Saturday, January 26, 2013

Issues in Community: Children

Most people have heard the saying, it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, if you don't have a village, a community will certainly do.

I helped raise two children in a communal setting.  Having talked with both of them (young adults now), I think it certainly made a difference and both of them said they were glad they were raised this way. 

At Twin Oaks this fall (see Life at Twin Oaks, 12/4/12, for more about my time there), I met some very articulate and thoughtful youngsters, including one who was studying their planning system for a school assignment and his notes on the meetings were so detailed and accurate that they became the minutes for the meetings.  I also found out that Twin Oaks had a very new thing happen to them recently: two of the kids that were raised there didn't leave as they came of age but decided to become members.  In my experience this is very unusual and it may have more to do with the poor state of the US economy than because of a great love for Twin Oaks.  Still, another person raised at Twin Oaks who left has come back as a member and, at least in his case, the reasons don't seem to be economic.

Dozens of children have been raised at Twin Oaks.  It hasn't always worked out well.  It seems like they are doing better these days but one thing that was going on while I was there was a controversy about certain buildings that had been traditionally child free.  This is one issue in community child rearing--not everyone in a community wants to raise a child.  At Twin Oaks at least there is a bit of space so some areas (in theory) can support families while other areas can hold members that don't want to be around children.

The community I helped build practiced rotating childcare.  Each of us took turns being the 'parent on duty' (or POD as we called it).  I think this was great for the kids, if sometimes a bit stressful for the adults.  When I looked at how much energy it took for five adults to keep up with two children, I started wondering about my own parents, who were two adults coping with five kids.

I also think that our community broke up at the right time for the kids.  While I firmly believe that communities are wonderful places for a small child to live, I have seen how difficult it can be for adolescents to live in community, particularly in an urban area.  This is an age where there is a strong desire to be like your peers.  Few teens want to stand out or look weird. I visited a co-housing group filled with young kids running around.  They had created a special teen room just so their adolescents would have a place of their own--and the adolescents would have nothing to do with it.  The room was basically deserted.  This makes it all the more impressive to me to see teens doing well at Twin Oaks.  I suspect that this may have a lot to do with how big the place is, how many kids there are there, and how isolated it is.  Being in community for a teen may be easier if most of your peers are in community as well.

I'm not saying that it's easy to raise children in community (or anywhere) or that the children always turn out well.  But I think it's very possible and can be beneficial for the kids.  In a future post I hope to look at how children raised in other alternative settings turn out (for example, children from the 'hippie' culture or from 'poly families').  If we are going to create a sustainable society, raising children in the best possible way needs to be part of that.  And I do think that communities can be places that support parents, children, and families.  I do think that a community can raise a child--and sometimes many children.

Quote of the Day: "Reaching agreement in community is not easy.  Raising children is not easy.  Reaching agreement on raising children in an egalitarian community is, so far as I can tell, impossible." - Kat Kinkade

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