It takes a village to raise a child - African Proverb I explained in the first blog of this series that Robin and I did some things intentionally and some things by accident. One of the greatest accidents we ever made was doing life with a community of people and initiating Safari (our daughter) into it immediately. From just about the moment (within 90 minutes) of entering the world, Safari was introduced to people she is still doing life with now. I am not just talking about grandma and grandpa (she actually did not meet them for a couple weeks). There were about ten people waiting outside for her arrival. I am not suggesting this type of birthing experience is for everyone but I am suggesting that introducing your baby into a community of people ASAP is very beneficial.
Contemporary wisdom seems to say that you should take your infant home from the hospital and put them on lock down for the first few months of life, not exposing them to the germs of the world. I would suggest the opposite. Pass your baby around and let your friends love on them. Passing your baby around benefits everyone.
Parent Recess First and foremost, being in community it gives the parent a break. When you are at home with the baby, you are constantly focused on the baby. You feed her, change her, hold her, etc. YOU need a break from baby world. Many new parents feel trapped and weighed down. Moms get tired, stressed, and often times depressed. Almost all their attention goes to the new kid. This leaves dads feeling left out sometimes and frustrated often. They need social interaction as well. The baby cries and mom and dad argue.
A lot of arguing seems to happen when an infant arrives. Being a part of a community allows you to pass off the baby and be an adult for a while. Have adult conversations and enjoy yourself. These community times are like recess. Robin and I always felt so refreshed and relaxed after having friends over for dinner, or going to a friends house for a night of fun.
School is in session I know there are a few people out there who have never held a baby, but most of us got our first baby experiences with another persons baby. Passing your baby around exposes your friends without kids to babies. This is especially great for guys. Robin and I are seriously discipling some great dad prospects. Your baby is pretty darn tough. Your friends will not break them. Even if they accidentally elbow them in the face (eh-hem...Aunt K K). Babies are rubber maid. As for the ladies, I have only met a few women who do not salivate when they see a baby. So do not feel like you are inconveniencing your friends by passing off your baby.
If you have friends with kids, especially friends with older kids, they more often than not LOVE holding and playing with babies because it reminds them of their little babies. So your blessing them with the chance to remember the good ole days. You also may be able to pick up a few tips by observing how they interact with your baby.
Getting a good stretch Infants are way more flexible than you may think. Ask a person doing yoga. In yoga, you are introduced to some crazy positions and stretches when you first begin. You will be bending like Beckham (or Gumby) in no time though, if you stay with it you. The same goes with your baby. Babies are some of the most flexible beings in the world, if they are exposed to opportunities to stretch. I see this time and time again. Parents who keep their baby hidden from the world the first few months and then begin introducing them into community have a difficult time. Why? Because babies are like sponges. They are constantly absorbing how life works. They are developing boundaries and habits like crazy (more on this in a later blog). The quicker you can expose them to people, the more flexible they will be.
The Keys to Success I can hear the words rolling in your mind now. Your kids are not like my kids. My child has to be at home to sleep. They cannot sleep in a pack'n'play. They cry when they go to other people. Babies can and do sleep anywhere. I admit, Safari is an extrovert. She LOVES people. Sojo (our first son) on the other hand, is an introvert. Many can attest to his sassiness. He would cry when we would pass him off. He is standoffish when he first meets people, and will only warm up to people who try. But this did not stop us from passing him off. It did not stop us from going to friends or inviting friends over.
There are two keys to success here. First, ASAP. Whether it was Safari, Sojo, and even now with Kanoa; from the moment they were born we are introducing people into their lives. We practically beg people to come to the hospital or to come over for dinners when we get home. With each kid we either attended or hosted our first party within two week of their birth. We introduce our kids to community ASAP. Kids start forming their habits immediately, so we need to expose them immediately.
Second, AMAP. Be with people as much as possible. Our kids hang with people every day of the week. Kanoa is held by someone in our community every day of the week. I realize many people do not live like this (sadly). But give it a try. Get together with a group of friends once a week. And then maybe add a dinner night with one or two other people weekly or bi-weekly. Our culture has lost the extended family and is in deep need of it. If you try this, you will find many more benefits than just a more well-adjusted baby. Remember, practice makes perfect. If it goes bad the first time, try again and again and again.
What if my baby cries a lot? I realize this is a difficult issue, but it will tell the strength of your community. The community that Robin and I live in is more like family than friends. I do not know about you but I am not worried about handing my crying baby to my mom, grandma, brother or cousin. We are family. So is our community.
What if my community does not feel the same way? In all honesty, this is a much bigger problem than a crying baby. Unless this is a group that your are reaching out to in a ministry perspective, then it is probably not a community worth investing in. Your children are now a part of you. If your friends do not want to be inconvenienced by you child, then they are not your friends. Seriously. We need families, not social clubs. Yes, there are times when children need to stay at home (more on this later), but these are fewer and further between. In our current family (community), we have several new babies and I cannot wait to see them.
What if my baby is already several months or years old? Get started immediately. It is never too late to start. It may take a bit for your child to get adjusted, but kids are incredible at adapting. Ask your friends for grace and mercy in helping your child adjust to becoming more flexible.
Interesting point An interesting point is that Sojo (our introvert and least flexible) is the one least exposed to community from birth. We were in a transitional phase of ministry after he was born and out of respect for the church we had been a part of, we separated ourselves from our community of friends. I think it could be fair to say that we had to readjust him a bit. He is now pretty flexible in social settings. He will go out and play right in the middle of the action with all the neighbor kids, then come in for a break before heading back out for more action. When we go places he is shy for the first few minutes before he starts interacting with people.
Conclusion The community life factor was definitely by accident. But it was missional accident. God has called us to love people and to make disciples. The best way to do this is to do life like a family, and we WERE NOT going to set aside the Kingdom Mission because we had a baby. We unconsciously had the end in mind from the beginning (last blog).
When I look back on our four years of parenting and look to the parenting experiences of friends and family, this factor seems to be a pretty accurate view across the board. The important things to remember is to involve your child in community ASAP, AMAP, and pass them around. Taking your child into community and guarding them from people seems to have the adverse effect, so PASS THEM AROUND.