by Clare Gervasi, PSJ Member
It must have been during my training as a doula, before I had a child of my own, that I first read the adage that “Peace on Earth begins at home.” The simple quote resonated with my deepest sense of what I know to be true and was only reinforced through my research into conception, pregnancy and birth, through such books as Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer or Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.
I know it is true that “Peace on Earth begins at home,” because I’m living proof of it. I grew up in an urban intentional community of social activists in the 1980s who lived together in a low income neighborhood and worked on a local and global scale to help people suffering different forms of oppression. It was a tight-knit, post-Vatican II/liberation theology Catholic community of mostly white, mostly educated hippyish folks from all over the country who bought up real estate in a run-down neighborhood of Cincinnati and planted a church there. I grew up feeling a sense of belonging to an entire tribe of people. All the kids played in the neighborhood together, while all the adults had prayer meetings and potlucks and drum circles. My friends’ parents’ rules and words carried almost as much weight as my own parents’, and I felt comforted and cared for by all the adults equally.
The community was called New Jerusalem, and while it was a religiously based self-organization of people, the principles I internalized from that childhood experience extend far beyond the ideals of liberation theology. As I grew up into my own spirituality and politics, that sense of belonging, of community, has never left me. From my unique experience of growing up for a time outside of the cisheterosexist nuclear family model of “one dad, one mom, and 2.5 biologically related children,” I was able to see the possibility for life beyond white American, middle class expectations of family, despite being raised in the midwestern United States. Understanding how family can be different helped me be able to imagine that other things could be different in our world too. From there, it was only a hop, skip and a jump for me to begin identifying with anti-capitalist politics. Its values of autonomy, cooperation, self-organization, consent and mutual aid aren’t just ideals for me; I’ve seen them work in my own life. And I’ve seen them reproduced in my own life as a parent.
When I became a mother, I came to understand the meaning of community from the other (grown-up) side. The utter necessity of it, not just in raising a child, but in raising a mother. Creating family requires community. “It takes a village” applies as much to raising parents as it does to raising children. I doubt I would have given up on parenting altogether, but I am sure my child’s quality of life would be worse, and the quality of our relationship would less rich.
Normative societal scripts in white, middle class America indicate that parents should look at their children and see themselves reflected back. This is possibly some ridiculous, cruel cloning fantasy, or at the very least a manifestation of a biodeterminist, patriarchal, nuclear model of kinship. However, when I look at my child, I don’t see a mini-me. I don’t congratulate myself on how great he is (as if I could take responsibility for his actions, not to mention his inherent, individual nature); on the contrary, when I look at him, I see the fruits of the labor of so many hundreds of people who have poured their time, effort, money, attention, and love into him. He is so loved. And so am I. I see the support others have shown--beyond support: some kind of collective desire to see us succeed--reflected in his twinkling eyes, in his smile, in his healthy body, his strong voice, his quick wit. By trusting in community to take care of me, I am able to take care of my kid. When I was a child, I thought all the adults took care of all the children. Now that I am a mother, I understand that all the adults take care of each other, and thus the children thrive.
In other words, now that I am a parent, “Peace on Earth begins at home” has taken on a new meaning. It doesn’t mean that it’s my responsibility as a mother to condense all the peacefulness and somehow pour it into my little tabula rasa so that magically, or mechanically, a peaceful person is produced. No. Rather, it means that in accepting and welcoming community in our lives, our homes become peaceful. Mutual aid and support breed peace in parents’ hearts, and our children feel that peace, safety and love.