The Biggest Gift I Could Give My Only Child

We weren’t planning to have only one child. Our hope was for two, but we never expected starting a family to be so challenging. We joined the all-too-common-but-largely-invisible population of couples who struggle with infertility. I couldn’t bear to accept that our vision for being parents might not come to pass. It was a dark time, which miraculously came to an end with the news that we were expecting our first child in the spring of 2013. What a blessing! 

Now, where to live? We’d need a home, a nest for our growing family. We’d come across the concept of cohousing, which seemed like the best of both worlds: the privacy of one’s own home, on a property with other homes, trustworthy neighbours, and ample amenities to share. But there were no cohousing communities in Nova Scotia, and we loved it here too much to leave. 

Those close to us would describe Leon and me as ambitious and determined, sometimes stubbornly so. I’d say marriage has amplified these traits. Rather than simply trying to find a house for our small family (which would surely have been a big enough project as first-time-home-buyers), we dove into this dream of building a cohousing neighbourhood of 30 homes. We formed a group, met regularly, and started shaping a vision for an intentional community. Dylan’s birth strengthened our ambition, as we began to uncover all the benefits of raising him in cohousing. They say it “takes a village to raise a child” — this would be it! 

The decision to move forth as a family of three didn’t actually close the door on growing our family. Rather, it opened the space and energy for us to build a family in another way. The ember of our cohousing dream was still hot. We fanned the flame and became the “burning souls” of Treehouse Village.

In February 2014, our cohousing efforts ground to a halt. At 31, I suffered an out-of-the-blue heart attack (spontaneous coronary artery dissection). Parking the cohousing dream for a while was the easy part. Coming to terms with the news that it would not be safe for me to become pregnant again was much harder. For four years we tried to grow our family through surrogacy and adoption before resolving to close that chapter. The decision to move forth as a family of three didn’t actually close the door on growing our family. Rather, it opened the space and energy for us to build a family in another way. The ember of our cohousing dream was still hot. We fanned the flame and became the “burning souls” of Treehouse Village. 

Fast forward a few years. I’ve fully embraced being the parent to an only child. The fears and stereotypes I used to hold about only children have diminished. Dylan is an awesome kid, and he brings limitless joy and love into our lives. And, while I think we’ve been blessed with a fairly “easy” kid to parent, I am learning that there are fundamentals to parenting an only child that make it gosh darn hard work. [This is not at all a comparative judgement to parenting other numbers of children, which must come with other types of challenges.]

We already live in a society where parenting in isolation has become the norm. Our “DIY” culture has us striving for our own house, yard, and all the “things” we need to be a self-sufficient family unit. With that DIY attitude comes the mindset that we are also to be all to our children.

We already live in a society where parenting in isolation has become the norm. Our “DIY” culture has us striving for our own house, yard, and all the “things” we need to be a self-sufficient family unit. With that DIY attitude comes the mindset that we are also to be all to our children. We’re the parent, cook, maid, nurse, and also the taxi, playmate, companion, accomplice, mediator, coach, and mentor. This is amplified further when there is an only child. 

I am a fantastic playmate to my child. I climb trees, build forts, find broken gadgets for him to dismantle, and can play lego for hours on end. But I cannot play all the roles in his seven-year-old life (nor do I want to!). I am no substitute for another child when it comes to entering the flow of their imaginative worlds. Nor can I capture his attention like another adult, eager to share a skill that intrigues him. 

The village that I am working to create will include people of all ages to fill these roles, and more, in my son’s life. He’ll have other children to play with, and self-initiated play will be the norm (no need to arrange playdates!). He’ll have people around who can teach him about things I know little about (like how to clean a bike chain, or build a solar charger). He’ll have spontaneous daily interactions with his neighbours. He’ll learn through experience how to cooperate, make decisions, and resolve conflicts as he grows up in a place where we practice these skills often and explicitly. There will be diverse role models to support his transition through adolescence. 

My partner and I have poured an astounding amount of time and energy into bringing Treehouse Village to life. When the hours are tallied, there is really no rational way for us to justify our commitment to this endeavour. We can only describe it as a passion project. It has become increasingly clear to me that one of the primary sources of energy that fuels me in this work is seeing it as a gift to my child. By making Treehouse Village our home, we will be giving Dylan:

  • the gift of sibling-like relationships with friends and the opportunity to play without having to schedule or travel
  • the gift of adventure found in the forest of our backyard
  • the gift of safety thanks to car-free spaces and caring eyes all around
  • the gift of self-esteem from growing up confident in a community that appreciates one’s true self and one’s gifts
  • the gift of a village that reflects and lives out many values that are held by our family

Late next year, when we move into Treehouse Village, our family will be more complete than it has ever been, and I will have given my only child the biggest gift I ever could.

Would you like to join our village? There are only 8 homes remaining! 

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Categories Community Life/Families

Post Author: Cate de Vreede

One Reply to “The Biggest Gift I Could Give My Only Child”

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal story and motivations. Congratulations for sticking with your vision and bringing it to fruition! Very inspiring.

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