I found this blog post on someone’s experience in cohousing. Perfect timing. We are having huge health issues in our household and I wonder what it would’ve been like at cohousing. Now I have more verification that leaving was the best thing for us.-
I just binge watched Netflix’s The Watcher. I was hooked the minute I saw the trailer – and it has Olivia Newton John’s song in it! Very creepy trailer. I posted the true story article a few weeks ago. I think the show did a great job at pulling at all the strings that were mentioned in the article.
The creators of the show made American Horror Story which, from what I remember, also had a haunted house. A lot of shows focus on a house making people scared and spooked. Even this show mentions how American it is to buy a house that you can not afford. The main characters were so excited about getting this big, beautiful dream home that was way out of their league. Of course that part was added for more drama – higher stakes for when everything goes terribly wrong. It reminds me of hearing stories of people spending too much to buy into cohousing. I know one family had to refinance right away. We do put a lot into our home purchases – money, hopes, dreams. Like this TV show’s true story, sometimes your dream home turns into a nightmare. In this case, and mine, it was caused by the neighbors!
The family in the Watcher receive threatening letters with specific details on how the person was watching their house. They knew their names and details. So, naturally, they suspected all their neighbors – checking out who has a view of what and who can hear them in the yard. The show elaborates on each neighbor and what makes them suspect. It has a top cast and I found it very entertaining. The show also ends exactly like the true story (which I won’t spoil) as far as who the culprit turns out to be.
Cohousing tries to be the opposite. A place where you can trust and rely on your neighbors. The trouble is that real people and problems can happen and it’s hard to deal with that as a group. For example, many people move in to age in place, but what happens when those needs become too much for the neighbors? Many families move in for the free babysitting. What happens if the free babysitter doesn’t believe in supervising kids or their older child inappropriately touches younger children – do you want that type of babysitter? SIngle moms move in so their kids can play with the other children and have a network of neighbors. What if they become the target of the community’s bully and yelled at for their child climbing trees or playing loud music (even if it wasn’t their child)? The problem isn’t the specifics of what happen but how the cohousing deals with it. Some communities don’t want to ruffle feathers so continue to let bullies bully and children hurt each other. So people leave cohouisng and you never hear from them again and the reasons. Even here in my blog where I try to be honest, I have “haters” who want me to stop talking.
I don’t want to give too much away from the show, but the family was so excited to move in and put all their investments and money on the line to buy this “safe” house in the suburbs, far from New York City. The anonymous letters scared them and soon the house seems more of a burden than an escape. There is a montage where the father commutes out of NYC and seems so beaten down arriving to their home after working so hard to keep it. We all know the rule that you are not supposed to spend more than 30% of your income on your household but that is rare these days; to stay within those means. It’d be nice and easy to just move whenever a neighbor (or house’s repairs) give you too much trouble, but financially that is not always possible. A house and a neighborhood is a commitment so we all have to decide what time, energy, and money makes it worth it or not. For the real family in the Watcher, they never even moved in. The show gives a horror twist to what could have happened if they did.
The book is based on cult/toxic group research and contains many Interviews of cult survivors who were brought into the cult as children (or born in).
The first chapter is called We Weren’t There by Choice. That’s how I started to feel about cohousing. The parents choose to be there, not the children. And, like me, they thought it was perfect for children – running from house to house, common areas and playgrounds, always having a playmate, having mentors of all ages, having non-relative grandparent-like figures. However, I didn’t consider the dark side. Parenting styles that clash and kids being negatively influenced by each other. Kid culture being too violent and scary and not kind and not enough parents trying to guide them. More Lord of the Flies. Kids that ran around and made all ages angry so most did not become loving grandparent figures (and the whole community overjoys when the problem kids and parents finally leave). Lastly, many intentional communities, like cults, end up with some sort of sexual abuse accusation, incident, or outright years of abuse.
Cults are not obvious all the time. Sometimes they creep up on communities dedicated to things like yoga or meditation. They said in the book that meditation can be overused and can cause negative consequences. In the book they say that many studies say that lengthy meditation sessions can erupt underlying conditions and can cause depression, grandiosity,
anxiety, dissociation, paranoia and hallucinations. So, a cohousing group could slip into cult like tendencies since they start off with common, innocent goals also.
One thing I see in common is that cult members become dedicated to the cult and other adults so children can be dropped off with others frequently. In a group, you trust one another so you assume they will take care of your children, but predators abuse that trust. Also, cult members will leave breast feeding babies or young children with others for long periods of time – even months as the adults are sent elsewhere. In Leah Reminin’s show, she points out over and over again that everyone must be dedicated to the cult, not their parents nor family. Children must behave appropriately for the cult. Cohousing, hopefully, wouldn’t be like this, but I did see the tendency of some adults feeling more interested in socializing with other adults and didn’t seem to notice what their children did, where they were, or assumed someone else in the neighborhood would keep an eye on them – without asking. I admit this was one of my concerns about moving in because I know myself. As a parent of young children I craved for adult conversation and connections, so when I’d go to events, sometimes I’d loose track of my own children. I wondered how I would balance that in a cohousing where I’d be around adults all the time. It wasn’t terrible or dangerous for our family, but sometimes I was uncomfortable about the youngest kids running around and some were caught crossing the street or playing with snakes, among other things, as the parents were busy elsewhere.
