I have found myself in a social group where most people are heading down a very traditional path: buying themselves a nice suburban house, having babies, living as a nuclear family, the man is the primary breadwinner, the woman is the primary caregiver (though many women also work part-time and most men do their bit in parenting – but nothing too radical).

This has set off alarm bells in my head – NO!  This is not what I want, yet I can entirely see why it happens.  I could see us ending up there too, if we fail to take action.  The thing is, it takes initiative, planning, co-operation, to choose something outside of the norm. And not many parents have time or energy for that.

So I’ve been thinking, what do I want?

I want to live in a real community, where there is more sharing of household tasks, caring work, between families.

Yeah right, nothing too radical there.  I’m sure many parents have had thoughts along the same lines.

But what would it actually take? What are the barriers?

One major barrier, at least where I live, is housing design. In this town, most houses are designed for traditional nuclear families: three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room, fenced in yard.  There are some bigger houses in the richer areas, plus one and two bedroom unit for singles, couples or small families.  Not much room for choosing something different.  Most houses are just not ideal for sharing with more than one family, or a large extended family, or any structure too different from a nuclear family.

These houses are isolating.  The kids over the back fence could be looking for a playmate just like Wren and we’d never know. These houses create more work. Why do we all have to cook a separate dinner? Couldn’t we cook together, eat together, clean together, garden together?  This town has more social support for parents than most.  We are social, have many friends, but it’s not enough.  Most of the time, we are still in our separate houses.

If you want something different, you need to buy land and build yourself.  This is where the initiative and planning and co-operation come in.  It’s not impossible, of course.  People do it.  There are loads of intentional communities, people choosing a different lifestyle.  But not around here.

The kind of housing I am dreaming of would have shared kitchen and living space and gardens.  It would also have separate areas for different people and groups, because I value my own space too.  Whether it would be one larger house, with different ‘wings’, or several smaller dwellings, would probably depend on the location and the other people.

I don’t think it’s anything too radical.  Yet it is extremely radical.

I haven’t thought so much before about how much a certain ‘lifestyle’ is embedded in housing design.  I do remember reading an article a while ago, over here at Uliko, which talked about the same issues in relation to Aboriginal housing.  This town has a large indigenous population.  The majority of indigenous people live in larger extended family units and often prefer a more ‘outside’ lifestyle- the traditional western house embodies a lifestyle which does not suit them.

I don’t want to accept an isolating, housework-multiplying lifestyle, just because the houses are already there.  I am now creating an intention to work for something different.  It will take time, like-minded people, and probably money.  But I don’t want to replicate this unhealthy existence.  Housing for community.  It’s a start.