Parents, You Are Not Alone! Join Us on The Front Porch
Updated: Jan 11
Little did I know when I moved to Kentucky, a simple front porch would change my life. Maybe it will change yours too. Pour yourself a glass of iced tea, and let’s find out.
When my husband and I moved into our little Louisville home, the simple brick building was almost 100 years old - and you could easily tell. The linoleum kitchen floor was slanted under the stove, which pretty much made it impossible to cook eggs over-easy with any success. The old wood floors creaked with every step you took. The house had three bedrooms, but only one functional bathroom. I say “functional” because the other bathroom was so tiny we called it the “toddler potty” - only my four-year-old niece could fit in it. The dishwasher was older than I was, and every time you ran it, it sounded like a semi-truck was rolling through the living room. But I loved that old house, not for what was inside its walls, but for what was outside them - the front porch. That front porch helped me to slow down, to see my neighbors and to be seen by them, and to find ways that we could encourage one another. That front porch built relationships. It built me.
That front porch built relationships. It built me.
At the time, my husband and I didn’t have a lot of spare cash, but I knew there was something special about that front porch. We put a fresh coat of paint on it, and I scoured Craigslist for a swing and chaise lounge. We found a used wicker set, which I brought back to life with a bottle of Clorox, and after buying cushions from an online discount store, I was ready to do some front porch reading. And I did . . . but the best stories I “read” were in the people I met.
Front porch-sitting, I slowed down. I noticed the neighbor across the street, her comings and goings, the artwork she carried and rotated in her windows. What started with simple hellos turned to deeper conversation. I complimented her work and learned she was an art teacher who lived alone, but whose kids came to visit from time to time. It became clear we had different life philosophies, and we probably never would have crossed paths if it weren’t for our front porches. But when the time came for her to have an art show, my husband and I attended her debut and celebrated her accomplishment.
Front porch-sitting, I saw and was seen. At the end of our street was a small Catholic school. We didn’t have kids at the time, but I loved watching the parents walk their kids up and down our street, observing how neat ponytails in the morning morphed to balls of scattered curls in the afternoon, how kids skipped more at the end of the day than the beginning, and moms and dads got backpack duty as they listened to their kids talk about their days. They waved to me, I waved to them, and I dreamed about what it would be like to be a mother myself.
But my favorite memory front porch sitting has to do with the twins.
Front porch-sitting, I got to be an encourager -- and that encouraged me. One Sunday, while reading a book with my beagle on my lap, I heard two kids wailing. Not whining, but all-out temper tantrum screaming. You know, the kind that taxes a parent to the bone, but is 100x worse when it happens in public? I looked to see if children were in danger, and to my relief saw a father carrying two of the most precious red-headed specimens I have ever seen. Their faces had turned almost the same color as their hair. Their mom was desperately trying to finish up a project for work, and their dad was desperately trying to give her the peace and quiet she needed while also trying to appease their obvious distress about being separated from mama. I quickly called out to them, “Hi kids! Want to meet my puppy?” Immediately, the floodgates stopped, and their tear-stained faces brightened, “Yes!” I walked over with my pup and ask
ed the dad’s permission for them to pet the dog. With a look of relief, he said yes, and we started talking. A few doggy kisses and belly scratches later, the twins’ emotions were reset, and they were able to continue their walk with their dad. Gratefully, he shook my hand and said we’d chat more soon.
He and his wife invited us over to their house one evening after the children had gone to bed to get to know one another better. We learned they were Jewish; we’re Christian. We talked politics--how we were similar, how we were different. Given my husband’s and my work schedules at the time, most of the people we were meeting came from our church, people who were more similar to us. We were able to enter into conversations and learn from people different from us all because I was on my front porch and present to help a neighbor at just the right time. If I had been sitting on a back porch, none of that would have happened.
Mothers looked after each other’s kids playing in the front yard, fathers stopped to chat with their neighbors on their way home from work, those whose children had long since had children of their own sat like sages upon rickety thrones, doling out advice and taking in the merriment of the young ones.
