[This is an article originally blogged by Keenan. I have not simply re-blogged it for two reasons. First is that i have added links to it, to places where Keenan’s philosophy and mine run parallel. And the second is that i have added some pictures to it, a tragic omission (which also reduces readership) in Keenan’s original post. I would still encourage you to check out his blog, especially if parenting and Twin Oaks community politics and culture are of interest to you. It is an excellent source.]
Twin Oaks is a great place to raise children. At Twin Oaks almost every parent likes their kid(s) and likes being a parent. Almost every parent is raising their children deliberately and consciously. Although not all of us parents agree with each other, we all concur that there are many bad mainstream child-rearing theories and practices that we want to avoid/overcome.
Kristen and I just celebrated the milestone of our youngest having his 18th birthday. We have been reflecting recently on our journey as parents, and we are very pleased with how the kids have turned out—pleased and relieved. Why relieved? Our parenting practices were at odds with almost every mainstream child-rearing theory we read. We weren’t so confident that we could know for sure that the kids would turn out great. According to those other theories, our bizarre parenting practices should have resulted in kids who are emotionally crippled sociopaths. But they aren’t—in fact, the kids are, by all accounts, altogether fine human beings. I don’t want to gloat or embarrass the kids by describing how great they are—but take my word for it.
Kristen and I both had lots of experience with kids prior to having our own, so we were already quite skilled, or, at least, opinionated by the time we were holding a newborn. As the kids grew, we talked fairly constantly about how the kids were doing. We wanted to do things right; we would immediately work on any behavior problem that started to crop up, or, even better, recognize an interest early so we could kindle it. Through our experience as parents, our belief in the fundamental wrongness of how children are treated in the mainstream culture solidified. If you want to try to give your child a utopian childhood the hardest part is letting go of lots of misguided mainstream beliefs about children. Honestly, doing things right is a lot of work, but if you want to know what we did and why, without further ado, here is the “Dakota theory” of how to give children a utopian childhood:
[Kristen and I have the last name “Dakota.” This has nothing to do with any Native American people]
Current belief: Children are lesser beings who should not expect or receive the same polite and considerate treatment that adults give each other.
Dakota theory: Children have the same intrinsic value that all humans have and should be listened to and treated with respect. Specifically, parents should like their children.
Conclusion: Children behave well when they are treated as though they are deserving of respect.
Current belief: Children should obey authority figures.
Dakota theory: Children should be taught that they are responsible human beings and they should learn to negotiate for what they want.
Conclusion: Children who are taught to obey, learn to distrust their own judgment. They also demonstrate less personal motivation. Children who are taught to negotiate show more task persistence and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Unfortunately, raising a child who negotiates requires more time and effort from parents.
Current belief: Children need peers to develop normal social skills.
Dakota theory: Children develop better social skills without same-age peers.
Conclusion: Children learn social skills from the people they are around. Children in groups and in institutional settings are sometimes inconsiderate or cruel to each other. Children who are around other children for much of the time, often develop dysfunctional behaviors from being with other, partially socialized, children. Children who are around adults for most of their formative years develop better social skills than children who are in group child care for most of their formative years.
Current belief: Children need to go to school to 1) develop social skills and 2) to absorb a body of knowledge.
Dakota theory: School exposes children to bad social behaviors. The body of knowledge in school is often outdated, inadequate, and inaccurate. Additionally, it doesn’t take much time to learn that body of knowledge at home.
Conclusion: Many children are exposed to unhealthy social behaviors from the bad behavior that inevitably results from large-scale institutionalization. The body of knowledge that schools pass along is easily gained at home. Typically, parents have other interests and values that schools don’t teach.
Current belief: Children need to be punished, they need to be disciplined and they need consequences for their bad behavior.
Dakota theory: Never punish or discipline children. Normal life provides enough consequences, no additional consequences are needed.
