Sesame Street is a great source of wisdom and inspiration, don’t you agree? Like this song, a regular when I was in the target demographic:
So who are the people in your neighbourhood
In your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood?
So who are the people in your neighbourhood?
They’re the people that you meet
When you’re walking down the street
They’re the people that you meet each day
Today is all about the people in your neighbourhood, whether you meet them each day yet or not.
This is the second in a series aimed at helping us to feel better about our parenting. Not do a better job at it – we’re already brilliant and amazing! But I think many of us often feel like we’re falling short of our ideals, so this series is about how to live in the gap between expectation and reality. The first post in the series is here.
I’m taking a two-pronged approach, looking at how to go easier on ourselves, and how to actually make the job easier. Yesterday was about headspace, today is about practicalities.
And I’m keen on more suggestions from you, so feel free to add in your other ideas in the comments.
Today’s idea is that we make the most of existing relationships (even of mere proximity) to build in a bit of practical support to our family life. A friendly neighbour, even if you’re not best mates, can be a great help, as many of you will know.
When I was little, we lived down a right-of-way with three other houses, all owned by retired couples. I spent a lot of time in all of their houses. I would announce to my folks that I was going visiting, and pop off and knock on their doors. I drank cordial out of fancy glasses, I played with Peppy the poodle, I heard stories about growing up in ‘the olden days,’ I climbed different trees, I watched the district nurse change one neighbour’s leg ulcer dressings (I was very impressed that he had been in the war, and somehow got the idea that this was a war-wound, but presumably that’s a mistake!).
When I got to lawn-mowing age (a small window), I mowed one of the neighbours’ lawns too, like Mum and Dad had.
It has just occurred to me this week that it must have been bliss for my Mum to have me regularly gone, out of mischief, doing something sociable and socially valuable, supervised by someone else. I’m pretty sure the neighbours liked having me around, too (who wouldn’t, right?).
When I first moved to New Plymouth, living by myself for the first time, I got to be an adult in a similar circle. One neighbour spontaneously mowed my lawn for me, and our two households did quite a few back-and-forth favours (which helped the goodwill otherwise strained by their frequent loud parties).
In the other house down my driveway lived an Egyptian family who knew no one in town, and I became an honorary Tante to their little girl, who would visit most days with her mama. We practised English and studied for the mama’s driving license, and she grilled me about my love life.
Good neighbours are gold. If you don’t know all of yours, remember that you will be a welcome resource in their lives, too, if you take the trouble to introduce yourself. A plate of muffins or bottle of something is not necessary, though it could provide an excuse if you felt self-conscious just walking up to their front door.
A nice but not even particularly involved neighbour can:
- have a five-minute conversation over the back fence with the four-year-old who hasn’t stopped talking all day
- look after kids with no notice in an emergency – so just knowing that that is true can help you to feel less isolated and solely responsible
- lend you a hammer, cup of flour, or spider-removing expertise in time-honoured fashion
- feed your cat while you’re out of town
- wave to the kids or toot their car horn, adding an extra treat to the day for a pre-schooler – and one you don’t have to think up or provide
- hold a spare set of keys for you so you don’t get stuck on the day you inevitably lock yourself (and your kids) out.
If you get to know your neighbours better and get along with them well, they might even:
- share possessions long-term, so only one of you needs to own a lawnmower, trailer, juicer, electric drill, car-washing hose attachment, or whatever you don’t use very often
- play street cricket with you or your kids (depending on the traffic!)
- invite your kids to spend time at their place, either with their own children, or as novel guests, especially if they have grandchildren who aren’t nearby
- babysit, perhaps for the odd half-hour while you go to the supermarket or ballet lessons, or even for longer periods.
A friend said today that she used to give her neighbour the baby monitor while she, the mother, went to pick up her older kid from school, so she didn’t have to wake the baby up at 3pm. Handy!
- teach your kids gardening, car maintenance, carpentry, cooking, or whatever it is they spend time on.
Lots of people without kids in their daily lives love to spend meaningful time doing what they enjoy with an inquisitive small person around
- combine errand-running with you, so only one of you needs to go to the post office or chemist or hardware shop at a time.
Any or all of these things will enrich your household and community and ease your load a little bit. If you have a wee bit of sociability to invest, this could be a strategic direction to send it.
We’ve just moved into an apartment in a hotel, and all our near neighbours are hotel guests, so it’s been a bit tricky to build community with residents! But I am learning Portuguese (one phrase a day) from one of the hotel cleaners, and SBJ is great mates with the French bartender and Indian concierge, among others. Not to mention how he made friends with a man begging on our street recently – but that’s another story entirely.
What about you?
- Do you know your neighbours? If so, how did you first go about meeting them? If not, is there something in particular stopping you?
- What has been great about having good neighbours in the past or present?
- Any tips for those of us who don’t know ours yet?
- What else could make parenting easier? What are your ideas that we could explore further in other posts?