Monday, January 14, 2013

Keeping the Co-op Connected

One of the most common concerns we hear from co-op parents is that they just don’t know the other moms well enough. They get ten minutes to chat during pick-up and drop-off, but they’d really like some good solid time to get to know each other better.
            In larger co-ops, some moms always feel like they’re out on the fringe, never getting asked to babysit because nobody knows them well enough to feel comfortable calling them up and bringing their children over.
            What’s the solution to this problem? Organize some social gatherings where moms can sit around and talk about high school, child development, international politics, and what they’re going to make for dinner. It doesn’t need to be fancy or long, but it should be comfortable for everyone, and nobody should have to find a sitter for it—that would defeat the purpose.
            Playgroups work well for moms with preschool-aged children. Take turns hosting the playgroup in homes during the winter, but during the summer just meet at a park and everyone can bring their own lunches. The children will stay busy on the playground, and the moms can sit and enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company.
            Potlucks are a fun way to include dads and older children who aren’t home during normal co-op hours. Just a few potluck dinners a year can bond a group. Involving the dads and older siblings also makes the co-op feel like a family affair, instead of just what the moms and little kids do during the day. Many dads like to be involved in all aspects of their kids’ lives, and they want to know the people their children spend time with.
            Along the same lines, holiday parties make fun traditions for co-op groups. Besides Christmas parties, you could get together on the 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, or Halloween. In areas where trick-or-treating isn’t practical, a Halloween party might fill an important need.
            Social gatherings are great, but you can spend some valuable time as a co-op providing service to each other and to complete strangers. As a group, you’ve already learned to cooperate, so putting your cooperation to use in another way makes sense.
            As a co-op, you could organize a clothing exchange, where everyone brings children’s or maternity clothes that they’re not currently using and exchanges them for currently needed items.. You could set it up so that everyone gets their items back after they’re used, or you might just treat all items like donations. Such a system cuts down on individual families’ storage requirements and can save everyone a lot of money.
            In the same vein, set up a toy or equipment exchange. New toys are always more fun than old ones, but you don’t want to go out and buy new toys every few months. Just rotate them among the group, and the kids won’t ever get bored with what they have to play with. Likewise, let your group know if you have a baby crib or a changing table you’re not using. Instead of taking equipment to a thrift store when you’re done with it, trade it for something you need. In a group of families all raising children, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.
            A cohesive, cooperative group can be a great force for good in many ways. Make the most of it.

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