Transitioning away from the nuclear family

9 06 2010

I think a lot about the nuclear family, because I am in it.  I have a child, a home and, up until a little while ago, a partner.  We lived in a house, strove to save money, accumulated stuff and generally played out the role of the nuclear family.

And I definitely don’t define myself as a person who is caught up in mainstream society.

However, there is little alternatives.  The nuclear family is what we are offered.  I have, in my past, lived in community houses, on intentional community land and in different communities around North America.  I loved it, and, after having a child, moved away from that dynamic, as I found that there were little skills, inkling or knowledge within those particular communities about how to be the village that raises the child.  I reclused into the nuclear family because the nuclear family structure was what was really at the bottom of the hearts of most of the community members I was working with.

I look at the nuclear family structure as comprising several distinct elements:

1.  Social isolation from others in the community/neighbourhood

2. Private ownership of things

3. Need to deal with/hide “family matters” from others

4. Hierarchical structure of family and, often, into community

When we all live in little boxes, with fences between them, with just our immediate family of two adults and then any children that come along, many issues occur.

We get children who, often, do not have their emotional needs met, as the needs of one child are so great.  So, we get children who are then becoming increasingly more stressed, ill, apathetic and disconnected.  As children are only exposed to the viewpoints of their parents, they are often sheltered from other viewpoints, and this causes greater prejudice and judgment to occur in little minds.  We get mothers and fathers who need help but are afraid to reach out to the greater community for child care, emotional support or any number of other things.  We get a network of segregated, isolated and disempowered people.

But, wait you say, this is supposed to be a post about moving away from an oil dependent society, as that’s the theme this week and you haven’t even mentioned anything about it.

Oil dependency, consumerism and the rise of the nuclear family can all go hand-in-hand, I would say.  When we transition away from any one of these things, we transition away from all of them.

We have the ability to be physically comfortable in a nuclear family model only because of our oil dependency.  In countries where there is less abundance of oil, less consumption and generally less income, there is a higher rate of community togetherness.  Why?  Because no one can afford to do things by themselves.  They must help each other, because together they are stronger and actually able to acquire resources and get things done.  They build homes together because no one hires help to build homes for them.  And because of this, they have homes, and they are stronger as a community.

Our consumption and affluence allows us to isolate ourselves from each other, because, if we can afford it, we can get a faceless-nameless someone to do it for us.

So, how can we transition ourselves away from the nuclear family model, to allow us to support each other and our children, more amazingly?

Luckily, it’s pretty easy, though it does require a little bit guts to approach strangers.  I always think this: “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet.”  That usually helps the process.

So, here’s a list, as I like them and find them helpful.  This is by no means comprehensive, but just gives you an idea of what you could do.

1.  Meet your neighbours.  Knock on doors, stop and say hello when you see them outside, wave at them in their living room when you’re passing.  Remember your winning smile.  See who they are, what they like doing, where they work, all that good stuff.

2.  Gather with your neighbours.  Once you’ve met them all, invite them all over for dinner.  Or out to coffee.  Or to a movie.  Whatever floats your boat.  I always like potlucks, because sharing food is such a powerful symbol and, is a great common connector.  Everyone eats right?

3.  Talk to strangers on the street.  Saying hello and opening up conversation with people on the street can spark the most wonderful connections.  You just never know who is walking down the street.

I remember once, I was walking down the street in Toronto and passed a man, said “hello” and ended up getting a series of healing sessions from him for free and did several massage workshops with him.  It was an instant connection that happened because I took a step in connecting.

4.  Share your things.  If you have something, like say, a lawnmower, and you don’t use it everyday, offer it to the neighbourhood to use.  This way, there is something that can be used, consumption is lowered and you make closer connections.  I have a mom friend that says “a great way to make friends is to share your toys.” and it’s true for adults too.

5.  Ask to borrow.  Before you run out and buy that thing that you only need a tiny bit of, like WD-40 or dried tarragon, ask your neighbours if they have any.  Then let them know if there’s anything they need, to feel free to ask you.  It saves you all, most people don’t mind sharing a teaspoon of tarragon (or whatever) and it creates stronger community bonds.

6.  Start a buying club.  Do you buy food?  Would you like for it to be cheaper?  Then you can join or start a buying club.  These are people who buy the same sorts of things and, when bought in bulk, are cheaper.  You could go in with two other people on 50lbs of flour or rice or whatever it is you eat.

6. Share your feelings with others.  When your neighbours ask “how are you doing?” open up.  Let them know that your dog just died, your grandmother just remarried at age 96 or that your child just discovered the word “mama”.  These things open up deeper and more meaningful relations.

7.  Share your backyards.  Take down the fences.  Explore the joys of seeing your neighbours, throwing a burger on the barbeque together, letting the kids play together etc.  It removes the isolation and allows our children (and ourselves) to create meaningful relations with those immediately surrounding us.

8. Create a child care collective.  Share your kids.  Meet others children and allow yourself to take some time away.  This builds a network of mutual support for children and parents. And saves money on child care.