The book shows that those who leave the cult are bad mouthed. One girl knew her dad wasn’t all the things they were calling them. They even called those who left child molesters. Cohousing can be similar. Bad mouthing those who don’t agree with the main idea instead of hearing out all ideas. Making up lies about others. Making up a story of those who left that keep any accountability to those who stay.
They discuss Enron and I think I’ve read other books and articles that mention them in respect to cults. Enron promoted itself as truth and a way of life in business. Silenced others in the company even when unorthodox methods were endangering their business and overall energy marketing. Transcendent belief system of Certainty and Righteousness can take over a group and erase critical abilities of everyone inside it. Healthy groups’ rightness can be shared in easy going ways. But cultic groups have push for purity and questioning others beliefs will not be tolerated; they don’t want ideas that challenge their beliefs. People will suppress or erase their individuality. Individuals start to control their own behavior (so they won’t be kicked out). Every one must show complete devotion to the group’s ideas and beliefs.
The book has 4 dimensions of Cult like groups (bounded choice model)
1 Transcendent belief
2. Charismatic authority
3. Systems of control
4. Systems of influence
The first one brings adults with their kids to these cults. And cohousing attracts followers. To socialize and not be lonely. To be part of a community in a world where we all bowl alone. To improve the environment by using less chemicals on lawns, sharing tools, and installing solar panels.
In a cult/toxic group: Always striving. But goal posts keep changing. Keep working so hard. Dire consequences if they question the leader or the group’s beliefs. Enforced silence, shunning, demotion, exiled to different locations, physical punishment. Then guilt, shame, and fear (I felt that). Parents do not have time to care for children and neglect happens a lot. Kids grow up without parent contact or get healthy parental bonds.
The book has many lists and checklists to see if you are part of a cult. It ends with your bill of rights – to not have any one person or group control you and/or your feelings. Even if you are not interested in checking your life for toxicity, this is a fascinating book on the children’s experiences and growth and survival as adults. I have read it twice and will read it again (okay, it’s an audio book for me, so I will listen again)
Another article of a cohousing group losing money developing the project (which is fully disclosed) and unable to build. I knew I was lucky to just buy a house built by a developer (since I didn’t have the money to risk in developing cohousing from the ground up). That’s why I was so bitter – those who are in cohousing are lucky and to find out, they can let it all go up in smoke with letting conflicts blow out of control (a false promise that they will do better than the rest of society on dealing with such conflicts)
First off, they were never cohousing to begin with. The Cohousing Association is meant to be a bunch of privately owned houses with shared common spaces. That said, this group of divorced mothers bought and shared a house – which sounds like it does have private living areas. They also learned that boundaries and clear agreements make these arrangements better. Also, some people leave.
I am so happy. There is now a book out there that shows exactly what it is like to live in cohousing. Diane Rothbard Margolis published We Built a Village: Cohouising and the Commons. She lays it all out there – the conflict between market values individualism vs. the collective nature of the commons shared in cohousing. She shares her own experience finding cohousing after her husband died, the ups and downs of forming a cohousing group, the development of the houses and the various timeline for all to move in. Of course, then she shares life living in the cohousing. Don’t just take her word for it – she shares the group’s emails over decisions about the HVAC, trash collection, and other things that came up for their community.
If you are interested in living in cohousing, you should read this book. I tried to collect all the discussions our group had and it bored me to pieces. Reading her book, at first, was triggering – all the back and forth of too many opinions. Then I re-read it more closely and was relaxed. I don’t have to share what our group did because it is the exact same for her. And I’m sure it’s repeated all over. For her community, they have at least 41 households so that’s a lot to manage. In every cohousing, every gets an opinion so decisions take forever. She shows that and it’ll be great for everyone to see how it pans out. She mentions sometimes things do happen if there is a burning soul who leads. So the book shows what you are in for – lots of patience. And, unlike how my blog turned out, she loves living there and has been for at least 30 years. She tells the story I wanted to and I”m so thankful for it – and that she is still there. Maybe I would’ve stayed too if we didn’t have such a bizarre and horrible incident and this gives me hope – that others will be fine especially without huge bumps in the road.
She shares her happiness before moving in and feeling connected to others. “It was an episode to remember. I felt warmed by having that whole group of people who knew one another and clouds share the silly mix-up, with everybody helping me….” (p 126). That is something for sure – you know everyone’s name. I don’t know why I’m having a hard time remember my neighbor’s names. Probably because I don’t get emails from them often nor have meetings – and I never remember names (it took awhile even in cohousing for me).