Conclusion: Punishment has been proven to be ineffective at teaching children a new behavior. Children feel punished merely from a parent’s disapproval—nothing more is necessary. An effective “punishment” is making a child stop playing in order to explain why it’s not OK to hit, or take another kid’s toy. Frequently, merely calmly pointing out what the problem is to the child can make a child feel bad enough to stop the bad behavior and/or make restitution. Encouraging a distraught child to take a time-out is good advice for anyone having emotional trouble and isn’t really a punishment.
Current belief: Misbehavior is due to a poorly disciplined child.
Dakota theory: Misbehavior is due to a poorly designed environment.
Conclusion: A toddler, set down in front of a coffee table with a lot of breakable glassware on the table will, inevitably, drop and break something. This is not bad behavior. Don’t punish the child; move the glassware. It is more likely that children will hang up their clothes on pegs than on hangers. A yard with two swings and three kids creates ongoing strife. Often a child’s “bad” behavior is due to normal child-like behavior in an environment that is designed for normal adult behavior. The easiest way to have a well-behaved child, is to change the environment to suit the child’s behavior. For instance, if there is only healthy food in the house, then “food wars” become much less likely.
Current belief: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s bad
Dakota theory: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s OK.
Conclusion: “He’s just doing that to get attention!” is a statement some adults make to indict a child’s motives and to grant the adult permission to punish the child for bothering the adult. But, attention from an adult is essential sustenance for a child’s emotional well-being. Once a child receives an adequate amount of attention, they are full, and will go off and play, only to return later for another helping of attention. If we say with scorn of a child who’s crying, “he’s just crying because he’s hungry, I’m going to spank him” it sounds cruel . “He’s just doing it to get attention,” should sound equally heartless.
Current belief: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through psychoactive medication.
Dakota theory: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through counseling and behaviorist reinforcement/extinguishing techniques.
Conclusion: Psychoactive drugs have immediate side-effects and long-term physiological consequences. Changing a child’s chronic behavior problem without drugs is vastly more time consuming, but results in a more emotionally healthy child.
Current belief: A child might become emotionally crippled from spending too much time with a parent (or parents).
Dakota theory: strong family connections help create an emotionally healthy child.
Conclusion: Studies of poverty, mental illness and crime consistently show that parents who physically or emotionally abandon their children create the pathology that leads to dysfunctional adults. On the other hand, outstanding and high-performing athletes typically have at least one engaged and supportive parent. There is not a bell curve here; it’s linear; the stronger the family connections, the more emotionally stable the children are as adults.
Current belief: Children should be kept protected and secluded from real-world experiences. They should live in a separate world called “childhood” until they are completed with their schooling and are able to enter the adult world.
Dakota theory: Children are part of the world. It is healthier for children and the world for children to be included in almost all aspects of the adult world.
Conclusion: Children in their early teens want to distinguish themselves from younger children; they want to act like grown-ups. Mainstream culture allows few opportunities to show their maturity, so these young teens turn to bed behavior, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, swearing and having sex as ways to show their “maturity.” However, teens who have the ability to take on real responsibility, like, for instance having a part-time paying job demonstrate their adult-ness through taking on these healthier parts of being a grown up. Throughout their teen years, teenagers should have the opportunity to do part-time, intern, and volunteer work to explore their interests. This serves several useful functions; it keeps teens busy, it allows teens to develop maturity and responsibility, and it gives teens a wide range of real-life experiences which should help prevent the all-too-frequent situation where a young adult goes into debt to pursue a degree only to discover after graduation that they hate the work that they have spent years training for.
Give your child a utopian childhood in just 10 easy steps:
1) Enjoy the company of your children. (That’s really the main one, since so many parents don’t really enjoy the company of their children, and the children know that, so they misbehave. No child-rearing theory can overcome parents who don’t like their kids.)
2) Accept every request as legitimate. (default to yes, rather than default to no).
3) Don’t punish. Don’t discipline. But, rather, explain.
4) No sarcasm. Don’t laugh at kids.
5) Learn what your kids like.
6) Laugh at kids’ jokes, listen to their stories.
7) Try to understand their emotions. Have empathy.
