I live with my husband and three young boys in a discrete, forgettable house among other discrete, forgettable houses. When my husband goes to work, I am left alone in a house with a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. I feed them. I clean up after them. I sing and dance and entertain them, and do all the things a good mom is supposed to do these days, and by the time I’m finished, I want to take shots alone in the bathroom.
Parenting is hard. Parenting alone is harder.
My friends feel the same way. We get together over playdates and lament how hard it is to spend an entire day speaking only to people the size of a largish garden gnome. We bemoan our isolation and complain about our chores: I hate to cook. One girl despises dishes. Another loathes laundry. We wish we could just swap; that I could clean Steph’s bathrooms while she cooked my kids a decent lunch. We note that it’s always easier to parent when other people are watching.
This could be so much simpler. It could be so much easier. We just need a commune.
Now before you tell me I sound like a starry-eyed hippie, hear me out.
I’m not talking about the stereotypical type of commune that you’re imagining. Ditch the scraggle-haired prophet stocking up on Kool-Aid, the prairie skirts, and the ever-present stench of patchouli. This would be a modern commune, with families living and working together for the greater good of everyone, especially the children. People could hold down real-world jobs. They could leave whenever they wanted. And we wouldn’t make them spend hours pressing bean curd or something.
A commune would involve several families committed to living on a plot of land, helping each other as much as possible, and doing something in, well, common. It would solve the ever-present sense of isolation I see in many stay-at-home moms I know, and bring back an old-fashioned way of community and accountability.
Each house would be separate, but hopefully people would walk between houses at will — think Big Love without the husband-sharing. Kids could run around in packs, the way they were meant to, and mothers could parent them all. No more stress about disciplining someone else’s kid when he’s being a little brat; within reason and agreed parameters, kids should be held accountable by all the adults they’d come in contact with. And there’d always be a babysitter around for a doctor’s appointment, a trip to the grocery store, or just a chance to get your damn toenails taken care of, because this isn’t Amish paradise.
Just as we’d share kids, we’d share chores. I can’t cook. I hate it. I once burnt coleslaw. But I really don’t mind folding laundry or cleaning bathrooms. My friend hates doing the dishes, but will vacuum and dust ’til Martha Stewart approves. We could stop wasting time on the chores we hate and trade them for the ones we like. All this while the kids run in herds with the assurance that someone will catch them before they break a window or permanent-marker the dog. Bliss.
Because you can’t build something like this in the city, the commune would have to be near the woods. This would get the kids out in nature, a vital part of raising children (and one we’re losing fast). As Richard Louv says in Last Child in the Woods, “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.” They’ve proven that kids who spend more time outside have lower rates of obesity, fewer ADHD symptoms, and better critical thinking skills. Living in the woods, on the land, would lead to all kinds of skills.
We couldn’t call ourselves a commune without some kind of giant garden everyone worked on. The kids would learn all the important science and nature lessons about that. And, like every urban hippie, I dream of keeping chickens. There would be commune chickens, with fresh eggs we could share (someone in Portland just swooned at that sentence). And perhaps we could have larger animals, like a cow for fresh milk, and horses for the kids to ride.
We wouldn’t be alone anymore. With friends and kids and chickens and possibly some goats, life could look very different. I’d still wake up alone, but I could wander next door and see what the neighbors were up to. We could all share household chores while the kids played. We could eat meals together. We could collect eggs, and parent in a group, and negate the need to go to Target just by speaking to another adult human.
You can keep your house in the suburbs. I don’t care if it makes me an inveterate hippie — I want my commune.More On