A Traditional Nuclear Family Joins An MC—From A Mother's Point Of View
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Number of families: 8
Total number of children: 18
Number of adults: 20
Total number of individuals: 38
a. 40m, 40f , 16f, 12f, 9m
b. 66m, 65f, 43m, 38f, 15m, 11m, 9m, 2f
c. 44m, 39f, 15f, 8m
d. 39m, 38f, 14f
e. 36m, 28f , 5f, 2f
f. 63f, 36m, 34f, 7m
g. 60f, 33m, 29f, 7m, 4f, 4 months m
h. 32m, 29f , 6f, 3m
Economic factors: upper middle to upper class
My name is Katherine. I am 29 years old and I have three children, a boy 7 years old, a girl 4 years old and a four-month-old baby boy. My husband, Charlie, is 33. My mother is 60 years old.
I graduated from college and got married when I was 21 and had planned to be a lawyer. The plan was for me to take a year off from school and work until Charlie had finished his graduate work and settled into a job. I had been accepted into a good law school for the following year.
However, I unexpectedly got pregnant with our first son during that year. I thought I could handle a baby and school once Charlie's income was supporting us. I figured I could put the baby in child care while I was in classes, and study at night while he was sleeping. Even with this enthusiastic and optimistic plan, I would be postponing law school another half year, until after our son was born.
Well, the baby came and I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams how much my life changed. And to think that I figured I'd just fit law school in around his naps! I never guessed how much a little baby would demand of me, of my time, of my life. I loved him, of course. In fact, I think that it was because I did love him so much that I decided to forego my law school career until he was older, and wait until he was 5 years old and had started school before I pursued my career.
So now we had one baby and he was going on three. We had planned to have two or three kids. So, the question was, should we wait until little Norman was 5 (that would be 2 more years), take 3 or so years to study for my law degree, then start working (at least 1 year), and then stop working again to continue our family? That would mean that in another 6 years I would be having the second baby. And I would be interrupting my career about one year into it. I felt that I wouldn't be taking my career seriously if I jumped into it and out of it like a yo-yo (even if it wasn't true, it was how I felt). And I couldn't imagine not taking off at least six months after childbirth.
So instead of waiting to interrupt a new career, we decided to have Kristen, who was born when Norman was in his third year. Well, having two babies was a handful. But I loved them both dearly. Admittedly, things did get a little strange at times. Sometimes, when Charlie was travelling for a few days, I wouldn't be in direct communication with anyone except my infant and toddler, although Charlie and I would video chat whenever our schedules allowed. I kind of had to retrain myself to talk adult language when Charlie returned, or if my mother stopped by. Or even at the grocery store! Those kids are fun and lovable most of the time, but I was forgetting what it was like to be in adult company. And I was forgetting how to do it!
I often felt really alone, isolated, and a bit stir crazy. I love my kids, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I wanted to be completely alone. To take a walk at my own speed. To quietly sit and read a magazine. To take a bath! To go to the library without having to shush two enthusiastic beings who hadn't learned the rules about libraries yet. To not have someone NEEDING me constantly.
I did have a couple of baby-sitters I could use. But I wasn't crazy about them. I worried that they wouldn't treat my kids right, or love them right, or really care about them. And with baby-sitters, it often felt like I had to beg for their time. It would end up that my "free" time was at their convenience. And then too, half the time when I needed them, it was when I had to do things where I couldn't bring the kids along, like go to the dentist or doctor. Somehow, it never occurred to me to have someone take care of my kids just so I could have some time to myself. I guess I felt guilty about that. I believed that if I didn't have something else very important to do, I should take care of my kids.
I looked into some child-care centers, too. But they were pretty expensive for us, especially when Norman was first born, and I felt nervous about them. After all, they were in the business of caring for kids. They could have a lot of employee turnover which would be pretty insecure for the kids, and I'm nervous enough about abuse and poor quality care. I'm no expert on judging quality of care. So how do I know if my kids are getting good care at a particular place? At least if they're with me, I know what's what.
