Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

When flower children have children: a Seattle mom reflects

What growing up in a hippie cult taught me about parenting.

Before I became pregnant with my first child, I often said I’d like to have a home birth. “After all,” I’d say, “I was born at home.”

“Born at home” was an understatement. My mother delivered me in a house atop Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, without medication of any kind, without promise of an ambulance if things went badly, surrounded by a circle of hippies playing guitar, singing songs, and smoking marijuana. It wasn’t a home birth, it was a happening.

At the time, my parents were members of the Love Israel Family. The Family was a commune, or maybe a cult, formed around a very simple vision: We are all one. Love is the answer. The time is now.

At its height, the Love Family had more than 300 members, spread among properties in Seattle, Arlington, Yakima, northeastern Washington, and even Alaska. Members followed Love Israel, the man who had the vision, and joining his family meant abandoning your old identity and giving all your worldly possessions to the group. In return, you got a new name and a new family. Members lived together in large households led by family elders, and they shared all the tasks of life, including cooking, cleaning and child care.

My parents both joined the Family in the 1970s. In pictures from that era, they look gorgeous to me. My mom, with her long, strawberry-blonde braid, bent over in a vegetable patch. My dad, shirtless, steering a horse-driven plow. They drifted into a relationship, the way people do in a hippie commune, and they stayed together long enough to have my sister and me.

Then things changed.

When I was a toddler, my parents’ relationship dissolved. Not long after, the Family itself broke up. The leader, Love Israel, had been accused of abusing his power. (Among the evidence: he had a cocaine habit and a personal airplane. Meanwhile, kids in the family didn’t have winter coats.) A group of elders in the family wrote Love a letter asking him to share power and resources. When Love ripped it up, they knew it was the end.

The Love Family dispersed, and my parents and my sister and I blended into mid-’80s America. My mom cut her hair and started wearing sweater vests. My dad shaved his beard, leaving just a mustache. I joined the Girl Scouts.

Decades passed. I went to college, got a job in public radio, got married. I didn’t really think of the Family that much.

Then I became pregnant with my first child. Suddenly, I had a fresh interest in my parents’ lives. I was curious why they did things that way, and what I would want to do the same or differently. During my pregnancy and maternity leave, I dug through old pictures, read old documents, and talked to my parents and their friends. Through all of this, I came to a few conclusions.

The stuff I would do differently? Easy. Don’t join a cult. Seems so obvious in retrospect.

The stuff in the “maybe” column? It could all fit on a Pinterest board, maybe one named “commune chic.” Like most Pinterest boards, it’s usually better in theory than reality. Handmade clothes? Bought the sewing machine but never made a stitch. Cloth diapers? Sure, but overnight disposables are the best. Home birth? Decided against it. A plow driven by draft horses? Wouldn’t know where to park it. Brown rice seasoned with Bragg’s liquid aminos and sprinkled with nutritional yeast? Yep, that’s gold; I’ll eat that forever.

And the stuff I’d do again? Easy. Join a commune. Or some version thereof. In fact, I’m doing this already. I went to my first Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) meeting when my daughter was three weeks old. My wife and I formed a nanny share with another family. I’ve enrolled my daughter one day a week at a co-op preschool. And occasionally, my neighbors and I get together and close our street, to turn it into a play street.

There was a moment, the last time we did this: I remember standing next to my neighbor, eating a potluck dessert in this perfect sliver of evening light, just watching as our kids ran wild in the space between our houses. And I thought: This is it.

And yes, of course, whether it’s PEPS, or a nanny share, or co-op preschool, or play street, when bedtime comes around, we all go back to our private houses. And you know what? That’s perfect.

It’s no hippie commune. And I like it.


More on this family: Meet Posey Gruener and Sarah Viars, moms to 16-month-old Oza Viars