Growing up on the West Coast of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by a true village. I played Netball with my English teacher, whose husband also worked for us. The librarian was my neighbour and my Computer Skills teacher was one of our close family friends. I couldn’t and didn’t get away with much but I was also able to learn a lot of skills and about a lot of different interests from these varying adult role models. Best of all, I knew I was safe and loved, not just by my own family members.
The school I went to had around 60 kids give or take and our graduating high school class was the biggest in the school’s 25 year history – at four students. Yes, that’s right, four students. We grew up knowing every single kid in the school’s quirks, family, heck, we knew most people’s middle names and who they were related to in the area. The perks of this is that we had multi-age classes all the way through school, something that research has shown benefits kids in many ways. It’s easier for kids to extend themselves or work at a level closer to their needs when you have a two to three year difference in the level of difficulty. At some stage you will be the youngest child in the class being mentored by the older children, and at some stage you will be the leaders of the class mentoring your peers. What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is that rural life generally equals village life and that the village generally benefits the majority.
We just recently went back to my home town to celebrate my Dad’s 60th and it resonated (as it does every time I go home), just how lucky we were and how lucky the kids still are now, to grow up there. It was a Saturday night and we were holding a bonfire out in the sticks for the party. Families trickled in throughout the afternoon after sport with their kids in tow. Some brought sand pit toys, one brought a bike and a home-made go-kart. The kids ran off into the bush climbing trees and pushing each other on the go-kart. The older kids made sure the younger kids didn’t play around the fire. When the babies started to tire, some of the older kids offered to push them around in their prams to get them to sleep. When that didn’t work, the babies were passed around to caring hands until they finally went to sleep. Other children were helping put wood on the fire and helped keep an eye on the camp ovens (though not for long, it was 36 degrees!). The adults were left to cook and socialise and enjoy an evening out without the usual witching hour at dinner time. Everyone was content and happy – it was a win-win situation for all ages.
And I just got to thinking – what happened to the village? What happened to giving your neighbour (not a close friend) a call to say that we’re going to have a BBQ, why don’t you come around? My toilet smells like little boy wee (and probably will for the next 20 years), I don’t have any milk, would you mind grabbing some on your way (and a bottle of wine) and bring a few snags (or veggie burgers) to throw on the BBQ while the kids wear themselves out and we get to chat to another adult for the first time in two days?
I know suburbia is different. We don’t always know our neighbours, or necessarily get along with our neighbours – but why not? If we’re going to live 10m away from our closest neighbour and know what they argue about at 10pm on a Friday night, don’t you think it’s worth making the effort to nurture this relationship? Even if it’s just a cup of tea once in a while, or to watch each other’s kids while the other ducks out for milk? By isolating ourselves from our neighbours, we’re doing ourselves and our families a disservice. We’re teaching our children that we only need to make time and put in effort with people that have similar interests and values as ourselves. We’re not teaching our children tolerance or about accepting differences at all. We teach them that our own little circle is better than someone else’s little bubble; rather than celebrating our differences, we isolate ourselves by doing this.
How magic would it be to share recipes, sugar and parenting tips with our neighbours. Some may think this is a little naïve and idealistic but if it still works out in the country, why wouldn’t it work in suburbia? Yes, there will always be those neighbours we just don’t get along with, or who may even be a little unsavoury and our gut tells us not to let our children hang around them. I’m not saying everyone needs to become besties with their neighbours but I do think it’s definitely worth trying to find at least one neighbour you can rely on for a cup of tea and a biscuit, a surrogate grandie, a dog-sitter or a potential parent in arms… So my question to you is, do you know all of your direct neighbours? And if not, I challenge you to go and introduce yourself to them this week. Why not go and ask them to borrow a cup of sugar…