Creating a space for parents and children to grow together

After figuring out how to navigate her own post-partum period on her own, Cara H. Cadwallader began helping her friends who were pregnant, eventually creating Mama’s (& Papa’s) Cooperative Encinitas.

“I am an older mother … after I gave birth to our son, I had to create work I could do with him at my side,” she says. “I began helping pregnant friends in planning ahead for their first 40 days of life with their infant and identifying, as well as asking for, their needs to be met during that time.”

They started in 2016 and looked a lot like a playgroup during that first year, she says, while they figured out what they wanted out of a cooperative. Today, they have about 15 families in the co-op and offer space for parents to work, gardening, healing and emotional support, child care and family events, which are covered through monthly dues.

Cadwallader, 41, earned degrees in dance and interdisciplinary arts, and lives in Cardiff with her partner, Burt, and their 3-year-old son. She’s the executive director of the cooperative and took some time to talk about the vision for the group, cultivating a “cooperative” frame of mind and actions, and how she channels her intensity and passion.

Tell us about Mama’s Cooperative.

Our cooperative began in 2016, with a vision of women working on laptops, or meeting in a circle to talk about what is going on in their personal lives, while their children played in the yard. Although we mainly looked like a playgroup our first year, during that time, I worked to discover what each attending woman wanted in a cooperative. This past year, we launched our “Little Sprouts Learning Garden,” which provides children with the structure they need so we can tend to our self-care and making money, as well as expanding our parenting skills. Parents take turns rotating through the duties that make our garden go. When they are not working in the garden, parents tend to their own needs, like working remotely, getting a massage, chatting with another parent, etc. At our co-op, we are remembering how to slow down as well as how to live and grow through ‘village,’ meaning through the sharing of resources, like time, energy and money.

Why was this something you wanted to do?

I have always felt called to gather people together in real time with the purpose of engaging in heart-felt connection. Becoming a mother simply shifted my focus toward women’s health and well-being.

Your co-op offers things like a co-working studio, nature-based play for kids, community healing sessions, emotional support circles, family events and gardening. What can you tell us about your co-working studios and why nature-based play is necessary for kids?

Ours is a co-working studio where mothers get a reprieve from their children in order to spend a few, precious hours developing their other passions and interests. After all, a mother is a human being who also needs to focus on the other things that bring her joy. In books like “Last Child in the Woods” and “Dirt is Good” by Richard Louv and Jack Gilbert, respectively, they link the lack of nature in children’s lives with rises in obesity, attention disorders, depression and argue that children’s exposure to the germs in dirt is actually beneficial to their immune systems.

What I love about Cardiff-by-the-Sea …

I adore Cardiff! On my pre-dawn, Mama-Me-Time walks, I amble up the hill toward Crest Drive to enjoy stunning views of the sun rising over the mountains in the east, and sometimes, the moon setting over the ocean in the west. We live in paradise!

What are the community healing sessions and emotional support circles designed to do for the participants?

Like our children, we are here to grow. We don’t stop “growing up” just because we got that job we always dreamed about, or we are now married with children. When adults refuse to grow and transform, the effects are deleterious on an individual’s, as well as a family’s, health and well-being. Many of us have inherited the patterns of those who came before us, in which we can prioritize the needs of others over ourselves. As a result, we don’t have a clear sense of what our boundaries are and we also don’t know how to say “No” or ask for what we want. Due to a lack of healthy support for mothers and their families, as well as our own inability to ask for the help we need, we can feel resentful, exhausted or overwhelmed. Our co-op aims for our collective evolution toward functional family health.

What kind of work do you do in the co-op?

In trying to have a sibling close in age for our child, I experienced two, first-term miscarriages. After leading myself through rituals for grief and healing, I began offering a course for women who have also experienced pregnancy loss. Today, I offer online group coaching courses for women and mothers anywhere to plan and prepare for a successful postpartum period; to claim loss as a natural part of life; and in transforming their lives from pain to pleasure, boredom to passion. This May, I am also launching an online mentorship for conscious and mindful mamas.

What’s been challenging about your work running this co-op?

The hardest part is becoming a “cooperative” where each of our members has ownership. Culturally, we are accustomed to a top-down management model and to the compartmentalization of our organizations where there is not, for example, a director who is simultaneously janitor, teacher and gardener.

What’s been rewarding about your work?

There are days when I am out in the garden, quietly weeding, and I am surrounded by a large group of children between the ages of 2 and 4 (plus the handful of adults tending to them) and it is so peaceful. The children are comfortably learning how to just be, while the adults around them are mindfully going about the required tasks for our cooperative to run efficiently. It warms my heart to know that, even as great chaos swirls our planet, a group of committed adults can co-create a kind and loving bubble to raise our children and ourselves in.

What has it taught you about yourself?

I enjoy witnessing how I balance qualities that could be described as soft, in offering hugs to women and hands for holding to their children, for example, with qualities that are more rigid, like holding a vision and building the structures to support it.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My partner is one of my most trusted sages. He often reminds me to “be vulnerable” because vulnerability is how we truly connect with, and reach, each other.

What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

I can come across as an intense person. People would be surprised to experience how I channel all of this fiery energy of mine into co-creating harmonious spaces where individuals can feel seen and heard, as well as thrive and grow.

Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

My favorite weekends include lots of quality time with my family, both in service by working the soil and planting seeds in the Encinitas Community Garden, and in leisure, by joining the weekly drum circle down at Swami’s Beach Park on the (state Route) 101. Our weekly Sunday ritual includes going to Dance Church, where we commune with spirit and others through our bodies, as well as to the Leucadia Farmer’s Market, where we satisfy our hungry palates with a diverse array of culinary delights.

-- Lisa Deaderick is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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