Children, Families, and Single Parents

by Raven East Brook 

A couple of weeks ago, I put a post here about how communities deal with abusive members and entitled it, “Misbehaving”.  The title was intended to be provocative and to illustrate it, I searched for images of folks misbehaving. I found a couple of pictures of kids acting out and used them to illustrate the piece. I thought that they might add some humor to my post. 

Someone in my community pointed out that these weren’t appropriate and I also got feedback in the form of comments when it went up on Facebook.   I want to apologize and say clearly here that children are seldom, if ever, the cause of real problems in community. The issues I was pointing out all involved abusive adults. 

A family at Twin Oaks

Unfortunately, children, who bring so much to communities, are often not accepted into income-sharing communities, particularly if the communities are stressed out. Families and single parents have a harder time getting into communes and often staying in communes than people without children. 

This is truly unfortunate and something that we need to change. While I can understand the issues on both sides, we can’t simply reject folks with kids. 

A family at East Wind

I want to say here that I was part of a commune in the 1990s that helped raise two children, who are now lovely adults. I also know how much energy it took. There were usually five or six adults in the community and, although this wasn’t supposed to be the focus of our commune, parenting issues took up a lot of our time. (We actually did communal parenting, which I suspect few communities do.)  I often wonder how my parents did it with two adults and five children, when we could barely deal with two kids when there were five adults. 

I think that this is incredibly important work. If we are going to claim to be a real alternative to this dysfunctional society, we are going to need to figure out how we can support parents and families. We are going to need to take on the responsibilities involved in raising children. Communes and communities need to open their doors to families and single parents.

It does take a village to raise a child. We need to be those villages. 

Another child at Twin Oaks

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Children, Families, and Single Parents

A Question of Consensus

from the Commune Life Facebook page

We have been putting questions on our Facebook page and getting a lot of responses. I (Raven) am now putting them out as Friday reposts so that blog readers can see what we’ve been doing on Facebook and some of the comments that we have gotten. Here’s the first question we reposted.

Maximus/Theresa asked this question back in November:

Again, there many (as in 22) comments. Here is a representative sample:

(Sadly, Susan Stoddard has passed away since this post. She was a sharp observer and a frequent commenter.)

Feel free to add your comments as to when consensus is appropriate and when it might not be.

A Question of Consensus

Advice to a New Planner

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

“We are looking for reluctant leaders.” Twin Oaks founder Kat Kinkade and East Wind Founder Deborah were/are fond of saying.  If you fear corruption or abuse of power, then having people who are leading not excited about the job, or doing it because they are motivated for their care for the collective is a good insurance policy.

The founders of Twin Oaks were deeply concerned about the failures of the existing decision making systems.  So much so they designed their own.  It has stayed in place, largely unchanged for 5 decades now.  It starts with the assumption that simple majorities are dangerous beasts and we can do better than that.  But because the commune was founded in 1967, before feminists secularized the consensus-decision-making process, they did not want to wait until everyone agreed.  Good ideas, headachey to implement.

Consensus-graphic.png

Near the “top” of this largely flat decision making process are the planners, the communities highest executive power.  I’ve been a planner twice, my Dutch wife Hawina is currently a planner.   Decisions of the planners can be overridden by a simple majority of full members of the community, though this happens less than annually.  [So technically, the membership is at the top of our hierarchy.]

Being a planner is one of our toughest jobs.  Right up there with the membership team and the pets manager.  The membership team is often hard because we don’t have much room for compromise on most membership decisions, you are either accepted into the community, or not (technically you can get a “visit again”, but you get the point).  The pets manager is difficult because you have to tell some kid that that they can not keep the stray dog they just fell in love with or you have to tell some long-term member that the community is not going to pay $4,000 for the surgery their aged cat desperately needs.  Trust me you don’t want this job.

sick cat.jpg

The plannership is difficult for more complex reasons.  First, is that members’s desires for quick solutions to their pressing problems often result in them rushing to the planners, telling them what is wrong and then being frustrated by them saying either “we are not the people you need to be talking to” (because there is another responsible manager or council) or that their clever solution is not accessible for any of a number of reasons.  Leaving the frustrated member to say “well, if I were planner I would certainly do this”.  Which is generally speaking not even true, because the group of 3 planners works by consensus and tend to protect the institution over the desires of a single agitated member.

However, there are more vexing aspects of the plannership.  When they take on complex and/or expensive issues like how do we spend a quarter of a million dollars to solve the tofu waste water problem, you basically can’t win.  The planners listen to all the manager and experts they can find.  They post papers or run surveys asking for community input, which often receive anemic response.  They slave away trying to make a good choice and then when they announce it, often many people are unhappy with it.