But you know, the quality of my time with the kids wasn't all that great. We did have some quality time. But when I consider all the hours that we were stuck together, the percentage of time where I felt I was really with one or the other of them was really very small. I mostly felt like we were always shuffling each other around, trying to get things done—changing diapers, feeding, soothing tears. I was busy doing a lot of mundane things and was often tired and grumpy. My life just seemed to be slipping along.
Charlie was as helpful as he could be. He's really got a great disposition and was wonderful with the kids when he was around. But he left at 7:15 in the morning and didn't get home until 5:45 at the earliest. That's nearly 11 hours out of a 24-hour day. And of the 13 hours that were left, the kids slept for at least 10 of them. That's not much time for a daddy to have a relationship with his children. And that's not much time for Charlie and me. Sometimes my mother would take the kids overnight or over a weekend so Charlie and I could have some time together. But I worried during those times; the kids are a lot to put up with. And she was alone. But what am I talking about; I was alone with them most of the time! Maybe I believed that I could handle it for hundreds of hours in a row, but no one else could even deal with it for 48 hours. I don't know.
Anyway, my relationship with Charlie was as good as I could imagine it to be under the circumstances. We seemed to be holding our marriage together better than a lot of our friends (or I should say, "the people we knew" —we hardly had time for what I would now define as friends). Most evenings we sat, exhausted, in front of the TV, with quality time going neither to our kids nor to our relationship. Nor even to me being with me or him being with himself.
We made special efforts to help our family work. We'd have meetings when there were problems, and try to come up with something that would work for everyone; but sometimes it seemed there were no solutions. So with some problems, we'd just limp along. We'd go on special outings and trips, and often have a wonderful time together. Other times though, it seemed artificial. Like we didn't all really know one another, and we'd have been better off staying home talking to one another. But it was really hard to be together when we were home. We'd all get distracted with the details of our individual lives, and we'd never have much time for family relationships. But really, we were doing a lot better than most. A lot of our friends were separated or getting divorces. Some of them had already been through it and were trying to reconcile again. What a struggle.
Well now things are unbelievably different. Norman is 7, Kristen is 3, and we have a new baby Michael who is four months old. And we all live in an MC. We've been living here for about one year, and Michael is one of the first MC babies in the WHOLE WORLD! I am going to start law school in the fall (Michael will be 6 months old then), and I have no qualms about leaving him or Kristen or Norman during the hours I am going to devote to my studies. And here's why:
I suppose that before we lived in an MC we were a very normal family. Actually, I think we were probably doing better than most "normal" families. We didn't have a lot of awful problems. Charlie and I still felt good about each other. The kids were still little enough to not have developed any irreparable behavior problems, and we all generally had a pretty optimistic outlook.
And we had our share of bad moments, too: yelling at the kids when I just couldn't cope any longer; more illnesses than I would have liked—probably because of general stress; sometimes spending time with the kids and feeling resentful about it because it wasn't what I felt like doing; being resentful towards Charlie because he was away from home a lot. He took business trips, got to change his environment often; he had a whole life in addition to the family. I actually felt imprisoned sometimes. And, of course, I felt really stupid feeling that way. Other women handled the same situation just fine—didn't they?
Well, like I said, EVERYTHING has changed. I'll tell you about our MC. We are in an eight-family MC. There are 18 children ranging from 16 years old to 4 months old (that's Michael). Every family has kids and two parents. Our families look pretty "normal from the outside," but some families are step-families. We have four elders living in our MC and all of the elders are related to someone in the MC. We all live on the same block in a really nice neighborhood. Two of the families lived on this block originally, and kind of knew each other. The rest of us moved in once we all decided to do an MC together. It didn't take too long for all of us to gather on this block because there was a lot of shuffling in this particular neighborhood because most of the people had decided to start MCs.
We met our MC friends in a few different ways. We went to some of the local gatherings, meetings, and social events; we found that we always went with one family that we'd known for years, but we never were actually close to them. We'd get together socially on occasion and would have a great time, but that's as far as it went. Well, after all, where else could it go, before? Even when we did feel moments of closeness, it kind of ended up with a shrug, like where do we go from here?