9.  Read community building books like “the great neighbourhood book“.

10. Co-house.  Live with other people, either in the same building all together, or in the same building in separate units.  Co-housing options are amazingly diverse, for every type of person.  Research what might work best and pursue.

In short, there are so many ways to come out of our nuclear family bubbles.  All of these will help transition us to a more caring, cooperative and resilient society. And, we might just all find the village that it takes to raise our children.


The Great Parade

25 04 2010

Today, the “Hooray for Spring” parade took place.  It was a nice, grey, cold spring day.  Perfect for celebrating all the joys of Spring.

The turnout was small, as not too may folks really felt like braving the cold and wet.  We had about 10 families show up, which was great!  I felt it would be a success if more than just E and my families showed up.

One family decorated their bicycles.

A couple families painted faces.  We had shakers and little creatures on sticks (thanks to E).

We paraded around the streets around the park.  Cars honked and people waved.

(the back of the parade and E and her son parading)

Generally, the adults were making much more noise than the children.

(me in my spring costume making noise)

Little A dressed up in a dog costume (surprise!)

It was a very fun event.  I’m glad that E and I organized it.

Now for some thoughts that came up around it.

First of all, community building!  It is so important to get people out and doing things together.  The reason is usually secondary to just getting together and getting to know one another.  Today’s community building activity was intended, partially, on my end, to inspire other parents to have fun.  Sometimes I feel like as we age, we lose the ability to play.  We think that play is for children and don’t allow space for it in “adult” life.

What’s up with that??

Play is so integral to evolution, to moving forward in life.  Having a good laugh and getting silly is one of the best remedies for any foul mood I might be in.  It keeps me thinking creatively, keeps me laughing and most of all keeps me happy.  It was wonderful today to see moms dressed up in face paint, costumes and banging on cow bells.  It is just so refreshing to see adult expressions of play. Members of the community got to see some of the members in a different light, away from the doldrums of pushing swings and mediating sand play.  We got to see each other as playful, creative people coming together to have fun!  We didn’t need to talk, we just needed to make noise, celebrate and make sure the children didn’t stray too far.

Some of the parents didn’t celebrate.  They didn’t play.  They wanted to talk, or visit, which is also wonderful.  That builds community too.  By having a stronger community, where we accept and celebrate all aspects of the members, we give ourselves a wellspring of emotional and mental strength on which to draw.  We create bonds of friendship and neighbourliness that allow us to do and create more than by ourselves.  It gives our children a sense of belonging.  It gives us a sense of belonging. Which is so important to create in this disconnected society.

Sometimes I think that community building is what will get us through the immense challenges we are facing on our Earth (namely climate change and peak oil).  Without each other, we will not have the strength, resources or support to move through these challenges and come out the other end. We need each other, and hopefully, this parade created a sense of belonging.

My favourite part was when one little boy, probably around 7 years old (dressed as a Teutonic knight) told me that this was the Best Parade Ever.  Things like that warm my heart.

Next year, I hope more people will brave the rain, if it comes on our parade day.  For now, I will just bask in the wonders of community.

(here is a video of the start of the parade:)

Community craft day

10 04 2010

Today was a craft day in my basement, in preparation for the neighbourhood parade E and I are organizing.

It started when I was at a psytrance party a couple months ago: the first I had gone to since I birthed.  Someone there asked about the “next party” and whether or not there was a parade planned.  I thought “WOW! I love parades! I need more of them in my life!”

So, being the person that I am, I decided to consult E and see if she, too, loved parades and wanted to help organize one.  And, of course, she did!  So started the process of organizing the first parade for our neighbourhood: April 25th.  Of course, I didn’t take into account the fact that I was moving in a week, or the fact that I have about three thousand other things on my plate.  Parade’s are important things you know?

We wanted to do some craft days, to get the kids involved and helping create the experience.  So, we decided on some dates, put them out there and thought that whatever came of them was fine.

Today was the day of the craft day and it was great!  Not too many families showed up (in fact, only one outside E and my families), but we got a lot of painting done and had a ton of fun!

We painted a big banner that will be at the front of the parade:

and many shakers that E made before hand:

as well as some fun creature shapes which will be mounted on sticks for the day of the parade:

Little A got covered head to toe, literally, in paint as she refused to wear pants for the experience. The end result was a very messy bathtub and a semi-clean child. 🙂

One of the little girls who came, Juliet, made a sign that said “Come and Join our Parade!”, which I thought was lovely.

I am excited to see what comes of this parade.  I feel like it will be more than just E and my family for the actual date as some of the other parents didn’t understand why we would have craft days in advance.  (The answer, of course, is that it’s FUN!  They’ll catch on some day).  Some people are decorating their bikes (I have heard) and others making floats.

E and I are making costumes for ourselves and our children (ears, tails and wings are in order, I feel!).

Doing fun things in community is always a wonderful experience, even if it’s only a few people.  Everyone who participates will remember doing so.  It’s a way for people who may not have much in common to come together in celebration and joy.  It gives a sense of security to, not only know your neighbours, but play with them too!

I’m hoping that this will give some adults an excuse to play around, something that is needed more in “adult” life.  I’m hoping that it will be something we can do, if not seasonally, than annually.

I LOVE parades!