“Your children are not your children.Kahlil Gilbran – On children from The Prophet 1923
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…..”
When I had first arrived at People In Common one of the things that had attracted me to the group was the chance to sort of try out being a parent; to be allowed to build a relationship with some kids that was more meaningful than just kicking a ball about or reading them a story now and again. When I joined there were a few kids around; Leigh, Simon, Katie & Sammy, David, Eleanor, Max. I enjoyed getting to know them and later Nicky, Toby, Jim & Alex. Over the years quite how communal childcare was at PIC waxed and waned. In 1981 June Statham came and interviewed some of the women members for an article she was writing for the Women in Co-ops issue of Undercurrents magazine..¹
Childcare at PIC has gone through many changes during the co-operatives eight years of existence. When the group started there were three children under school age. Their parents felt strongly that ‘kids are everyone’s kids’ and that the other members of the community should be involved in looking after them. However they were unwilling to allow the non-parents much control, and wanted their style of childrearing followed by others. Barbara, who at the time had no children of her own remembers that: “It was, for most of us, our first attempt at shared childcare, and we had no idea of how to be involved as non-parents, or how to let go of the ‘power’ as parents.”
Other children joined the community, Barbara herself had a child, and for a while there were eight children ranging from one to eight years old, with the three school age children kept out of school and taught at home. That period is remembered as a chaotic time with the group not really sharing responsibility for the children. Then in 1978 several things happened which resulted in childcare becoming more organised. Several people left, bringing the number of children down to three. Around the same time PIC formed itself into a working as well as a living co-operative and began to take on building jobs. In order to accommodate the needs of Barbara and her three year old son David and also to free people for outside work the crèche became much more organised.Childcare in Communities – June Statham
undercurrents 46 Jun/jul 1981
At one point we tried to somehow categorise the relationship of non-parents to the children with a system of what we referred to as ‘ones, twos and threes’ – I think for a while I was a one to Leigh(10) who I shared a house with and was a two to David(3) who I did childcare for and regularly babysat. and I think I was a three for Simon. It didn’t last that long as an experiment, but highlighted some things around responsibility and commitment – for both non-parents and parents I think.
Discussions were held about childcare and a system of 1’s,2s and 3’s was adopted, ‘ones’ were equivalent to a parent, ‘twos’ were fairly closely involved but had less power, and ‘threes’ were like uncles or aunts. The three children each had a number one who was not their biological parent, although there had been no decision that it had to happen that way. The system worked for a while, and the ten year old lived in a house with her non-biological parent, but gradually it fell apart. Barbara felt it was partly because the children didn’t want it, having been used to the biological parent scene.undercurrents 46
In my late teens I had a dream that I would fall in love with a red haired woman and bring up a child that was not my own – and in a way that’s what happened – but not in the way I had thought from the dream. Catriona (with hennaed hair) came down from Laurieston Hall to spend winters at PIC. While she was away one winter there was talk at Laurieston of forming a baby group to support new babies and establishing a baby ‘house’ in one of the cottages. I think the idea somehow came from Pat & Sarah’s trip to Twin Oaks and was originally conceived to support Linda who wanted to have a child. In the meantime down in Nottingham in the offices of Peace News, where we were doing a building job, me and Catriona were busy conceiving a child of our own.
One of the Halls small cottages was set aside as a ‘children’s house’. The baby group consisted of people –some experienced in childcare, some not – who thought they could commit themselves to supporting Linda through the pregnancy, birth and care of her future infant. Their first experience came not with Linda’s baby however but with Finn, Catriona’s child born five months ago. Kate had also lived at Laurieston for several years, although she spends part of the year at another community, and when she inadvertently became pregnant the group offered her the support already set up for Linda. They discussed questions like whether the cottage would become too isolated form the main house, what would happen if Kate was breastfeeding, how much time would she want to spend with the baby; But many of the questions couldn’t be answered in the abstract. The group didn’t want to lay down hard and fast rules about how communal childcare was to be and felt a lot depended on Kate’s reactions once the baby was born. She found that she welcomes there support and help.
“I really appreciate the sharing of worry. If I had had Finn on my own I would inevitably have worried a lot, since he is my first baby. Is he backward, is he allergic to this, that or the other. Why isn’t he sitting up yet. Because more than half the group has either had children or had a lot to do with them, they can answer my questions and fears and I trust the answers. They help without taking away my right to experience motherhood. They always encourage me to say what I feel and ask for what I would like. That has been especially true of the amount of time I spend with Finn. Originally we had expected to do an equal amount; one day a week each. When he was born I found I wanted to see him every day, so I did mornings. Then I began to feel I could let go a little bit more and appreciate being able to concentrate on other work in the commune for a day at a time. This coincided with other people wanting to do whole days themselves. If they had asked for more time before I wanted to give it I would still have tried to listen to that; as I believe they have rights too.”Catriona undercurrents 46
I lived at Laurieston for six months after Finn was born, not joining, but becoming a sort of communal relative. I returned to Burnley the following spring and Catriona followed with Finn for her winter season later in the year. Looking back it seems a somewhat crazy way to have been bringing up a new baby; but it worked and felt incredibly supportive at times. Finn slotted in to the shared childcare / creche that we ran at PIC almost seamlessly and then back into the baby group on return to Laurieston by which time Linda’s daughter Josie had been born.
Childcare was some of the hardest work I have ever done. Largely because it can be relentless. A 24/7 job and exhausting at the best of times. Sharing childcare in a communal group not only gave us welcome breaks and allowed us to work part-time, it also provided a support network of others who could give advice or just be someone to talk to. Of course it could also lead to serious disagreements about how to raise children. But for most of the decade 1978 – 88 the organised childcare pretty much worked to everyone’s benefit. Though it would be interesting to know what the kids thought about it all – if they can remember that is.
.At weekly meetings people sign up on a rota for the days they will do support work, building work and crèche work. The person running the crèche looks after the children in the mornings, sees some of them off to nursery school in the afternoon, and then collects two children from school and has them until suppertime. From suppertime children are parents responsibility on the whole..undercurrents 46
As the years went by children came to greet us
Some they came unbidden, others by design
and there little voices filled our homes
Morning, noon and night time
Sometimes bring anger, sometimes beauty to our lives
And there were times when they made me wonderThe Ballad of People in Common.
if it all was worth the doing
Times when I thought these are the finest kids I know
Working with them wasn’t always easy
and the hours could be long and heavy
But I’m contented nowadays
that they joined their lives with mine
Words: Chris Coates (After Judy Small)
For all the children who passed through People In Common in those early years 1974 – 1998: (Laura),Sammy, Katy, Nathan, Leigh, Simon, David, Eleanor, Max, Nicky, Toby, Finn, Jim, Alex, Martha, Zepher, Bryony, Flo, Rowan, Aaron, Christopher, Sadie, Esmee and friends children who were around at the time: Ben & Ryan, Jo & Sally, Shaun Reade, The Sproules; Shaun, Lisa & Sarah.
- Undercurrents, ‘the magazine of alternative science and technology”, was published in England between 1972 and 1984. 63 editions altogether. For much of that period it appeared every two months and the circulation peaked at 7,000 in the late 1970s. It became the ‘house journal of the alternative technology movement’. There is an online archive of the magazine here.