Some say, “good fences makes good neighbours”. I didn’t grow up believing that. I was raised to believe that good deeds make good neighbours. I grew up in a house where neighbours sent their children to borrow eggs and cups of sugar. I was the runner myself many a time. Seeking out a bag of milk, some laundry soap – or replacing a pinch of the borrowed item after groceries had been bought. No one kept track. No one made a fuss. It was part of the richness of our little corner of the neighbourhood. None of us were rich….and yet we were, in the currency of community.
A few years ago the house immediately beside us was sold to a young family. Their fence was old and falling down. Their children and ours were similar in age, we had a play structure – they didn’t. Together we all agreed to take the fence down and share the space between the two homes freely. We thought it would be fun, and good for the kids. I think both sets of parents would admit that this decision has posed some challenges. They are children after all. They are growing into and out of various stages at different paces. They have different moods and personality traits, and friends that don’t always match in the moment. I guess a good fence may have made it easier at times.
The thing is, we would be missing out on so much! Like the absolute delight of waking up countless mornings to the sound of laughter. Leaning over the balcony handing out treats to the kids (and coffee to each other). Our children gobbling their cereal and running out in their pyjamas to play on the swings together or kick a ball around. If there was a fence there would have been fewer water fights, nerf wars, foam sword battles, tomato fights. Less opportunity to share the joy and build the friendships that extend beyond friendship. It feels like family. We would have missed out on this gift.
The gift actually extend past the moments of delight. It is found in the hard moments too. When these tiny people are asked to do big things, like forgive each other for hurt feelings, or be understanding of each other when they express themselves poorly. The very painful, but normal childhood moments when one uses the other as a target for their own issue. When they find themselves excluded for no fault of their own. Excluded because of a misunderstanding, or a thoughtless moment, or a decision based on feelings. Feelings they are just learning to manage, because they are all so little. This is a gift too because that is LIFE. Relationships can be tricky. Learning when we are young prepares us to better manage later. But it is hard sometimes.
The kids certainly don’t always understand, and as parents sometimes it is painful for us too. We see our children hurt, or misbehaving. We feel protective, we feel responsible. Some days we want to hide our heads and pretend it was not our child that said that thing, or did that thing. Some days we want to run out there and hose them all down, tell them to “knock it off “ or “grow up”. That’s what they are already doing though isn’t it? Growing up.
It can be confusing at times, deciding when to intervene and when to let them work it through alone. Knowing when to scold, and when to leave a little space for your own children to be flawed and imperfect and respond naturally to whatever has upset them. It can be SO aggravating, on the days when we all have so much work to do, but the kids can’t be out in the yard without a ‘referee’. I suspect there have been a few times when one or the other parent was silently regretting the ‘no fence decision’. We were right though. We did the right thing.
Our kids are learning now, what some adults are still working on long into their older years.
They are learning that everyone is different. That everyone has their ups and downs, their moods, their flaws. Relationships extend far beyond “he loves me, he loves me not”. A person who loves us will be imperfect, can be hurtful. We can hate someone’s choice or behaviour but still love the person, deeply. When someone is rude, it does not necessarily mean they dislike us, it can be many other things that have nothing to do with us at all. It’s is not okay for someone to be rude to us, and we are allowed to say so. When it is our turn to be the one though, the one who had a rough day and used the wrong words, or voice – we hope to be forgiven. So we learn to forgive, choose not carry hurt feelings around.
Our children are learning to read each other’s cues. To recognize when it’s a good time to be together, and when to walk away. They know that some days it is just better to give space. They are learning to try to work things out for themselves, and ask for help when it is getting to be too much. They are learning to accept good friends as imperfect people. They know already, how to set a standard for themselves and how they expect to be treated, but understand the subtle, delicate difference between someone with bad intentions who they need not seek friendship from, and someone who is just making poor choices, or in a bad mood, who needs time and a chance to try again. These life lessons do not arrive from opposite sides of a fence.
A fence would not just have stood in the middle of our two homes. It would have been a barrier to countless opportunities to learn and grow. Our children have some tough days. Days when they retreat inside because they just couldn’t get in sync with each other in the yard. Days when they have to navigate hurt feelings, confusion, anger, sadness. But as they grow and deepen their understanding they become very thoughtful, resilient children! We are seeing it happen already, and they are still very young.
As parents, we have all benefited too. None of us has truly been alone since the day that fence came down. Four sets of eyes and hands. Four loving hearts that see these children as the gifts of light and love that they are. Four parents with the same standards and caring for all the children. The cups of sugar, the eggs, the laundry soap. We move freely back and forth sharing, helping, commiserating, brainstorming, strategizing, lamenting and laughing. We are not just watching each others children grow. We are helping each other to raise these children. It is a joyful privilege.
Good fences? I think they make life less complicated.
Good deeds make life less difficult, less lonely.
But it is GOOD PEOPLE that make good neighbours.
Good neighbours become good friends, and good friends help each other raise AMAZING KIDS!!!
I wouldn’t thank you for a good fence. But I am eternally grateful for my neighbours.