by Libby Stoker-Lavelle
The moment for us happened in July 2017. We had just put our ten-month-old daughter to bed after a busy day playing on the beach, and we cuddled up on the couch to watch Netflix.
The film we watched was Happy. The documentary explores the meaning of happiness and the keys to a happy life, highlighting researchers who study happiness, and people who have found contentment and joy in various ways of life.
One segment of the film hones in on Denmark, reputed to be one of the happiest countries in the world. The filmmakers interview a single mother living in a twenty-family cohousing community called Jernstoberiet, one of hundreds in Denmark, where she moved following a divorce, and had lived for twelve years at the time of filming. (Here’s a clip). This mom explains how the workload of meal preparation is distributed among resident families so each adult cooks one or two meals a month, and the community eats together nearly every evening. “It saves a lot of energy,” she explains.“When I come home and I’ve had my shower, I have two or three hours with my children.”
For this mother, having access to other adults as a single parent is critical to her wellbeing, and the dynamic relationships with neighbours of all ages are good for her kids. “I feel it is a gift from me to my children to live here,” the interviewee says. A child resident of the community notes, “If I’ve hurt myself down in the hall then someone always comes running. It doesn’t have to be my mom.”
As we watched, my husband Dan and I looked at each other. We were both thinking something along these lines:
This is genius!
Why doesn’t everyone live like this?
Could we do this?
We were living in our current home, a beautiful house on a lake in northern Saskatchewan, with no immediate neighbours but a close-knit wider community and lots of great friends. We loved (and love) where we live. And yet, cohousing just seemed to offer so much more of what we wanted in our day-to-day lives.
- Several days out of a month, just walking over to a dining hall and enjoying a delicious homemade meal with friends, and not having to plan or prepare any of it.
- Our daughter playing happily with neighbours, even in wild weather, and always having a friend nearby.
- Walking out the door and finding someone to connect with, even just for a few minutes.
- Working on a DIY project and knowing exactly which one of our neighbours would have the skill set to help us figure out what to do next.
- Our daughter feeling connected to a range of adults who would love and care about her, adults of varying ages, with a wide range of skills and interests.
- Learning how to live effectively in community, including making decisions and resolving conflicts, and modeling this for our daughter.
It all sounded pretty perfect.
Although cohousing is an unconventional lifestyle choice for Canadians, none of its features seemed particularly radical to us. In fact, when observed objectively, it is our current way of life that seems a bit crazy.
In the vicinity of our home, all of these other families are busily doing the same work as us: prepping meals, calming babies, negotiating with toddlers, struggling with the same challenges. We aren’t helping each other or sharing the workload, because the infrastructure just isn’t there, and we don’t really know each other.
When we want to spend time with our friends, or give our daughter a chance to play with other kids, we need to plan ahead, calibrate work and nap schedules, and bundle up in the car to go see each other.
All too often it’s easier to stay in our silos, even though Dan and I both feel that we are happiest when we spend lots of time with friends and family.
As we watched the rest of Happy, Dan and I both wondered: What would life look like if we shared the mental and physical workloads of parenting, and if we really connected with our neighbours? It seemed like family life would be a little bit easier, and a whole lot more fun.
That night, we did some research on cohousing. The more we learned, the more intrigued we became. We found out that there were several cohousing communities in Canada.
So this was really a thing that people did. And it seemed to be calling to us.
We searched for projects in Ontario and Nova Scotia (where our respective families live) and found the Bridgewater cohousing project, then in the conceptual stage. It all seemed a bit serendipitous. Moving to Bridgewater would bring us closer to both of our families, and we could live in a part of the country that we both loved.
Over the next two years, as we focused on our teaching careers and watched our daughter go from baby to toddler, cohousing remained in the backs of our minds, but the logistics of the move seemed overwhelming.
Taking a Leap
Then, last summer, something propelled us back into the orbit of Treehouse Village.
I’m not sure what it was, exactly. I lost my dad in April, a devastating loss. Maybe that grief gave me clarity, and gave us the push we needed to live a more intentional life, focused on our shared values.
When we looked into the progress that had been made in the past two years in Bridgewater, we discovered Treehouse Village Ecohousing had become a thriving community. We found an engaged group of people who were focused and ready to bring this concept to life, with an offer on land, a complex organizational system in place, and a professional team hired.
It seemed likely that TVE would become a reality, in spite of the incredible amount of work involved. And we wanted to be part of it, too.
The eco part of Treehouse Village Ecohousing was a big draw as well. Dan and I have been trying to reduce our environmental footprint as we follow the efforts of Greta Thunberg and other leaders who are spreading awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. We feel the weight of our responsibility to secure a stable planet for our daughter’s future, and beyond. Reducing our impact, living smaller, and living in a more sustainable way appealed to us.
Last summer we visited Bridgewater and found a lovely town with quite a lot of resources including a fantastic aquatic/recreational facility, great trails, good schools and plenty of retailers and service providers, with an international airport and the cultural richness of Halifax a short drive away. Moving to Treehouse Village in Bridgewater just made sense.
Fast forward to today, and we are associate members of Treehouse Village, which is now in the development stage, with a 14-acre plot of forested land purchased in the heart of town, detailed architectural plans, and, as of writing (Feb 15) 14 equity members and seven associate members, and a goal move-in date for late 2021.
When I decided to write this blog post, I asked other parents in the TVE community, “What was the clincher for you in deciding TVE was where you wanted to raise your child(ren)?” Four families, equity households in the TVE project, weighed in – there comments will be shared in a future post. So many of our own sentiments are echoed in their comments, which reinforces my gut feeling that this is the right direction for us.
Our three-year-old daughter remains our key motivation in making this lifestyle shift. I know that she will thrive surrounded by nature, friends, and neighbours who know her and care about her. Not to mention being much closer to our families.
But it’s not just about our child. I feel that living in a cohousing community will help us to become better parents, and maybe even better people, in the long run. I feel like cohousing will be good for us in so many ways.
This route to a new pathway in life is not straightforward. There will be jobs to find, a home to sell, connections to build, and a cross-country move to navigate. But at the same time, it is so simple. We want our child to be raised by a village, and we want to be that village for others.
That’s why we are on this journey.