What if Park Slope was a gigantic kibbutz? Smartmom laughed at the idea of turning her Brooklyn neighborhood into a Socialist experiment.
But it sure was fun to think about.
Smartmom lived on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in 1980-81 when she was just 23 years old. As a volunteer on this self-contained economic community of 800 members and children, Smartmom worked in the children’s house and in the kitchen.
At that time, kibbutz children did not live with their parents, but in dormitory style “children’s houses.”
Early kibbutzniks settlers believed that trained caregivers and teachers (other kibbutz members) would be better at taking care of the children than parents. It was thought that the parent/child relationship would be healthier if the parents didn’t have to discipline their children.
Now that’s worth thinking about.
More important, the children’s houses would liberate mothers from their traditional roles and bring about gender equality. Instead of childcare, women would be free to work and have more leisure time.
Now that’s downright feministic!
Smartmom enjoyed working in the children’s house when she volunteered on kibbutz. She didn’t really get to know the children because her shift was early in the morning and it was her job to make the beds and clean up after the kids.
She did, however, observe the young kibbutzniks around the kibbutz. She even gave a young boy guitar lessons in the afternoons at his parent’s apartment. She did wonder what it would be like to live without your parents and to be raised by a community. Her young guitar student didn’t know any different. At 23, Smartmom thought that it would be pretty strange.
The children did spend time in their parent’s small kibbutz apartment every day after school and would eat dinner with them in the kibbutz cafeteria.
Interestingly, the kibbutz kids seemed to spend more time with their parents than she did. Her parents were rarely home after school and sometimes they didn’t even eat dinner together. Her parents often went out and left Smartmom and Diaper Diva with a babysitter.
The reason that the kibbutz system worked as well as it did was because in this communal society, the work schedule of parents was organized around the needs of children. The kibbutz made sure that parents were free to be with their children from the end of the school day until bedtime.
She also noticed that the kids had a lot of freedom to roam around the kibbutz. There was a communal swimming pool, basketball courts, a soccer field, tennis courts, a horse stable and cinema.
The kids were having a blast.
In recent years, communal child-rearing on kibbutz was deemed a failed experiment because it was difficult psychologically on parents and children. The kibbutz movement has eliminated the children’s houses and now the children live with their parents.
Failed experiment or not it is certainly one worth thinking about for Park Slope — or at least one small apartment building.
Imagine if all the children lived in one apartment set up like a dormitory and another apartment was dedicated to communal activities like cooking and dining.
Like the Park Slope Food Co-op, childcare, shopping, cooking and cleaning would be divvied up among the adults in work shifts.
The benefits would be huge for the adults, who would not have to cook and clean every night. Once the children went to bed, parents would be free to participate in social, cultural or sporting events and not worry about getting a babysitter. They’d be free to go to the gym, pursue their work or hobbies or socialize with other adults.
Then again, how would it feel to have another parent disciplining your children? What if you couldn’t be nearby when the kid woke up with a nightmare or night terrors? What about when the child got sick in the middle of the night or just wanted to crawl into bed with you?
On the kibbutz, Smartmom noticed that the caregivers were in constant touch with the parents. And the children’s houses weren’t very far away from the parent’s apartments. With the advent of cellphones and texting, urgent communication could be speeded up considerably.
Still, deciding on a whole set of ground rules for communal child-rearing sounds pretty daunting. The very idea of it gives Smartmom a Food Co-op–sized headache.
Her little thought experiment didn’t last very long. Yes, there are aspects of her Kibbutz Park Slope idea that sound interesting, but other aspects are, well, mind bogglingly complex.
What about politics, religion, ethics, upbringing, psychology, style, jokes, and all the others ways that parents influence their children? How could this be determined en masse without feeling like a lifestyle rife with political correctness and group think?
Smartmom decided that it’s probably easier to heat up an Amy’s Pizza for her children’s dinner, make a quick salad and throw the dishes in the sink than to try to live communally with a large group of neighbors. And if she wants to catch a poetry reading or a dance party, they’re too old for babysitters, anyway. Reaching a consensus on the most personal aspects of your life sounds pretty tricky and not altogether pleasant.
Still, there’s something about kibbutz life that keeps bringing her back to those days in Israel. Kibbutz Ein Hashofet was a very fruitful time of her life.