9) Talk to the kids about the adult world. Encourage discussion. Explain values through story telling using real examples. Let them know fairly often what you think is right and wrong.
10) Share whatever you are passionate about with your children. Expect them to be interested in your life.
Posted 28th April 2014 by keenan
Batman (formerly Triple Threat, formerly Teddy, formerly Laura, formerly Batman, now Batman again thankfully) was the first to tell me in a text moments after the decision. But despite being in the middle of nowhere, various media and even people i did not know spent energy getting me this message of this significant political advancement in the US.
There are lots of important takeaways from this win. First it is important to look at how far we have come, and how fast. Less than two decades ago, arguably progressive (on social issues) president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was basically the opposite of the current supreme court ruling, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. This was a popular move in 1996. What happened?
Certainly, demographics is one factor. A bunch of closed minded anti-marriage-equality folks have died off in the last 20 years. More importantly, many kids have grown up seeing that their gay uncle or lesbian guidance counselor is cool and worthy of legal protection. But remember that social conservatives dominate both houses of congress and the current supreme court. We did not age our way into this significant change.
At the front of the list of who gets credit for this change is the gay community itself, which prioritized same-sex marriage as an issue, deemed it winnable, and ran endless legal challenges and referenda to secure this right. They put out a simple, understandable message (“I should get to marry the person I love”) and kept repeating it until people got it. It also helped that after Massachusetts allowed gay marriage in 2004, absolutely nothing happened, despite endless forecast the world as we knew it would end. (Except that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918.) It became harder to pretend that same-sex marriage would result in increased divorces, etc.
Second in my analysis is that the mainstream media (MSM), who generally don’t get credit for doing much right in my book, actually came around on this issue.
I’ve written about how MTV was central in shifting young people’s thinking on gay rights in eastern Europe. And despite Fox News’ endless pandering to the Religious Right’s bigoted refusal to accept marriage equality, basically the rest of the MSM began more favorable coverage of the issue. This is partially about the way they covered the news, but it is more about the stories which got told in various TV shows which then influenced viewers’ thinking. The villainized gay character depictions have significantly diminished in the last couple of decades and have been replaced by cooler gay characters or at least ones that straight viewers can relate to. My son, Willow, watches the television show Modern Family in which a gay couple gets married and adopts an Asian daughter and raises her. This is the new normal. The idea that gay people should be denied rights because of religious works from 2,000 years ago is as stupid as 8 track tapes. Why would you want to do that?
It is also important to point out that this decision barely passed. Supreme Court Justice Scalia had a number of epic stupid things to say about the decision he opposed.
“Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.”
Conservative Judge Kennedy voted in favor of the decision largely because of the thousands of children across the country who’s parents were not legally allowed to get married under existing prohibitions. This single conservative defection enabled the court to do the right thing in its 5-4 split decision.
The good news is that their ideological blindness will likely once again bite the Republicans in the hind quarters. Immediately after the decision, GOP Presidential hopefuls started coming out against the ruling. Scott Walker, showing is detachment from the national reality is echoing the 2012 GOP platform in calling for a Constitutional amendment to block same sex marriages. This strikes me as a special form of political suicide. Former Pennsylvania senator (and GOP presidential candidate) Rick Santorum said: “Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak.” Clearly Santorum has no ability to read polls. The people have spoken; the judges are simply parroting them.
And as pointed out in the two rings graphic above, there is still tremendous work to do in changing unjust laws across the country. So let’s celebrate this important win and let’s keep organizing.
I wrote yesterday about the recent Yahoo Parenting article about the community. Turns out this piece had over 3 million hits in the first 24 hours. This generated so much traffic to the Twinoaks.org website that our web host server crashed. Even my blog, which is not mentioned in the article at all, got over 1000 hits in two days.
And the media contacted us also. We got three requests from conventional news sources (including my first ever request for an exclusive) and two excited reality show producers. We have considered working with Reality TV as an income engine for new community start ups and i floated it by the Point A DC folks, who rejected it overwhelmingly. This did not stop there being animated discussion about the possibility at Acorn last night at dinner. The chances we will be able to work with reality TV are vanishingly small.