Sadly, most houses built today don’t have front porches, especially where I now live in Florida. They haven’t for decades. Instead, most houses are built with back porches, backyards and fences -- visual signs of individuals disconnected from their neighbors. But old houses were built with front porches because the design of society was to be involved in each other’s lives. Mothers looked after each other’s kids playing in the front yard, fathers stopped to chat with their neighbors on their way home from work, those whose children had long since had children of their own sat like sages upon rickety thrones, doling out advice and taking in the merriment of the young ones.
We only lived in that house for one year before we moved to Florida, but that front porch shaped the way I approach my neighbors and even the home we chose to live in now. When we moved into our most recent home, we looked for a big yard where our kids could play -- in front. The porch is small, but the yard is big. I can’t tell you the number of neighbors we’ve met while putting American flags in the grass on holidays (we ended up giving flags to a veteran to place in his own yard one day), while practicing scooters (we ended up racing with some other kids), while doing chalk (we ended up inviting a family driving home from school to join us for a push on the swings), and while playing catch (we ended up making some new friends who joined us for an impromptu s’more roast by the fire pit). Front porch living is all about living relationships.
Physical distancing need not mean social distancing.
Now with COVID upon us, it’s hard to have anyone come into your home, but you can still live front porch style literally and figuratively. Take my neighbor Miss Mary. She’s in her nineties, but sharp as a tack, young at heart and witty as ever. Like a clock, Ms. Mary is on her front porch at 4pm, drink in hand, to say hello to anyone who passes by. My kids used to show up in our Red Flyer wagon and surprise her with tea and graham crackers, but now with social distancing measures in place, I’m respectful of her need for space. Not to be outdone by a virus, Ms. Mary has shown that physical distancing need not mean social distancing. Her caregiver helped her erect a tent you’d just as soon see at a football tailgate party (indeed it’s a Florida Gators tent), but now it’s used to provide shade for any neighbor who’d like to sit and visit awhile. So one day, I did.
I was on a rare walk with just my youngest. Seldom do my older two let me out of their sight given that now I’m not just mama, I’m also constant playmate. Does that sound familiar to y’all? Anyway, when I saw Ms. Mary, I figured she needed some encouragement, so I sat down under the tent. She asked how I was. I told her how tired I was, how hard it is to have 3 kids ages 4 and under including a newborn during this pandemic. I told her how hard it is to try to keep the older two structured in learning and how disappointed I was to have a newborn season like this. Figuring she might take the opportunity to tell me how to do it better -- she had raised four kids, she had been a teacher -- she surprised me. She said, “Honey, I don’t know how you’re doing it. It’s hard. I always had help with my kids, and I had them much farther apart.” She gazed upon my little baby, drinking up her fluffy cheeks and clearly reminiscing about the days when her now-wrinkled hands held close that soft and sweet-smelling skin only tiny humans have. She said, “Honey, you’re doin’ great.”
That was front porch parenting, and we at Primerrily want to front porch parent with you.
We’re not here to pass on “mom guilt;” we’re here to encourage you on the journey.
We’re not here to tell you how to do it better; we’re here to help you find ways to do it differently.
We’re here to figure it out with you, to learn alongside and from you and your kids.
As America has become more of a back porch society, we’ve got a lot of back porch parenting going on. Primerrily wants to change that.
We at Primerrily believe that parents are primary, but we also believe that parents don't have to parent alone.
When people look back on how the American experiment got started, we tend to talk about individuals as isolates in a vacuum, but they weren’t. They were colleagues, they were friends, they were neighbors, they were communities, coming together to form a more perfect union based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their very actions breathed belief in civic virtue above the power of the government and the individual, as important as they each are.
You can count on Primerrily to provide you with resources supporting traditional virtues with a modern approach.
So to the mama, the daddy, the nana, the grandpa, the aunt, the uncle, the friend, the lover of freedom and children, to all our American neighbors we say --
See you on the front porch!