I like her honesty too. She will point out how some of the ideals of cohousing do not always pan out. “The hope, of course, is that people who choose to live in a cohousing community are the kind of people who don’t want to be freeloaders and will be self-policing. But that has not proved to be the case. For example, from the start there were some members of the community who could not be bothered to cut up their packing boxes, giving rise to the following angry email from S. whose town house overlooked the garbage.” (P 148)
She also mentions the cohousing experience is not the same for everyone. It’s different for parents and singles vs. seniors and married couples. I’ve noticed that too. “Not that cohousing can take the place of a spouse. Sometimes it’s even harder when you’re single in cohousing. For instance, there are things couples do where they don’t invite singles. Like the good-bye dinner F. and R. staged for the L family a few years ago. There they are all were having a fine old time, laughing and eating right under my window, with the smoke and aroma wafting through my open slider, so I couldn’t have missed it if I tried.” Another member mentioned feeling lonely and a married person didn’t understand it but Diane did. I also saw that when there is a major conflict, it seems easier for couples who can rely on others vs. singles who can just be them facing it against the whole community (my experience and a single mom pal who also ended up leaving cohousing after feeling targeted even).
She turns every rock in cohousing so it’s a realistic account – not just about developing the structures or surveying other communities, but of all the things that can and usually do happen. She knows herself well too and muses over how another member can be more direct in conflicts. “ I thought about how different things must seem to J than they do me. She has no difficulty reprimanding others and telling them how they should behave. She could march off to P’s door and tell him to pick up the mess his dog left, without a shadow of a doubt that she was doing what she should be doing.”
Anyone truly interested in forming a cohousing community or moving into one should read this book!
Getting a new job is exciting. Moving into a cohousing is exhilarating. But being new at anything is so challenging. It’s hard for the “old ones” to onboard newcomers and explain every in and out of the culture. I already explained how frustrating it was that there were two large trash cans at our property and one was not being picked up anymore. My son didn’t know that when he tossed the dog poop bags so I had the fun job of digging them out and placing them in the right place. I was on the community committee so I worked with others to create a welcoming document for all the details like that to make it easier for the next neighbors.
Now I”m new at a job and it reminds me how hard it can be. First off, at work, they seem to enjoy dumpling on the new hires. All the stuff others don’t like to do. Kinda crazy since in this market, aren’t they desperate to keep workers? My principal begged us to all show up on the first day of school!
Second, you make mistakes. I had a friend who recently started a new job at the library and was given the task of opening it up in the morning. Unfortunately no one explained the alarm to her so it went screeching and she had to find an awake supervisor to help. I heard a horror story of a cohousing where they gave a new neighbor a leaf blower. That prompted another neighbor to yell at them for using it. Quite confusing.
It is hard for any organization to look at their culture. The new person comes in and has a lot to figure out like where to put the trash and where they fit in and how things are done around here. I need patience with myself but I’m already seeing which particular tasks and people I enjoy. It’s never easy being the new one!!!
You can hear the founding mother of cohousing in United States on the Transforming cities podcast
I found it on spotify below:
It is interesting to hear her background and how she became an architect and developer of cohousing.
I think the idea of cohousing is amazing but people have to realize it’s a gamble. You could find an amazing community and a house or you could find it doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason. Living with a group can be tough and selling your house can be tough especially if some owners associations take forever to make decisions and do upkeep of the common areas.
I find it interesting that most to all of the public speakers on cohousing have moved from one cohousing to another, trying to form a new one, or don’t live in them at all. I have been paying attention! Of course, I don’t know why and it could be divorce and career moves, but it is suspicious. I wish I had known that even people who are the biggest cheerleaders of cohousing (like I was) might not end up living there the rest of their lives.
My son has autism so sometimes he feels like someone has broken a rule. That also leads him to look to report the rule breaker. The other night, he called the police. The police came and were very kind to him and me, which I appreciate. I’m glad they now know him and will treat him with respect each time (sometimes terrible misunderstandings have occurred with people with autism and the police).
The police called a social worker or someone to help them figure out what was going on. The officer was having a private conversation with them and didn’t tell them that he had invited me to talk directly. The social worker said that the mother is “non chalant.” I’m reeling over that. First off, I just presented the facts on how my son was feeling and why he called. Second, I had just woken up since it was midnight and I had been asleep. Third, I was offended. Of course I care. Was I supposed to wail and cry and make my son feel worse?
I’m beginning to think that facts don’t work. In cohousing, I presented the facts. The other person wailed and cried and got everyone on her “side”. I believe that if you choose sides in something like cohousing, you all lose. But I just don’t understand why the facts don’t matter?
Maybe it has to do with the fact we are moved more by emotions (or manipulated in my cohousing experience with that person). Or is it stereotypes? Women are supposed to cry? I did but not in front of everyone in the group – I thought we were problem solving. Plus, I didn’t want to cry to persuade whereas I noticed her tears would come and go at key moments (not that she didn’t have real emotions too, but how she swayed the group mind boggles me to this day).
When I did cry in front of a few people since I was falling apart with the whole group treating me like a pariah, that ended up being used against me. One person told the facilitator and the group how I cried in front of them. Why bring it up? I was trying to find sympathy, empathy, a human in a group that was putting all the pressures onto me?
I won’t dwell on it too much. So the social worker thinks I wasn’t emotional enough but the truth was I heard what was going on, I know my son, and I helped make a decision that made him feel safe. I thought I’d just share my experience. I had no idea I was such a cold bitch (wait, that’s another stereotype!)