There were over 500 comments to the Yahoo article. There were quite a few positive ones, some from people who had lived in community which worked for them or they appreciated, some from folks who had visited us at some point and felt the need to dispel the false statements which were being made. But perhaps half the comments on this Yahoo article were negative or critical. They came in a few flavors:
Communism is Bad: My favorite of this ilk was “Why hasn’t someone called the National Guard to rid us of these communists?” Unlike past articles i have read, there were not any direct “Go back to Russia!” suggestions. Many came from Libertarians who feel a need to attack anything which does not look like their version of free market capitalism. There was our personal chapter of the endless Tea Party debates in which all ills are blamed on Obama and each of the two main political parties are attacked for the Democrats being Communists and the Republicans (in the long run) being anarchists. News flash folks, there are two pro-business parties in the US. Look at who funds their campaigns. There are also a whole slew of comments contenting that we 1) Don’t pay taxes. In fact we are the second largest tax payer in the county. 2) Are on Food Stamps and Welfare. In fact none of the membership uses these government assistance programs.
Polyamory is wrong: There was the expected amount of slut shaming and name calling. I should not have been surprised at the frequently expressed concern that pedophiles would have easy access to our kids, when in fact the opposite is the case. There were a refreshing number of people who felt like this was an acceptable choice, only not right for them personally. For many critics this simply feed their notion of moral decay on the commune. There was a prevalent opinion that this reflected an easy way to have lots of sex partners, when actually the form of polyamory most often practiced in the communities requires lots of discussion, negotiations and process.
This can never work: Despite the article mentioning that we had been around for nearly 50 years, there were a surprising number of comments predicting our imminent demise or our failure in the long term. I chalk this up to people not wanting the story to be true, so they lash out against it in ways that don’t make much sense. Because the article was focused on parenting and not pension, there were many comments about what happens when people reach retirement age. In fact our pension program is far more robust than the default one in the mainstream.
Applying for Pregnancy !?!?! It is true this is very odd and i totally get why this flips people out. And when you read why we do it, it will make a whole lot more sense to you. This linked article also has the bonus section that it includes the only (to my knowledge) exhaustive list of Twin Oaks prohibitions.
Eeww you have Lice!: Apparently, only the community suffers from lice. Every couple of years we have a lice outbreak. We fight some, internally, about the use of chemicals to push it back. We clean a ton of laundry, some people dramatically shave their heads to avoid having to treat or retreat. Frankly, they are more psychologically problematic than actually physically problematic, but try telling that to someone who is freaking out.
While i had a good time going thru the comments and correcting people misconceptions and laughing about the haters, i counseled everyone who was actually in the article not to read the comments. They don’t yet show the thoughtful dialog we would hope to find on the digital pages of the internet.
What the article did not mention is that:
1) Twin Oaks has had a waiting list for more than 7 years now. So if you are in a rush to find a new place, we are a poor choice.
2) It is far harder for families to become members than individuals. In the last 10 years there has only been three families accepted (and perhaps a dozen who have tried to come). The visitor period is longer, the waiting list is tougher and every member of the family must be accepted or none of them can come.
Before discovering the communes I thought a lot about getting a tiny house, one of those adorable little things that you can pull on a trailer, like a modern gypsy wagon. I wanted the small environmental footprint, a way to minimize my impact. But I had all this stuff, a three bedroom house full, and I couldn’t fathom getting rid of it all. My books, 9 large bookcases full? No way. Spinning wheels and sewing machines? Bins of yarn? Historical gowns that I’ve been collecting since I was a teen? I couldn’t fathom life without these things. So I stayed in my big house.
When the idea of moving to a commune came up last summer, I knew I had to do it. It’s perfect for me in every way. The stuff problem was still there, I’m going to have to shave my life down to a single dormitory sized room – with no closets! But now it’s not optional, this has to happen, which puts a whole new perspective on the task.
