The Foundation of the Family — Generational Home

It’s one thing to say that I want to build a generational home, a family that will develop its own existence beyond my lifetime.
It’s another thing to make it happen.

To Build Anything, You Need a Foundation

Social and economic pressures in the US are actually working against family as a lasting social structure. That’s something most of those folks decrying the ‘death’ of the nuclear family aren’t getting. This isn’t some moral failing or rejection of good-old-family values. It’s a rational response to the world we live in.

Nothing has a stronger impact on culture than economics. Even religion must bow to the basic necessity of putting food on the table.
But that, ironically, also explains how some families have managed to maintain coherence across generations.

I used to wonder how you could have business or farms that had been held by one family for decades or even centuries. It was only when I learned about the impact of economics on culture that I began to understand. A successful family business protects the family unit from economic disruption. After all, if Dad has a company you’ve been trained to take over, whether it’s a corner store or a Fortune 500 company, you don’t need to move across the country to find a job.

A family business provides a foundation for a family to last through the generations.

We Don’t Have One — Yet

For our family that will be the farm. If we are successful with it, then our heirs will have at least two cushions against economic disruption:

1) They will have land that they own. That means a home, shelter, a place to live. As long as they can keep the tax payments up they will always have a place to live. (Admittedly, tax payments have driven many people out of their family homes. But fewer people than rent or mortgage!)

2) If they keep the farm going (which will, of course, be out of my hands once we pass it on to said heirs), they will always have food to put on the table.

Those are powerful things to pass on to those who come after us.

We Aren’t a Traditional Family

Two major differences we have from a traditional family business come from our basis in polyamory. First, and most, this is a group enterprise. Second is our nature as a chosen family. While these bring challenges, probably including challenges we haven’t yet recognized, they also reduce challenges faced by traditional family businesses.

I’m still working through a lot of it. And I’m mostly working it through on my own. I do need to talk all this through with the rest of the family, but, hell, we are years away from getting the farm and none of us have the energy to spare right now. I happen to be one of those folks who obsessively plans for all possible futures. Partly a level of anxiety/paranoia. Partly because as an autistic person, the more I plan and prepare for the future, the less the changes the future brings fuck with my head.

Tradition and Freedom

That said, a big advantage this household will have is that as a group, there isn’t pressure for any individual to take up the family business. Only two or three people in each generation are needed to keep the farm going. Other members of the family who don’t want to take up the farm will be able to pursue their own life goals and bring in money from other careers. Basically, it’s kind of best-of-both-worlds. The food security of a family farm and the economic security of literally anything other than farming. Because, yeah, the economic prospects of farming in the modern world suck. Trust me, we’re not going into this blind.

Communal Isn’t a Bad Word

The most economically successful small-farming approach historically has been communal farms where a whole village works together. Why: simple. Farming is labor-intensive, and economies of scale apply to labor too. 10 people working together on 10 acres can do more than 10 people each working 1 acres. And our household being a family group means that extra labor will be available for labor-intensive work. Sure, no one wants to put an hour or two into harvesting before or after working an 8 hour day at the construction site or office. But for family (and food over the winter) people will do that kind of thing. And having those extra hands available makes a big difference. (In theory. I think. Yes, I’m making this up as I go along.)

Economy Over All

So, yeah. This probably isn’t what folks were expecting out of this post, but this is reality. The foundation of any human endeavor is economic. Which is another way of saying how will this be maintained. Either money, labor, or both are required to build anything lasting. And not paid once, but continuously. For social constructs (which is what any family is), the critical maintenance is food on the table and a roof to shelter under. This is true whether that food is scavenged from dumpsters or served on gold plates. Whether the roof is a cardboard box or a palace. If the food and shelter aren’t there or aren’t adequate, people who can will leave to find them.

I don’t need the gold plates or palace. But so long as I have any say in the matter, I’ll be damned if any of my family is food insecure or homeless again.

