It takes a village to raise a child, they say, but they don’t actually tell new parents how to find one. This African proverb suggests that children need interaction with an entire community to provide them with a safe, healthy, and positive environment. It sounds wonderful, but not necessarily realistic for many. As parents, we tend to define “our village” as our own parents, siblings, maybe a close friend or two who are in a similar stage in life, and our daycares and schools. If you don’t have family members close by, and your children aren’t in daycare or school yet, your village can feel non-existent.
Since learning more about the state of our world in university, my wife Caitlin and I have had a goal to live a more simple and sustainable lifestyle. We had visions of a life of freedom – free from debt, free from excessive consumerism, free from reliance on a traditional 9-5 work schedule. In 2016, we built a tiny house on wheels and told ourselves it would give us that freedom we so desperately desired.
When we decided to have a baby, we began to realize that this free, nomadic lifestyle wasn’t going to make raising a child easy. What we had been avoiding were the very things we began to crave as we got closer to parenthood – a sense of place and belonging. We stumbled across Treehouse Village Ecohousing by accident a month or two before our son was born. As we took in all the information about cohousing, we realized that it met many of our goals. It would help us reduce our footprint, and live more sustainably and simply. While it meant we’d have to get a mortgage, and we didn’t even have a date for breaking ground, we were confident in our decision to become members knowing we could help design a community and lifestyle that truly met our needs.
We were living in an apartment in Halifax when our son Alfie was born. Caitlin was taking her Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology at Dalhousie University and I was forging a career somewhere between environmental advocacy and green building. We both took a pause to welcome our son into the world. While Treehouse Village gave us hope for what was to come, we found it exhausting to juggle childcare, studies, work contracts, and professional development between the two of us, not to mention creating some sense of a social life.
We looked around us for our village, the one that was supposed to help us raise our child, only to realize it didn’t exist. Most of our friends and family live back in the UK where we grew up, and a handful of close friends from the University of British Columbia are now dispersed across the country. Our closest family members are Caitlin’s parents who moved from the UK to PEI in 2012. We had very few people nearby for support. Like many new parents, we felt isolated and alone.
As we got more involved in designing our community with the other members of Treehouse Village, we started to see it. Not only were we building a village literally, but figuratively as well. Members with older children passed along toys and clothes for Alfie. They offered to lend us baby gear instead of having us buying it ourselves. As we got to know our future neighbours and began having regular social events with those who already lived in Nova Scotia, we formed bonds we didn’t expect. Members of all ages and stages of life – those with no children, young children or grown children – would scoop Alfie up and keep him entertained to give us a break. We learned that it was okay to ask for help, advice or a listening ear when we needed it. For the first time, we felt that freedom we desired before our son was born. And just like that, Treehouse became “our village” long before we would build our home on the land. Now, we can be that village for others, too.
Before Alfie came along, Caitlin and I were so committed to shaping our own lifestyle for more freedom and flexibility. In hindsight, we were limiting ourselves. Now, we’re committed to shaping an entire community – one that will benefit not only us and Alfie, but the other 29 households within it. By loving where we live and living lightly, we’re also benefiting the local economy, border community, and our planet.
We talked so much about the supportive and welcoming nature of this community we’re developing that Caitlin’s parents even decided to sell their home in beautiful PEI and become members of Treehouse Village, too. They can’t wait to spend more time with Alfie and with the other members with whom they’ve already created great friendships.
We also learned so much about Bridgewater and spent so much time in this vibrant small town that we couldn’t wait until we could call it home – so in July 2020, we left Halifax and rented a home here until our village is built. Since then, we’ve been enjoying all the South Shore has to offer, getting to know the neighbourhood, supporting the local economy, and spending more time with our future neighbours. Our social life has taken a huge leap forward, too, with so many other parents in the area finding ways to entertain their kids.