Kids in Cohousing

If you’ve ever found parenting challenging (wry smile)
... but have the time to read this (wider smile)
... you may have landed in the right spot.
Yes, every generation of parents absolutely face their own peculiar set of challenges, but today’s seem particularly daunting, at least to this particular first time parent.

A Q&A conversation by Michael Barrett,
Oak Park Commons Cohousing member, parent, and future resident
Mike, Susan and Evers enjoy a day out
  • Reduce screen time and increase real-life, in person, interactions to combat my child’s seeming sedentary isolation?
  • Develop and protect the mental health of my child, especially to avoid the increasingly all-too-common anxiety and depression?
  • Provide a truly quality education, one that’s affordable, inclusive and challenging?
  • Meaningfully do my part to help ensure that there’s a healthy planet still around for them to live a healthy, full, and wonderful life?
  • Grow their interpersonal skills to best prepare them for the road ahead?
  • Take better care of myself, since all of my energy currently goes towards my children?
  • Come anywhere close to doing all of this?

Historically, the answer to these challenges was met with some variation of the familiar ‘it takes a village.’ But, today it seems harder to find that willing, capable village. When parents do search, one potential answer is found in the growing number of cohousing developments. There are currently over 165 in the United States, with another 140 in various stages of development.

Yes, it’s a bold claim that somehow a type of housing development might uniquely be able to help with any or all these parenting challenges. In fact, cohousing started some five decades ago, specifically as a way to create a better childhood for kids. Here’s how there might actually be something to this – that where you live and how you live can absolutely help.

As with many challenges, simplifying can help a lot. In the case of relationships, in cohousing they’re simplified by proximity. It’s easier to be a genuine neighbor, if you actually see your neighbor.

Then, imagine if you were confident that your neighbor actually wanted the same thing as you: a genuine, robust neighborly relationship. This is the magic sauce of cohousing.

You – and your children – are well on your way to meaningful, truly supportive relationships, if the people living next to you desire the same thing.


A cohousing development slightly reduces the square footage of private space to increase the square footage of meaningful, unique common space. We certainly do this with:

  • Over 4300 square feet of common space, located on the top floor.
  • A large kitchen and dining area designed specifically with the intent to have some arrangement of recurring meals together.
  • Specifically for kids: a dedicated, adjoining children’s playroom, with ample toy storage.
  • A rooftop garden where kids can both play in the dirt and start to understand exactly where food comes from, which grows your ‘child’s brain, body and soul.’ (5)
  • A generous patio that invites outdoor play.
  • And finally, there’s the usual building communal spaces, smaller rooms to exercise, watch or listen to entertainment, read, play games, hold a meeting, or simply relax together. But, the simple difference here is that we actually intend to regularly use this space together. Again, the magic sauce and shared intent.
  •  School Rankings: The public system is organized around its high school, Oak Park and River Forest High School, designated by the state as an ‘exemplary’ school, meaning it ranks in the top 10% of all Illinois high schools, with a 95% graduation rate and 55% AP participation.
  • Diversity: Oak Park is known for its diverse community, which is reflected in its public schools. The high school accomplishes its stellar rating while being one of the most racially diverse suburban districts in the state, securing a well-earned reputation for promoting inclusivity and broad cultural awareness.

  • Community Involvement: The larger Oak Park community places a strong emphasis on education, meaning there’s legit, active community support of the public schools. Equally strong arts and sports programs dot the town. Civic and parent groups work hand in hand with the schools. This might be best exemplified by the award winning Collaboration for Early Childhood.

If you believe the best education comes from exposure to diverse ideas and beliefs held by diverse people, you will find that very mix between our walls.

Not surprisingly, our community already includes many families and individuals who have lived lives that have always valued relationships, community, and the greater good, even before they were ever introduced to the idea of cohousing.