What About That Lovely Compersion? It’s Not Just for Polya People

Note: This is an updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

Whenever we hear about compersion it’s in a romantic polya context. It’s a feeling of joy that one partner gets when one of their partners is happy, usually because they’ve met someone new. To romantic polya folks compersion is held up as the opposite of jealousy. It’s something to strive for. It’s proof that you’ve beaten the green-eyed monster (even if you still feel it from time to time).

But what about those of us who have no jealousy with which to compare the feeling? Or, hell, what about instances where we feel joy over someone else’s success, even in nonromantic contexts? What about when we cheer for our favorite sports teams and celebrate them winning?

I think we naturally feel compersion in a variety of situations. But people are only applauded for it and only notice it when they feel it in a romantic or polyamorous context.

But what if American Ninja Warrior was the standard for how we treated one another?

If you’re not familiar with American Ninja Warrior, it’s the only competition I’ve seen where literally everyone-competitors, announces, and audience-support every single person going out there and doing their best. That is true competition right there. It’s never about the other players; it’s all about you doing your ultimate.

We naturally want our children, our teams, our companies, and our friends to do well. We’re supportive of them, we cheer them on, and we celebrate with them when they get what they want, when they meet their goals, or when they win. We even do this with fictional characters.

Yet when it comes to romantic relationships and transitional polyamory from the dominant culture, for some reason all of that goes flying out the window. Romantic people are even encouraged to be jealous of one another. It becomes a competition in the destructive sense of the word and everyone is set apart from day one.

People view their partners with suspicion and newcomers with envy. They’ve learned in many ways to view their partners (or their time or love) as their property to some extent. And naturally when that’s taken away they despise it. They want to do all they can to prevent it. Jealousy tells them they’re losing something that’s rightfully theirs.

So polya people work at it. Over and over. Some people give up and return to a monogamous life. Some polya people learn to work around it. Jealousy becomes this ugly never-healing sore that just kind of weeps in the background sometimes. Polya people work on stripping it of its power. When they think they’ve succeeded, when they can feel somewhat joyful about a new love or something, they get excited about feeling compersion.

But it seems like it’s mostly a case of them unlearning the typical cultural messages surrounding how our relationships should look. Why is it easier for friends and parents to feel compersion rather than romantic lovers?

A huge part of it is simply amatonormativity – the pressure and belief that long-term romantic pair-bonding with accompanying trips up that relationship escalator are the norm and are appropriate and desirable for everyone. Not even non-monogamy gets much of a pass from the effects of amatonormativity; often ideas from the underlying culture spill over.

That’s why those who seem to overcome this programming get so excited about compersion.

Even still, the feeling isn’t exclusive to polyamory and for aromantic people or long-term multilinkers it’s not some elusive goal. It comes more easily or organically in nonfamilial intimate linkings because it’s an extension of what we already feel in our other relationships. For some multilinkers or people who value friendships over romance it might be easier for us to tap into our sense of compersion and extend it to all areas 0f our lives.

Compersion isn’t something exceptional. It’s not the sole invention or experience of polyamorous people. Instead I think it’s that those romantic polya people from the dominant culture might find it more difficult to express it in polyamorous relationships. All of us have certain contexts we develop for our relationships. Built into that context are a host of expectations and norms.

It’s considered normal to feel great when your husband gets a raise but not when he gets a new girlfriend.

Maybe the key to compersion isn’t so much defeating or conquering jealousy. I don’t even believe it is the opposite of jealousy. Maybe it’s simply a matter of learning to be more friendly. Of looking at your partner with those lenses you’re able to extend to everyone else. Maybe it’s simply a matter of unlearning those divisive competitive lessons. Why is it easier for you to be happy for your friend or your child but not your lover? Is the root something you simply acquired from culture that triggers your jealousy instead of your compersion?

Either way, however you arrive at it just remember: you’ve felt compersion before!

It’s more familiar than you think it is. It simply hasn’t gone by that name outside of a romantic polya context because people tend to take it for granted.

I recommend you take it from American Ninja Warrior. It is possible and it’s not as hard as people might make it seem. They’re definitely on to something.

Remember, I’m cheering you on!