Raising Children in Intentional Community
By Leyla Makris
When you step onto the land at The Emerald Village, it is immediately apparent that children are raised here. At the entrance, you are greeted by a slow sign warning that children are at play. As you continue on you will come across an abandoned little red tricycle on the side of the road and as you turn the bend, a bright-eyed child will be the first to greet you and ask you for a snack. The question that I’m often asked is, “What is it really like to raise a child in community?”
When we started this endeavor, almost five years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. I was full of life, hope and longing for a different way to bring a child into the world. At that time, we were a group made up of three couples without children, and two with. During our preliminary community meetings, we shared our visions for the future and discussed topics ranging from where to buy land to whether or not we should have guns on our land. The personal process around what the future would look like began. I realized that in order to continue on the path of creating community, I would need to surrender some of my own strong values and desires for those of the greater community. It was the first leap of faith.
Since then, we have acquired land, cleared the land, held estate sales, done many remodels, started gardens and then bigger gardens, planted a food forest, acquired over 20 chickens, 2 goats and 3 baby goats (birthed here), held festivals, workshops, yoga classes, weddings and the list goes on… In the meantime, we’ve had one of our older step-children move onto the land, and four children have been born. Deep sigh of gratitude!
We’re raising children with many other adults, including the core community members, grandparents of the children who are regularly here at EVO, Evolutionaries (people living here longer term) and Volunteers who live on the land for months at a time. We support each other and are supported on a daily basis. In one day, one of my children may receive a ride from one community member, while another child gardens or does an art project with another community member and I may prepare a meal for some of the children.
As a community, we share core beliefs, child rearing methods, and desires for our children and future generations. Some of these are things we have openly discussed. Most, however, are simply understood by the adults in the community.
It is important for our children to have good nutrition, a solid education, minimal media, quiet time, time in nature, be independent, participate in chores, and cultivate reverence. We do not shame or physically punish our children. We want our children to learn ways to live more sustainably and to develop first hand skills to “be the change.”
At the same time, we have vast differences. Our children attend different schools including public high schools, a Jewish school, a Montessori School and a Waldorf School. We hold different boundaries with the children and have different beliefs around consequences for inappropriate behavior. We have differences around freedom for our teenagers and how to address their burgeoning curiosities.
Discussions around how to raise the children have come up at many of our bi-weekly business meetings, our seasonal retreats and have had special meeting times devoted to sharing and clearing. At times, people have felt judged, unheard or unseen, frustrated, and dare I say, down right pissed off.
Yet, the first word that comes out of my mouth when asked the question about raising children in community is always – “Incredible!” Why? Why is it so incredible? Isn’t it hard? It’s hard enough trying to raise a child with ONE partner and come to agreements!
Yes, it is hard. But the difficulties are what give us strength. They raise our consciousness as parents. We are forced to take a look at ourselves, to move through our fears, to let go of control, and to release our ideas that we know what is best. As we open our eyes to witness other ways, we learn from each other and hone our skills as parents to all of the children, not just our “own.” Further, our differences are truly our gift. The children have the opportunity to learn from many different people and receive various perspectives on life.
We open our hearts. We trust that every member of our community has our child’s best interest at hand, even if their approach is different. We know that our child is respected and loved by our community members, our chosen family. We know that any challenge we face as a parent, we don’t face it alone. Our children feel that too. As they play on our land or as they venture out into the world, they know that they are held by so many loving adults. And, that is what it means, when they say, “It takes a village!”