Sometimes they are unhappy and well informed, wishing the planners had taken the path they were advocating instead of the one they selected.  But far more often members are upset  because they have not studied the issue, don’t understand the trade offs and did not get exactly what they wanted.

The big problem is that we are frequently unable to keep the personal away from the political at Twin Oaks.  If the planners did not make the choice I wanted on this controversial and complex issue, I am then angry with them personally.  This results in the nightmare situation where you work hard on balancing many factors, craft what you think is a wise choice with your fellow planners and then you lose friends over it.

This does not always happen of course, but it happens enough that I have some standard advice which I share with every new planner.

There may well be a time when working for the planners puts you in a place where you feel like you need to make a choice “Am I going to take care of the community and push forward with this difficult decision or am I going to take care of myself and my relationships with other members?”  If you find yourself in this situation, take care of yourself and quit the job.

People who know me might be surprised at this recommendation.  I go to a lot of meetings.  I often joke that I am “a bureaucrat for the revolution”.  How can I be recommending people walk away from their top executive job, just when the community needs them to help shepherd in a decision?

take care of yourself - umbrella.jpg

Turns out it is easy.  We will make a decision, even if you are not a planner.  But if the plannership is risking you burning out, or damaging your personal relationships within the community, then the cost is too high.  Hopefully you will live here for many years after your plannership.  If you have alienated or pissed off important relationships within the community, it can be the feather (or brick) which tilts the balance in favor of you leaving the commune.  Or potentially worse, staying regretting that you have lost these friends and allies.

I have given this advice enough and talked with planners who have taken it and not. So there is an important follow up: if you do decide to quit the plannership to take care of yourself, don’t guilt trip yourself about it.  I believe over half of planners do not complete their 18 month terms.  Policy prohibits someone being a planner twice in a row, but in the 20 plus years I have been at Twin Oaks, no planner has expressed a desire to immediately do a second term.

Image result for surreal prioritize friends

The institution is quite durable.  Sometimes the right thing to is to abandon the process (and often the job) and instead prioritize your long term relations with  your friends and the commune.

Advice to a New Planner

Misbehaving

by Raven East Brook

There is a dilemma that seems to happen often in communities, particularly the older communities, but it could happen in a newer commune after it’s been around a while.

Let’s take a guy, who I will call Aaron (only because it’s first in the alphabet).  Aaron has been with the community for a while and has done a lot and is well regarded, but Aaron has a problem.  Maybe it’s alcohol or drugs, maybe it’s just testosterone or anger management. Every so often Aaron says something that’s really inappropriate, perhaps it’s a statement that’s racist, or misogynist, or transphobic, or maybe just plain cruel.  The community knows this happens but many folks are fond of Aaron for one reason or another. Newer members are outraged and want to have Aaron kicked out but other members feel like they want to give Aaron another chance.

Or maybe it’s Barbara, who suffers from PTSD.  Again, she has been around a while and has folks that really care for her.  But occasionally she becomes triggered and screams at someone, or is abusive, or even throws something at someone.  Again the community is divided.

The dilemma is how much misbehavior to tolerate.  How much do we believe that people can change or that we don’t just “throw away” people?  How much do we believe in forgiveness and compassion and rehabilitation? And what are the rights of the victims?

Often the older members that misbehave are tolerated and newer members become disgusted and leave.  On the other hand, tossing out anyone who doesn’t behave the way we would like can be a formula for a very turbulent community where no one knows if they might say the wrong thing and be asked to leave next.

And who sets up the standards for behavior?  Who gets to decide what’s tolerated or not? A lot of things can seem obvious to outsiders but it becomes a lot more painful when someone that you care about is the person that misbehaves.  And how much do you take into account that they are dealing with an addiction or something like PTSD?

What do we do about Aaron and Barbara?  Do we treat them differently because they have different problems (and different genders)?  Do we follow some rigid rule? Do we only give x number of chances? Or do we decide everything on a “case by case” basis?

I am sure that some folks will have clear, simple answers for what the communities should do with Aaron and Barbara, but it’s not easy when you actually live in one of these situations.  These are questions that tear apart communities and result in accusations being thrown around. I don’t think that there are easy answers but I applaud the communes for struggling with these issues and caring about all the people involved.  Who knew that caring about people could be so difficult?

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Misbehaving

Edmund's Perfect Squash

by Raven East Brook

The real name is South Anna Butternut Squash, but at East Brook we often refer to it as “Edmund’s Perfect Squash”.

The Mimosa community in Louisa, Virginia, has a community business called Commonwealth Seeds, especially squash seeds.  South Anna Butternut is one of their more successful sells.

These are the squash
Mimosa’s squash crew: Erin, Silas, Edmund, Amy, and Rejoice
Gathering the squash
Squash by the truckload
Amy and Edmund bake the squash
Lots of squash
Edmund, Rejoice, and squash

Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Edmund's Perfect Squash