Today is ground hog’s day and I can watch it from inside my warm house since it is all virtual and they had cardboard cut outs of an audience. Last year it was a super spreader event. But the year before, I was there. I brought my youngest son along to Puxtoney. We were way in the back (by the lighted press box which you can see in photos but not us). They raised Phil and it could’ve been a mitten from what we could see. It was fun with the music and excitement but waiting for the buses to leave Gobbler’s Knob we almost froze. A family from Boston was ahead of us in line and kindly shared their hand warmers with us. I think all he remembers is the cold.
I’ve been thinking about kids and cohousing and intentional communities. I always thought it would be paradise for a child. Lots of places to run around and be free. Knowing many adults and alloparenting. Having friends to play with. So, I dragged my two younger sons with me on this adventure. Now I see it from their view.
I’ve been reading books of memoirs of kids from communes and cults and such things. Even when I was in cohousing I began to wonder – this is the parent’s dream. What about the children? They didn’t choose this.
For me it started right away. I didn’t realize how moving is very stressful for school age kids. Looking back, I would have waited until they grew up and then move into cohousing. However, one reason I was attracted is for them to have this amazing, utopia of friends and other adults. Sometimes when they mention the name of another adult it pains me – they did know others. But the negative for kids was the number one reason we left. Some places will be great for kids. Not where we lived.
So, we moved and they both hated the whole process. Moving our stuff. Plus the downsizing of cohousing was a lot harder than any of us expected. Then they both never really found friends in the new schools. I hadn’t realized all those relationships they had built in middle school (for my guy going into 9th grade) and 4 years in elementary school already (the youngest went into 4th grade). My whole life I loved to travel and live abroad but I knew those 18 years in one spot made a difference. Now I feel guilt – I moved my kids and their childhood worlds. To make it worse, it didn’t become our forever home and we had to move again in a rush to escape a toxic environment and then once again to our new forever home in the healing waters of the ocean.
The other problem was there weren’t kids their ages and all ran pretty young. The dream of all ages playing together didn’t work out in a new community – maybe in the future. And I’ve heard that before in homeschooling groups and it’s a dream, not always a reality.
They did get to know other adults. They loved game night and then the leader complained one time that only my teen showed up. I felt hurt. I talked to him about it. I don’t remember if he ever acknowledged my feelings but it was a red flag of how that community operated – not much empathy for each other.
And the thing I hadn’t thought of was the worse. How other’s parenting styles can be so different and some outright dangerous, in my opinion, that you don’t want your child influenced by these other adults. I already mentioned parenting in a fish bowl and the last straw was when I tried to set a boundary and felt the eyes of the critical parents on me.
That was the last straw for us to leave but right before that was a disagreement on how kids behave. Some parents were fine for their young children to have many hours unsupervised. Normally I’d be in 100% agreement until I saw that some of these children were violent to each other and the parents weren’t seeming to address it. One parent seemed in trauma in how the kids were beating up her child constantly and the parents would just say things like – “Don’t play together today.”
There was verbal abuse too. The kids at least twice as a group and once alone said cruel things to me, even in front of the parents, and it wasn’t addressed. I did have a good conversation with their parents about that but then that blew up over the big conflict.
I won’t say much about the big conflict but in my mind, it was a very dangerous situation for kids. It made me, and one other family, want to leave to protect our own children, but for me, I also spoke out and wanted to protect the children. This time instead of no response from the parents, there was an explosion of anger.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about kids is that you may think it’s a paradise, but they may grow up and feel differently. I told one parent that I think their child will not appreciate being hit by a stick by two other children. I know because in my carefree days in the 70s a neighbor boy did just that with his friends and I don’t have good memories. The difference is that my mother talked to their parents. Here, not much and a lot of denial.
I thought homeschooling, unschooling, and democratic schools would be heaven for kids. My son came back from college last year (right as the blow out happened and we soon moved out of cohousing). His memories of that life are not so pretty. He could be going through the disgruntled stage of adulthood like I did at 19 with my list of grievances with my parents, but again, my view is different than his. He feels like most of the other kids were strange. He didn’t like seeing one kid throw a brick at another. He didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere and is not as normal as mainstream kids. He feels it hurt him learn to talk to girls.
I take this information in because I”m reading a memoir of a girl from a commune. It really stressed her out living in that free environment and her relationship with her mother who founded the commune is strained. It was her mother’s dream, not hers.
So, even though I dreamed of intentional communities as wonderful for children, I also wonder – what does the child want? Need? What is best for that particular child? What is my dream versus best for them? I gave up world travel and planned to keep them in one place. Maybe I should have waited for that cohousing to be built in the town we were in instead of moving. I know parents make mistakes and I have to forgive myself, but I wish more parents would think about their kids and what their world is like compared to yours.