the advantages are worth trying to overcome the difficulties.

Know somebody you’d like to see interviewed here? Perhaps it’s even you! If so, please get in touch!

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