An exploration of the community way of life
Kids in Community
by Helen Forsey
Photo © Vendla Stockdale/Shutterstock
Children who have grown up in community or who have spent part of
their childhood there can recount a range of experience as diverse
as any other aspect of communal life. For parents too, the communal
experience will vary widely.
Few issues in community arouse more intense debate than questions
involving children. For both the best and the worst of reasons, our
deepest feelings often come up around our own or other people's
kids. These little human beings can inspire our love, respect and
nurturing, and teach us new things every day, but their presence can
also evoke our prejudices or expose our lack of consideration or
responsibility. Just as they may represent our most meaningful
commitments and our most treasured joys, children can also be
symbolic extensions of our egos or reminders of realities we would
rather ignore. All these aspects tend to be magnified and shared in
Parents or would-be parents may join a community in order to find
the kind of broad-based support and stimulation that an extended
family ideally provides. The potential benefits are obvious: a range
of people and role models for the kids, a relatively safe and
healthy environment, a variety of activities, lots of attention, and
an atmosphere of trust and sharing.
Co-operative child care and home-schooling are often part of
communal life, providing the kids with a peer group and plenty of
stimulation, and the parents with invaluable support. Moreover,
non-parents who enjoy kids have the opportunity to spend time with
them, choosing from a range of flexible roles as uncle, aunt,
teacher, grandparent or playmate.
Most fundamentally, the values of a stable and caring community
can offer children the priceless experience of an alternative way of
living and a solid base for growing up into the larger society.
The problems, though, can be as disheartening as the promise is
inspiring. Even leaving aside (as most of us would!) those
communities where rigid authoritarian structures oppress children
and parents alike, raising kids communally is often a difficult
challenge. Differences in parenting styles can spark intense
conflict, and potential disagreements seem to come in an infinite
variety of permutations and combinations. What are appropriate toys,
chores, diet, entertainment, bedtimes – and who should decide?
Should there be sections of the community's living, dining or work
areas where children are not allowed, or would such restrictions be
ageist? What is the right balance between giving children the
attention they need, and encouraging healthy independence and
respect for others' priorities?
The perennial community questions of individual versus group are
particularly crucial where children are involved. Are the biological
parents responsible for child care, education, and “discipline,” or
are these communal responsibilities? Can the community afford the
very significant commitments of money and labour that are required?
It takes a lot of hard work to raise kids, and, as for so many
communal ventures, a “critical mass” of energy is needed.
Adolescence presents a whole new set of challenges, especially in
small rural communities where a teenager may have few peers and
little to “do.” A parent may face a major dilemma if a youngster
blames the communal setting for their discontent. But many parents
and kids have left community long before this stage, and
child-related issues are often a contributing factor in the decision
Despite the potential difficulties and the undoubted challenges,
being a child or a parent in community brings many rewards, and it
is an option well worth considering.
Helen Forsey is an activist and writer who lives in an intentional
community in rural Canada.