Communal, Nested Cofamilies

A. Allen Butcher · The School of Intentioneering · Denver, CO · July, 2018
4thWorld@consultant.com · http://www.Intentioneers.net

2019 will be the year at which Twin Oaks Community (TO) will have had for the first half of its existence a communal childcare system either in practice or intended, based upon a philosophy called “the community child.” The change away from that earlier form of communal childcare to something else came in 1993 during TO’s 26th year.

2019 will be twenty-six years after TO gave up what was then called a “communal childcare program.” This article considers the kind of childcare system that Twin Oaks has been using since the change.

Some people called the new system “collective childcare within a communal society” yet as the years passed and parents and children came and went the tendency has been for people to call the kind of childcare that has been practiced over the past quarter-century at Twin Oaks “communal childcare,” because of course it is happening within a communal society even though it is not what the community called “communal childcare” during its first quarter-century.

People now involved in raising children at TO may not know or care about the community’s ancient history, yet while TO may never go back to its earlier system, other large communal groups may attempt to recreate a similar version of communal childcare out of ignorance of other’s experience with it. In the interest of helping others to avoid reinventing the kind of communal childcare wheel that TO and most other large communal groups have tried and given up (including the Israeli kibbutzim and the American/Canadian Hutterites), and in the interest of documenting what we who have lived or who are currently living communally have learned about communal childcare, it is helpful to understand and to have a way to explain the structure of childcare in use today in egalitarian communalism.

I have given a name to the kind of childcare generally practiced at TO and at related communal societies after the 1993 change at TO, which I call “cofamily.” The “co” prefix can stand for either communal or collective, or for cooperative, or complicated, or complex, or simply community-family. It is not necessary to stipulate an exact meaning because people use different terms in different ways, anyway. What “cofamily” is intended to mean when children are involved is that a small group of adults work together to provide childcare for any given number of children.

There may be more than one cofamily within a communal society, perhaps even one per child, each functioning as at least a semi-autonomous decision-making unit for one or more children within the larger communal society. Each of these childcare groups within the larger community is then what I am calling a “nested cofamily.”

Twin Oaks grants resources of space, money, and labor to member’s childcare as during the community’s first quarter-century, yet no longer does the community claim responsibility for designing and maintaining the childcare processes, since all or most of that is now parental responsibility. This is similar to how the community has given space and occasionally other resources to members who live in the same building, called “Small Living Groups” or “SLGs.” A cofamily may also be an SLG, yet more often the people contributing to the care of any particular child may live in different SLGs.

My preference for the term “cofamily” is due to my application of the term on a larger level as well. I use the term “cofamily” to refer to any small group of unrelated adults, from three to nine, with or without children. Partly to find out how many such cofamilies are in the “Communities Directory” I transcribed both the 1990 and the 2010 Directories into a database and ran some queries (someday I’ll include the 2016 Directory). I found that:

In the 1990 Directory 47% of U.S. listings are cofamilies (3-to-9 adults), comprising 8% of the total reported members of all listed U.S. communities, with the average cofamily having about 6 adults each.

In the 2010 Directory 40% of U.S. listings are cofamilies (3-to-9 adults), comprising 7% of the total reported members of all listed U.S. communities, with the average cofamily in this directory also having about 6 adults each.

Why 3-to-9 adults? A couple reasons, first, psychologically, 7-to-8 people is the natural number of things like ideas and relationships that people can generally keep in mind at once. The military calls such small-groups “squads,” although with different numbers of people for different functions.

Another reason for stipulating the maximum of 9 adults for a cofamily is because once a group gets to ten or more adults they will most likely have developed a design for their community that fits another term like: “cooperative” or “cohousing” or “land trust” or “communal group.” Since cofamilies are forms of intentional community it is simply convenient to use the term to refer to small communities.

The term “cofamily” is also helpful in expanding the ideal of the family beyond the three common forms: the “single-parent family” involving one adult with child(ren); the “nuclear family” involving two adults of whatever gender plus child(ren); and the “extended family” involving three or more related adults with or without children.

An extended family is essentially a form of “circumstantial community” since people are born into it rather than choose it. The “cofamily” is then a group of unrelated adults (although a subset of a cofamily may be related) who deliberately choose to live together, with or without children. This adds a fourth type of “family,” which being different from the three that are commonly understood in the First World dominant culture, represents the small community-family found in the Fourth World alternative culture.

The level of autonomy enjoyed by nested cofamilies within larger communities like Twin Oaks may change over time, just like their composition and cohesion, yet the term is useful when a distinction is desired between the earlier “community child” philosophy and the current “communal childcare” in practice at TO and in other large communal groups.

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