In the last 3 years or so, my husband and I have noticed a trend: We’ll befriend a couple who we really get along with, share interests, and genuinely enjoy being with. Before long, the other couple gets pregnant. Nine months later, the baby arrives and our friendship ends. Not because we ever officially declare our friendship over, but simply because our lives suddenly become very different and the commonalities we once shared, though still important to us, become irrelevant to them as their lives become all baby, all the time.
Such a recurring trend has led me to ponder:
Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Is this normal or am I just a bad friend? Is it possible for people to have a baby and yet still care about non baby things? Is it possible for those of us without kids to relate to those who have kids?
These questions have been especially nagging to me because recently, two of the couples in our small group became pregnant. While my friendships with these two couples are much deeper than mine have been with any of the other people we’ve experienced this trend with, I am still concerned that the trend will repeat itself, something that would be truly heartbreaking for me.
Then last week, I heard someone I really look up to speak about the importance of raising one another’s kids, hearkening back to the old saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Truthfully, I find it difficult to wrap my head around this concept because I reside in a busy, extremely mobile, disconnected Chicago suburb and few of my friends actually live anywhere near me. Given this, I truly cannot comprehend the idea of a “village” who knows each other well enough to raise each other’s kids.
For example, consider my neighborhood, where I’ve lived for five years. I live in a townhouse, so my neighbors are extremely close in proximity to me. Yet of the four who are closest geographically to me, I don’t even know the names of one family; The only thing that I can tell you about the second is that he’s a drunk; and I only know the names of the third family because I accidentally backed my car into theirs. It’s only with the fourth neighbor that we have a somewhat “neighborly” relationship, where we shovel one another’s driveways and help each other out.
That’s why I was intrigued by this speaker’s comment reasserting the importance of raising one another’s kids. In particular, he pointed to two things – the need for empty nesters to realize that they still have more kids to raise and the need for small groups to raise one another’s kids.
It’s this last part that got me thinking about my small group, which consists of 4 couples. As soon as our friends shared their pregnancies with us, though happy for them, I’ll admit I was a bit saddened because not only do I fear the continuation of this trend of disappearing friendships, but I also fear that without these two couples, our small group will fold. But what if it doesn’t have to? What if our small group can continue to grow and flourish and to embrace these new arrivals as part of our small group? What if I could see my friend’s children as being not just their responsibility but mine as well?
I think doing so starts with the recognition that family is larger than those who inhabit our house. Even though I won’t be family in the traditional sense, I’d like to still think I have a vested interest in these babies because I love their parents. Eventually, I’d like very much to be the “cool aunt” who the kid goes to when they can’t talk with their parents about something.
Raising one another’s kids also means that I have a responsibility to continue investing my time and energy into my friends. It means that I need to encourage them in their new roles as parents in whatever ways I can – by listening to them share the joys and frustrations of parenting; By changing the occasional diaper; Or by babysitting in order to give them an occasional night off. It also means that my friends have to give me the opportunity to help raise their kids, by not letting their kids become an excuse to disappear.
Specifically in the context of small groups, I think this means that our small group has to find a way to be accessible to growing families. Perhaps this means meeting earlier in the day, on a weekend, in different locations, or for shorter times. While the babies are truly babies, I hope their parents will just bring them to our small group. Eventually, as they start to walk and talk, because I believe that there is value in meeting together as couples and families, I hope our small group can agree to invest in a babysitter during our small group – someone who comes to the house where we’re meeting and watches everyone’s kids at the same time, who everyone (those with and those without kids) chips in to pay for. Though seemingly insignificant, I think this small monetary investment is a powerful statement about the shared cost that comes with raising one another’s kids.
And I do realize that raising each other’s kids is likely a costly venture: Monetarily, Emotionally, and Relationally.
But I’ve also heard people lament about the loneliness of parenting. Perhaps by raising each other’s kids, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Regardless, I can’t help but think how blessed a child would be to have so many people committed to raising her: Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Friends. That’s a blessing that I hope one day, my own kids will also get to experience.