When my son (The Boy) was 2 we moved into a house on a street filled with pre-teens, and I had the brilliant idea of grooming this bunch of go-carting, kick-the-can playing loudmouths for future babysitting duty. These rowdy neighbourhood kids didn’t look much like trustworthy companions for my precious little one, but I liked them and they were full of life and happy to hang out in the street and talk to me. They were not yet teenagers full of mystery and aloofness; they actually enjoyed when I paid attention to them.

I was The Boy’s full-time caregiver when he was 2, so I didn’t have a huge need for childcare. His dad was living with us most of the time and another mom (Karen) and her 2 year-old daughter (The Girl) were also part of the communal household, so there were often adults around to play with the kids and supervise their safety. But I take the long view with almost everything; I knew my need for babysitting would increase over the years and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to fully take charge of what was inevitably ahead.

The main 11-year olds on the scene were Derek and Michelle. When Karen and/or I were outside with our toddlers, Derek and Michelle would often swing by on their bikes or their scooters or their skateboards to see what we were up to. They usually had lots to say about their friends and their families and their teachers. We would happily share our popsicles or popcorn as they told us about their adventures in the creek behind our street and about their various pets. Derek and Michelle interacted with our little ones and they watched how we interacted with them too. In a very organic way, we were all learning about each other and becoming connected.

I knew I was adding value to the lives of those pre-teens with my warm curiosity and my cheerful friendliness. Children of all ages thrive on these inputs. Actually, that’s how humans of all ages work! (Sadly, we parents have an extremely difficult time giving our kids as much warm curiosity and cheerful friendliness as they need. Children are practically bottomless vessels for loving attention, but parents are sometimes terribly time crunched and full of stress.)

The Boy and The Girl also loved having these older kids hanging around. The pre-teens were energetic and playful and could do fascinating things with their bodies and their bikes that the little ones could watch all day long.

At the same time, knowing Derek and Michelle and their gang of friends was bringing tremendous value to my life. Those kids taught me many things about the trail network in our neighbourhood, they taught me how to play games I had never even heard of, they taught me what it was like to be in grade 6 in 1999 (which was a whole lot different than being in grade 6 when I had been in 1982); but most of all I learned directly from them what needs and desires drive a pre-teen. This was extremely important intel for me, since I would be the parent of a pre-teen before I knew it.

My plan for that time was:

  1. Get to know these interesting young people.
  2. Continue to build my personal relationships with them, and between them and our little ones.
  3. Bring value to them through my warm curiosity and cheerful friendliness (these are vehicles of caring that make sense to kids).
  4. Use these relationships with the neighbourhood pre-teens to actively observe and consciously learn about the pre-teen stage through my ‘mother’ lens, in preparation for The Boy being that age one day.

My intended future outcomes from the above plan were:

  1. My kid would have babysitters who were also dear friends and neighbours, so he would feel at ease and have fun in my absence.
  2. I would add value to the lives of Michelle and Derek, two young people that I cared a lot about, by providing them with some spending cash.
  3. I would have peace of mind knowing that my babysitter was someone whom I had a close relationship with of mutual respect.

In this way, at the same time as our lives were being enriched by our relationships back when The Boy was a toddler, the seeds were starting to grow for all of our lives being enriched in the future. My son didn’t have a real sibling (although The Girl was a great substitute), nor did he have anyone to interact with who wasn’t right around his age or else an adult. This is not the way humans have evolved; we are tribal people meant to learn from mixed age groupings. Cultivating my relationships with Michelle and Derek  in this conscious way was intentional and strategic. It was also a loving choice for everyone.

And, if you want to know, it pretty much turned out the way I hoped it would. Derek and Michelle were highly appreciated and competent babysitters for years.



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