I started the process about 6 months out and have approached it with repeated combings through the place. The first time was hard. Maybe I can let go of the Victorian Savonarola chair I wanted all my life and finally splurged on a few years ago. But my mother’s hand-blown Israeli wine glasses? Impossible.
But by the second pass it was easier, and the third and fourth easier still. Why do I really need those glasses? So I can take them out once a year, say ‘aww’, and put them away again? So I won’t forget my mother? I don’t need wine glasses to keep me from forgetting her. I found a lovely young woman just setting up her home to whom to give them and the pleasure I had in giving them to her was far greater than any I ever got from owning them.
And so it goes, letting go one thing after another, and with each release I feel a little lighter, a little freer. The temptation to acquire new things has vanished entirely.
Through this process I find myself wondering about the human urge to acquire and hoard. The explanations we give – I need two couches and seven bookcases and three televisions because I have guests, they remind me of grandpa, whatever – seem to be quite false, though we believe them ourselves. Somehow we feel safer surrounded by objects, as if they make us more real, give us more legitimacy in the world, perhaps help to stay the hand of the Great Separator. But in fact what they do is use up the already scant resources left on this planet, take from those who truly have need, and give us who are wealthy enough to hoard a shield from seeing those who have nothing. We cling tightly to our precious things and do not ask at what cost they are accumulated.
The more I let go, the more clearly I see these things, and see my own criminal complicity. I have a closet full of coats while passing freezing people on the streets, I heat my three bedroom house with fossil fuels, I drive my car and let its poisons fill the air. And I didn’t think there was any other way.
Finding the communes finally opened my eyes. I can live with great comfort with one room’s worth of personal possessions. And for the rest, I can share. Share cars, share a kitchen, share computers, share bicycles, almost everything. And by doing so I can live better than I do now, work less, play more, have access to more, have more community, more help, eat better, and feel far, far better about it than I do now. It’s a prospect of so much wealth that I almost feel guilty.
Emilia starts her visitor period today.
Hawina and i were at an engaging after dinner conversation at Ganas about what good communication culture looks like within community. There were lots of examples of different community cultures. I pitched the Acorn Clearness process, which is part of the Point A kit of tools for improving trust and transparency in your community. We talked about whether it was important to greet everyone you see each day. We discussed and disagreed on the fundamental nature of people who are in conflict and the availability of mutually agreeable bridges.
At one point a Ganasian confessed that there was confusion around what the appropriate protocol was for sitting at a table with someone who was already sitting there. Do you ask if it is okay? Do you just plop yourself down next to someone? It may seem like a tiny point, but in the occasionally hyper sensitive world of commune culture, you want to get the social cues right.
The way we have resolved this type of problem at Twin Oaks is thru zoning We use spacial and temporal zoning to help with a collection of issues: kid noise, nudity, smoking, sex noises, bike sharing, gardening and much more. In the case of who sits where at meals and what to expect in those places we have evolved three different types of tables.
Tables: Most of the tables at and around the dining hall at Twin Oaks are simply tables. If they are free you can simply sit at them. When the next person comes to the table the etiquette is to simply check in “Can i sit with you?” Or if there is already a group of people you might ask “Is this a meeting?” which you might be invited to sit in on, or it might scare you away from the social lunch you were hoping for with these people. Simple enough, no?
Fun Tables: For reasons i can imagine but don’t know for sure, the community wanted a place you could go reliably and socialize. A place where you never needed to ask if you could sit down and where you were sure there would not be a closed meeting or work discussions happening. And thus the fun table was born. The informal rules are that we will always make room for you at the fun table. And if you start talking about work at a fun table my son and others will call you out about talking about work. There are two fun tables at Twin Oaks, one inside and the other outside. They are popular and oft lively.
Super Fun Table: Turns out there was a greater need for fun tables than just these two. And it turns out that members don’t want there conversations controlled. So there is now a very long set of three picnic tables end to end which are super fun tables. You can talk about anything, you don’t need to ask to sit down and while it seats perhaps 30 people we will always make more space if it is needed.