COLTON, Oregon—On 20 acres of land outside Portland, eight adults are rethinking what many Americans would consider a normal family structure. They’re trying to address many of the burdens that come with modern life, including the hours taken up by full-time jobs and the challenges of raising children in a nuclear family.
The four couples—two with young children, two with teenagers—share the property, a rambling plot of land with meadows, forests, a brook and an assortment of old rusted-out cars and trailers leftover from the previous property owner. There’s a main house and two small cabins out back; One of the only rules for the community is that everybody will share the main house’s two bathrooms, one shower and the kitchen.
It’s an experiment in community living in which the families help raise each other’s children, pool resources for rent and food, share skills and knowledge, and keep each other sane. The idea is for the adults to share their lives with their best friends, at the same time creating a large extended family for their kids.
“We try to be the village that people talk about when it comes to the kids - not that it always works,” one of the mothers of young children, Gracey Nagle, told me. Nagle and a few members of the group have been living in a shared house since 2003. When the home’s owner decided to stop renting it, they searched around for another place and found the Colton property. Some of the original members have moved on since the early days, but others have stayed and brought spouses and partners and children into the fold.
I visited on an evening in early summer, and the community was a cacophony of adult conversation and screaming children. A teenager and a few adults decorated cupcakes in the kitchen of the small house where community life is centered, while two toddlers played in back. A young child checked on chickens in the coop while a father of her friend carved wood in his shop.