Social Permaculture – Family Design

So we’ve been asked this week to consider our relationships as part of the permaculture system we are trying to design. Humans have needs and yields the same as any other part of your system, but we have variables that make us much more challenging to design for like mental health, social upbringing, and differing visions for the future, among many others.

Though we may be complex, we can still use some of our permaculture design strategies to get a handle on how humans can be integrated with each other and the system as a whole to create resilient, adaptive, and creative relationships.

For this exercise, I’ll be using the SADIM thought process:

Survey, Analyze the data, Design, Implement, and Maintain

We can also look for the flow of energy (and communication) in relationships the same we look at energy flows in our natural system.

Our little family consists of essentially three different units: Myself, my partner Grant, and our furry child Yuti (the dog). Since she is primarily a family member and does not meaningfully contribute to any other part of our system, I have included her in our human element.


Where does the energy go?

Where does the communication go?

How is the system currently working?

Though we all share the same living space, it often feels like the three of us are satellites – each on our own paths around a common goal, occasionally and briefly interacting when the opportunity -or need- arises.

Most of the energy I spend goes to the dog. I feel that she is my primary responsibility, and her needs are ranked pretty high on my to-do list. When I need love, Yuti gets first dibs, and if there’s any left over, Grant gets it. There is an imbalance, where Yuti and I are very attached to each other, and Grant is sort of like an island we go visit when the weather is nice. Yuti gets grooming, hand-made treats, time put aside for walks, Agility class, and frisbee; where I can’t seem to find the time to cook food for us humans, cut Grant’s hair, or have date night. We humans both fill our schedules so full that we are too exhausted most of the time to do much that isn’t a necessity, and spending quality time with each other is not categorized as a necessity for either one of us.

Yuti and I communicate pretty much constantly. She lets me know what she wants or needs, and we have a conversation about it. I can tell when she’s tired, grumpy, relaxed or happy. She demands attention when she wants it, and I usually oblige.

Grant and I communicate semi-regularly. We tell each other generally how life is going, how our days went, what needs to get done and when. We have functional communication. But when it comes to communicating about our relationship to each other, we don’t really do that until there is a buildup of something that just needs to be said. We don’t talk about our feelings as they relate to each other. I think we are afraid that if we talk about our relationship that it will somehow weaken it or make it go away.

I don’t ask for what I need, and I don’t think he does either. For example, I need more alone time to meditate, do yoga, exercise, read, or do hobbies. I need a lot of space to myself. I don’t know what he needs because I don’t ask, and he doesn’t share.

We both have friends that we occasionally see, but that isn’t a regular occurrence, or really a priority for either of us. We both have all of our family out of state, and we call our respective families once a week, and see them in person once a year. Grant’s family occasionally comes up to visit (primarily for business reasons), mine never does.

My brother and sister in law just had their first child, and I’m not sure how I can be present in their lives anymore – they barely had time for me before they had a kid. My grandmother is getting older, and I constantly wonder if I’ve seen her for the last time.



We need to focus more energy on each other, and communicate better about our emotional wants and needs. The dog needs to learn that she cannot have all of my free time. We humans both need to prioritize quality time together and learn to give each other space to have and share authentic feelings. I think the time spent communicating with family is enough for everyone, though it may make me feel more grounded to reach out to other members of my family besides my parents. I need to take on fewer responsibilities and projects, and save more time for Grant and friends in my life.

Elements of the Family system: Me, Grant, Yuti, Grant’s family (out of state), my family (out of state), local friends

Functions: Provide/take emotional support, provide/take comfort, provide/take inspiration, provide/take physical affection, provide/take help with tasks, provide/take entertainment, provide/take financial support, provide/take a sense of belonging, provide/take energy. It seems that “Provide/take” could be replaced by “share”.

All elements must serve 3 functions, and all functions must be provided by 3 elements. I think I take more than I give, and Grant gives more than he takes. I think Yuti’s about even, though my perception of that changes based on how tired I feel…


We could structure more time to spend together by putting it on the calendar. When we do not set aside time for it before we schedule other parts of our lives, we never get around to it. We could schedule a weekly meeting (a date night, if you will), where the dog stays at home, and we intentionally create space for our relationship to organically happen outside of the daily to-do list.

I could start creating boundaries for the dog, and carving out time where she has to entertain herself. Instead of giving into all of her demands, decide to take an hour or two every night where she is solely on her own with a good bone, or taking a nap. She learns that she’s fine alone, and I get uninterrupted time to take care of focus-heavy tasks. I could use that time to carve out much-needed personal space.

I could also schedule a call to my brother and grandmother once a week in addition to my parents. I could maybe even Skype my brother because then the baby could interact with me, too.

Implement and Maintain

The changes I have suggested are all small and slow solutions, so I don’t think implementing them in different phases makes sense. I’ll work with Grant to establish one date night a week, and begin carving out an hour/day for myself away from the dog to make some personal space in my life. In the space I create for our relationship and for myself, I will be able to make observations about what is working, what we need to put energy into, or what we need to divert energy from.

I will call my brother and grandmother in addition to my parents once a week, but probably not on the same day, to prevent social burnout. This will strengthen the bonds with my own family and remove support pressure from Grant.

I also will be reaching out to friends more often, and taking time to spend energy on relationships outside of my home. Presently, if Grant and my relationship fails, I have very little outside of it to support me. This puts too much pressure on our relationship, and is not a sustainable way to live.

My hope is that I have enough time and energy to support these additional social interactions, however, I am predicting that they will eventually generate energy for me in addition to taking it away. I will have to monitor this and see what needs tweaking. I think I’ll sit down once a month and evaluate what has changed in the human system, and make changes as needed.


Wish me luck!


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