It took me awhile - several years, actually - to understand the ramifications of this. I knew I was getting somewhere when my good friend from work, Y., started describing life in her small town, (where her family has lived for something like five generations), and I could understand what she was talking about.
However, I wasn't able to really get a perspective until a friend of mine passed me an old (Winter 2004) copy of Brain, Child, the self-designated "magazine for thinking mothers." (The website has announced that they are in the process of archiving all back issues, so keep a look out).
In that issue's feature article, entitled "Village People," Emily Wortman-Wunder describes a co-housing community in Colorado, where children grow up running in and out of each others' homes, and neighbors work together to maintain the common areas.
Emily differentiates between a commune, which emphasizes joint ownership of property (and sometimes partners), and co-housing, which is a kind of planned community whose goals include sharing resources such as transportation, recycling, and childcare. She suggests the in today's hectic times, more families - even those not embracing a co-housing model per se - are looking toward community and togetherness as a counterbalance to the general trends of "families spending less and less time together, and civic and community life deteriorating rapidly."
When Emily visits the River Rock Co-housing community in Colorado, she joins a five-year-old's birthday party and is especially impressed by the mature, generous and relaxed attitudes of the community's children. She also describes some downfalls of the system, such as the failure of a community babysitting arrangement due to a "clash in parenting styles," or the disapproval of one father toward a set of absent parents who have left their child at the party, screaming and without supervision.
After reading this article, I was finally able to put a label to our style of living here. Kids run freely in and out of one another's homes (most afternoons, I don't even bother closing the door, I get so sick of it slamming every five minutes as each of my own kids, and each of their three friends, march from house to garden and back). Nightly sleepovers are a regular event during the summer months. "Play dates?!?!" Unheard of. More likely, a kid will just show up at your house around dinner time, and you'll feed him along with the rest.
As for jointly-owned property, my neighbor L-C and I share a running joke, that each of us has a two-car family... it's just that one of the two cars is theirs. The transportation arrangements come just short of joint ownership: I pick up her son at daycare, she gets my girls from the after-school program. Her husband takes the train back from work and then he and That Guy I Married share a taxi home. When they are late coming back, she and I discuss various dinner options while our kids play in one house's garden or another.
It's not exactly co-housing, but I certainly understand what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "It takes a village." (Missed the reference? Check out Wikipedia for a quick reminder).
Long live the village.
Keep the balance,