The Wood St Kids Co-op provided high-quality, low-cost childcare to support the whole gamut of parenting experiences. There were full-time parents with between one and four children. Some parents worked full-time while their partners did shifts at the co-op, some worked part-time, others were students or self-employed builders or shopkeepers. But sometimes the co-op offered the simple but profound benefit of being able to leave your child for an hour or two while you had a doctor’s appointment, did your shopping or met a friend.
Looking back, I can see how much support fellow Kids Co-op members gave to each other and what a huge difference it made to my life. Sharing both your love for your kids and your frustrations with parenting was invaluable. As I wrote in the Everything article:
The Co-op definitely breaks down the isolation that many parents of young children feel. It also helps to fight against the competitive aspects of child-raising – the ‘my child is more advanced than yours’ – ‘how to have a brighter child’ mentality, that can be so destructive. When you know each other’s children so well, you know them as people, not as athletes in some kind of obstacle race – leaping over toilet training, weaning, bottles and thumb-sucking to emerge fully developed and reciting the ABCs at three and a half years old.
But with freedom comes responsibility. That meant turning up on time for half-day shifts three times a fortnight (or organising a replacement if you couldn’t make it), attending night-time meetings, coming to weekend working bees and running street stalls to raise the money needed to keep going.
We cooked healthy food for lunch and created wholesome snacks. We fed the children vegaroni and soyaroni with grated cheese and made sandwiches with grated cheese, carrots and hummus. We cooked and cleaned up, over and over, leaving everything as clean as possible for the next couple of people on shift.
Changing nappies, reading stories, supervising play, encouraging sharing. Comforting children after their parents left. It took commitment and energy and could be draining.
Hardly a perfect organism, the co-op’s numbers waxed and waned. At times strong personalities clashed, and patience could be stretched when a group of assertive two-year-olds was cooped up inside on a rainy day.
Yet, in my experience, optimism prevailed and people found ways to work well together. The co-op lived on (1977–88) developing cooperative work practices, can-do attitudes and the pragmatism needed to get through a shift with up to 14 children under four years of age, with only one other adult for company.
We all developed our arsenal of cheer-up weapons. Some played music or led painting or dress-up games. We read books to the children, with Where the Wild Things Are among the favourites.
We were also indebted to the co-op members, usually men, who didn’t do shifts but came in on weekends to build shelves, knock holes in walls, paint, plaster and mow the lawn. Everyone had something to contribute and this made things work.
We celebrated children’s birthdays at each other’s houses at daytime parties where the parents stayed and partied too. We formed a community and, for some, lifelong friendships.