Community care and self care
If you have kids, roommates, or partners, you’ll know that the division of labour in caring for a house is a hot topic pretty much across the board but if you’re a recovering dogmatic radical unschooling, you may struggle with this more than the average person. Radical unschooling prescribes that, by providing care for others, you can find fulfillment. By filling others’ cups, you can fill your own. This can be true for some, but the flip side of this approach is that you’re often left to do all the work, no one is responsible for helping you, and you’re left to find your own joy even if you’re feeling overworked and under appreciated. Red flags all around.
As a recovering dogmatic radical unschooling mom, I have a fair amount of baggage around asking for help, but I’ve come far enough to recognize that I’m not doing my kids any favours by constantly doing all the work for them. Nor is there any fault in needing the support of others! Our family is a little community after all, and you can’t live in community with others and expect them to carry you. As such, I’ve tried to adopt the opinion that helping each other with house work is more akin to nurturing the health of our tiny community. When we all feel cared for and supported, our community is stronger.
Once I was able to identify this belief, there was another logical step that cemented this approach for me. I used to think of activities as active versus passive or creative versus consumptive but these distinctions often suggest that one group is better that the other. So instead, if we are considering that there are a group of actions or activities that care for or strengthen community, perhaps there exists another categorization of activities that we might identify as self-strengthening or self-caring.
This division of actions as either community-focused or individual-focused recognizes that both types are important and that both are very much required for overall well-being.
While identifying this distinction is helpful for a general understanding of the world around me, it also specifically helps me better understand my kids, which means that I’m better able to connect with them. I know there are a lot of unschoolers out there that participate in regular community events, eagerly help out around the house, and are big creators. Generally speaking, this is not my children. They prefer much more passive, consumptive activities. But by reframing with this community-care and self-care lens, it can help create a more positive appreciation for all types of activities.
Back to the dogmatic radical unschooling for a moment: there is a general practice of focusing on individual well-being at the expense of collective well-being that is a bit horrifying to think about in this context. The focus on the individual above all else really feels eerily similar to right wing individualism where collective care gets thrown to the way side.
Here’s the thing: prioritizing collective well-being is hard. If the pandemic has shown me one thing, it’s an easy cop-out to focus on individual security. What’s more, we live in a socio-economic system that rewards individualism and usually leaves you feeling exhausted if you’re trying to fight against those systems to focus on community health and security. And even if you’re trying to focus on the health and prosperity of a collective, it becomes extra challenging when the members of that collective don’t even agree on how to achieve well-being. The reality is that there’s always going to be disagreement. And disagreement makes things hard.
It might just be me, but I don’t think so: post 2020 reality shows that there seems to be a prevalent trend to avoiding disagreement rather than working together to overcome conflict. We run away rather than work through it. Instead of problem solving together, the tendency is to condemn, point angry fingers, and reject. What we’re left with is the echo chamber: we only work and play and interact and learn from people who have the same beliefs that we do, and then our inquiry into the validity of those beliefs become self-confirming. The result is the political polarization that we’re witnessing on a massive scale.
Okay, so how does this all come back to my kids helping with chores around the house? When we push our kids to participate in community-strengthening activities even when they prefer activities that focus on self-care (this would be a big no in dogmatic radical unschooling), we are helping them to engage with other people and work together to find solutions when conflict arises. By encouraging them in this way, I really think that we’re helping them practice troubleshooting and problem solving rather than rejecting others based on differing opinions. The self-care is important, but so is community-strengthening.
It feels like a lot of people are talking about community, or more importantly, lack of community. Personally, I’ve had an immense challenge finding community after we moved during the pandemic, but I’ve also heard from many other families and friends on and offline about how much of a challenge it is to connect with others these days. I suspect that late-stage capitalism is fanning the fire of this divisive echo chamber predicament. While this challenge to find a sense of belonging and collective care is not a new thing, but I do suspect that it’s getting harder and harder. I do know that finding a solution to this sense of alienation is multi-faceted and complex but I also believe that leaning into community conflict is a critical step in figuring out how to get along.
While you might be able to unfollow or mute voices of disagreement online, you can’t take that same approach in offline spaces and expect to foster community well-being. There needs to be discussion, conflict resolution, learning from each other, and collective community care.
I can really relate to this! This is where me and radical unschoolers have never seen eye to eye. It might be partially cultural, but my culture is (or was, when I was growing up) never one of individualism and so that never made sense to me. I've always spoken about unschooling as a community of practice, rather than a practice of individual freedom. It just never sat right with me! That said, my kids aren't amazing at doing chores and I don't make them - but I do ask for help and I'm very clear about explaining we live in a community and everyone pitches in. And they do, but not in a structured, regular way. Which is fine by me. We're also lucky to have someone who we pay to clean occasionally, so there's that. Personally I still like framing things as creative v. passive, not as a judgment but just as a way for us to notice how we spend our time.