Anyway, we realized that we wanted to be in an MC with them, and they had some pretty good friends that we'd met a few times, so we all spent time together talking about MC possibilities, what it would be like, and talking about and meeting with some other families that we'd met at the local MC events. It turned out that four families in our MC had some prior connection to each other. The four families agreed that we wanted to be in a pretty large MC because there were lots of kids, and we all liked the idea of having LOTS of resources for ourselves and our kids. I and one other woman had been devoted exclusively to mothering since our first children had been born. The other two mothers in these families had kids and were trying to be miraculous super-moms, juggling career and family with the usual result of high stress and little if any time for themselves.
So we continued going to local MC events and met several other families that felt compatible. We took an adequate amount of time getting to know each other, individually, as families, as couples, as kids in all kinds of different groups, and every combination you can think of. We wanted to make sure that there was good compatibility and we wanted to be as sure as we could that our MC would work. We used smart phone, tablet based and computer access PSBs for about three months while we still lived in our original homes, somewhat distant from each other. However, it wasn't long before we started to strategize our moving plans. Amazingly, two families already lived on the same block, and there were several houses for sale on that block because so many people wanted to start MCs, so it only took about six months until our MC was complete.
The first thing we did was design and build the central structure (actually the very first thing we did was set up our PSBs so they were perfectly appropriate to the needs of our MC). We had an ideal space for the central structure once some of the unsightly outbuildings, fences and divisive shrubbery were removed. We built a structure (after getting the proper building permits, of course) that included a large caregiving center with one large room and several smaller rooms, a pretty good-sized kitchen, two full bathrooms, and an apartment for one grandparent couple. The child-care center is one of the most active places in the MC—all the time, not only during the regular scheduled caregiving hours. It is the hub, the center, the sun of our MC. We all seem to gravitate there, to be together, to play with our kids or others' kids, or just to watch the kids thriving in such a healthy and caring environment. The kids want to be there most of the time, too. They really sense that it's their space, but they welcome everyone into it; and being there during scheduled caregiving hours means that anyone who's there is there on kids' terms, not adult terms.
Sometimes I get a funny feeling. It almost feels like I've lost something, but at the same time I feel so full. I realize that my kids don't need me specifically very often. They need good people caring for them, caring about them, nurturing them, and seeing to their needs. Sometimes that might be me. Sometimes not. But I'm so secure with the fact that no matter who in my MC is caring for them, they are being cared for by someone who wants to care for them at the very moment the caring is happening; so no one would be caring in a phony way, or with grudges or gripes, or distractions. I know this, because when I have my turn at caregiving, I love and care for all the kids, and I genuinely want to be there during that time. Sure, I have favorites, those with whom I seem to share more interests, but that's natural, and feels great. Because there are so many choices for the kids, they can always find someone who's interested in the same things that they are (just about always, anyway). They are amazingly open to everyone, and they are happy. It just feels happy around here 99 percent of the time.
It's hard to describe the difference before and after living in an MC. It feels like waking up. Like realizing that you had a horrible headache for 10 years, and suddenly it's gone, and you can't believe how long you coped with it, put up with it, accepted it, and how BAD it felt. And the fact that you didn't really notice that you had it.
My life WORKS so much better now. I relate to my kids like they're human beings, not little puppets for me to manipulate and shape and mold and worry about. I enjoy being with them in a completely new way. I can acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses without judging them, and I can really BE there for them when they do need me. And when we are together, we really have fun! P.E.T. rules have been the best thing to happen to every relationship in my life. I guess what I've learned is to respect my kids. And it's because I have more respect for myself now.
In fact, our whole family has transformed. Charlie, although he still travels about one week a month, has been able to arrange the rest of his schedule so that he can participate in caregiving during the day and do some of his work in the evenings, either at home or at the office. He's really gotten to know the kids. Comparing his relationships with the kids before and after MC, the truth is he honestly didn't have relationships with them before. He simply didn't have the time. I think that the many new father-child relationships happening in our MC are some of the most obvious relationship changes. They are the relationships that we all simply see happening that never had happened before. In addition, of course, Charlie and I have so much more time for each other. And that time is never clouded by concerns about the kids. We simply know they are being well taken care of.