As a result, among your neighbors, not surprisingly, there are several educators from early education right on up through higher ed. More than one are very civic-minded, being longstanding members of various Oak Park organizations. While some have valued Oak Park so highly they’ve called it home for their entire lives, others hail from both coasts and even beyond.

For kids, this means actual intergenerational relationships – meaningful, trusted, and caring – with adults and seniors but also, wonderfully, with kids of various ages. Children will find willing playmates, readers, tutors, storytellers and caregivers among the neighbors they meet at meals, in the hallways, and on the rooftop.

Each neighbor is unique in occupation, race, religion, national culture and interests. But all share the same commitment to creating real community trust and support while sharing the joys and challenges of life.

As a result, schools have specifically observed that kids raised in a cohousing setting are, not surprisingly, particularly adept at sharing, problem-solving, conflict resolution and group decision-making.(2) That they’re very open and self confident kids since they can actually have more independence here, being allowed to move around alone in a large, safe setting.

Most impactful: it’s in how the entire building itself is being built to achieve The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) Silver rating.(6)

The NGBS rigorously defines what it means to be a ‘green building’ covering 6 areas of high-performance building practices:

    • Lot design and development
    • Resource efficiency
    • Water efficiency
    • Energy efficiency via a heat pump split system and induction ranges
    • Indoor environmental quality
    • Building operation and maintenance

In addition, Oak Park Commons includes:

    • Secure bike racks that help enable frequent biking.
    • Close public transportation. Two Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) elevated rail lines (Blue and Green), the Metra (Union Pacific West Line) train, PACE and CTA bus lines serve Oak Park.(8)
    • Built-in, home electric car charging stations to aid in the transition to EVs.
    • Smaller environmental footprint by living in a dense, very walkable urban environment. In fact, Oak Park is the most walkable city in Illinois.(7)
    • A rooftop garden with truly local vegetables and native perennials for pollinators!
    • Future solar panel installation.

It’s a lot of the predictable, just more readily accessible and, most importantly, expected and desired. Again, the magic sauce: your neighbors expect to be asked for help and, yes, they actually want to be asked. Helping each other with the seemingly mundane stuff of life, in a way, kind of sums up why we’re all here. And, ever notice how it’s usually much easier to help someone else than yourself?

Do you ever need:

  • A trusted babysitter?
  • A dog walked?
  • A cup of milk?
  • A quick ride here or there to make parental logistics work today?
  • Someone else to cook for a change?
  • Advice on today’s challenge from another parent who’s definitely ‘been there before?’
  • Help cleaning up yet another toy explosion?
  • To simply feel comfortable and confident in asking neighbors who genuinely care to keep a watchful eye for a time?
  • Some time around actual adults for yourself or some all-too rare self-care?

Maybe. One defining element of cohousing communities is figuring out how to best leverage shared items.

It’s driven by a desire for a smaller environmental footprint, for help being less materialistic, and for basic sensible economics.

Just as there’s no need for every household to own a vacuum or every tool under the sun, a lot of parenting and child rearing essentials can be shared or simply handed down.

Many benefits of cohousing highlighted here come directly from being a diverse, intergenerational community.

That means we very much want – even need – families and children of all ages to feel warmly welcomed. That’s done, in part, by understanding the commitment and workload of parenting.

Yes, we want to live among people committed to the potential of living together in a community. But still, how and when you interact with your larger community is flexible and determined by your availability and capacity, just as it is for everyone, everyday.

Parks! It’s in the very name! 


New York Times – “Does Co-Housing Provide a Path to Happiness for Modern Parents?”

“Children need 100 parents”

Romper – “The Cohousing Community That Saved Me From Parenting Isolation” – Romper

“I’m a single mom who shares a house with other single moms. My cohousing friendships deliver emotional support, good advice, and yacht vacations.”

PBS – “Gardening With Kids: How It Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body and Soul”

“The NGBS Green Promise”

Redfin – “The 10 Most Walkable Cities in Illinois”