Raising children has always been best when it’s a community affair. In previous generations, aunts, uncles, grandparents, god parents and family friends – spare parents, or sparents –all played a part in raising kids.
The last decade has seen the rise of parenting as an individual endeavour, which can place crushing pressure for parents to always be at their best.
The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ needs to be updated to ‘it takes a town or suburb full of healthy adults to look out for kids at different stages of their lives.’ A mouthful, but you get the gist. A child can never have too many spare parents.
Sparenting at different stages
When kids are very young, most parents want a break from the relentlessness of child-rearing. It’s ta time for other adults to step up to offer a smattering of advice, a touch of moral support and plenty of babysitting relief.
As kids move into primary school they are primed for finding their place in the world. Spending time with other adults such as family, friends and parents of their friends broadens their horizons, hastening this important socialisation process.
Developmentally, teenagers benefit enormously from relationships with men and women outside their immediate family. Sparents make great confidantes and coaches for young people at a stage when they are seeking independence from their parents while undergoing significant emotional and physical changes.
Some years ago my daughter loved babysitting her young niece, constantly phoning her brother with babysitting offers. Now as a parent she still takes a keen interest in her nieces and nephews because deep in her bones she knows that sparenting enriches a child’s life in so many ways.
The benefits of sparents
Filling a talent or interest gap
Kids usually appreciate having an adult to share their interests, but it’s hard for parents to be across all their children’s hobbies and activities. Relatives or family friends are well placed to fill the interest void that occurs in some families.
Filling a gender gap
If you are raising a son in an all-female household then an uncle, grandfather or male family friend can be a great additional role model. Similarly, girls in all-male households can benefit from sparenting by a female friend or relative.
Bringing a fresh voice
Ever noticed how kids will listen to other adults more than they listen to their parents, even though the message is the same? It’s frustrating, but that has always been the reality of raising children and young people.
Bringing some emotional detachment
As strange as it may sound (hear me out), being your child’s parent can be an obstacle to parenting them rationally. When we are heavily invested, rightfully so, in all their hopes and dreams as well as our own wishes for them, it’s inevitable that we won’t always use logic and reason, especially in the heat of a challenging moment.
The presence of another calming adult without the emotional investment that comes with parenting provides a different perspective, particularly when kids behave poorly or when academic results can disappoint.