And I have new friends! Perhaps, for me, this is one of the most dynamic parts of my experience here. I have women friends, I have men friends. All on my block. Sometimes I feel like I did when I was a kid and had lots of neighbor kids to play with. And one of my best new friends is my mother. My mother moved in with us about two months after we were settled in the MC. We had the extra space, and with other elders in the MC, she has a lot of opportunities for new companionship, and lots of chances to be with her grandchildren, and her "new grandchildren." (All the younger kids call the elders grandma or grandpa.) She also spends about 18 hours a week caregiving in the hub. My relationship with her has really changed. And that I attribute to P.E.T. communications. It was pretty tough at first—it's so easy to fall into old patterns. But we both really pushed ourselves to abide by the P.E.T. rules, even though it felt artificial for a while. And now we relate like friends AND like mother and daughter—the way we both always wanted it to be.
Now, I've painted a pretty rosy picture. So before you imagine some kind of silly idyllic scene with not a care in the world, let's get clear about one thing: Suddenly having our lives working has not caused any of us to put our heads in the sand and become lazy slobs. No one around here is complacent—quite the opposite. We're more creative, challenged, and easily able to make things the way we want them to be.
We, as an MC, and we, as a family, have had some incredible experiences solving problems or just being creative about something we want to do. When everyone in the family is considered as part of the solution to any problem, the resources are suddenly exciting, and creative, and inspiring. When I was growing up my dad just "solved" all the problems. He just said what should be done, and there was no discussion. And no one liked his solutions, not because they were wrong, but because they had been handed down as his rules, no one else's. So his solutions invariably caused more problems because no one felt good about how they had come about.
In our family now, if everyone doesn't feel that the solution is the best one, we keep looking at the issues until the solution is right for everyone. At first, this took hours and sometimes days. We all had to learn to trust each other, to be secure that our opinions would be heard and respected, to feel safe to say how we felt. I think that this was as true for me and Charlie as it was for Norman and Kristen. These days, we can get things solved pretty fast. We all trust in the process.
Making decisions and meeting MC challenges has been even more interesting. With 38 people, believe me, you have some dynamics. We often agree to have a small group come up with suggestions for needed MC decisions, and then present them to all of us for discussion and finalization. At first, we all tried to be in on everything. It was natural. We were all so excited about what we were doing. But we were also insecure about it, and not yet ready to trust others with even just the suggestion part. So we learned about each other. We learned who was good at what. And now, when there's an issue, or just a new idea, the methods of getting it solved are pretty straightforward. I guess you could call it "learning how to use our resources most efficiently."
But now, most of our physical and structural MC needs are filled. And yes, we've got ongoing projects, and new things that we'll always be doing, improving, and changing in our MC. And we've got our emotional needs filled better than most of us ever have had in our entire lives. We'll be learning about the emotional area for a long time. Because it's been so long for most of us; we've had to relearn who we are inside. But each person goes where s/he wants to with this part of life. There are no rules about this. It's very personal. (Obviously there are rules about all married couples remaining totally faithful and monogamous in the areas of sex and romance, but then this has always been true for all of us: no change here—it makes all the adults secure and comfortable about all ongoing adult friendships. I have a lot more siblings now. That's what it gets down to. They seem like more than just friends. I love it!)
And since we all feel taken care of, we have actually started thinking about the world and how we can effect getting MC-enhanced lifestyles happening in every country on Earth, and of course, in our community. We go to local MC events to encourage others to start MCs. We even have special MC "open houses" in our own MC so outsiders can get a real feeling for what it's like to be here.
After all, when a being is no longer emotionally deprived, he or she can honestly begin to think and care about others in a very big way. The real eye-opener here is how I simply refused, in pre-MC days, to let myself feel what I really wanted and needed. I'd have been constantly depressed had I admitted to myself all of my desires—for lots of friends, caregiving helpers, time for myself and my career, and a lot more exciting and dynamic social life.