Back in the 1960s, communal living was in vogue. Not everyone did it, of course, but there were a fair number of groups of unrelated people who banded together in large houses or even in huge apartments for the purposes of (1) socialization, (2) keeping down the expenses, and (3) sharing the task load.
It’s an idea whose time may have come again for single parents.
What do you do when you get home from work frazzled, only to be faced with the multiple necessities of cooking your kids a nutritious dinner, helping them with their homework, and attending to whatever domestic tasks won’t wait, which may include laundry, general cleaning, food-shopping, sewing, bill-paying, checkbook-balancing, or baking those 30 carrot muffins you promised to provide for the class party? (Or, heaven forbid, all of the above. In one evening! <gulp> And that’s not even taking into account that, depending what your line of work is, you may have brought work home from the office as well.
There may be times when you’re tempted to marry the first guy who asks you, just so you have some help!
And what if you yourself are a male, a dad on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of caring for your kids (either full-time or half the week, but something more than Wednesday nights and alternate weekends)? You may find yourself even more in want of a helpmate, with the emphasis on “help,” who can shoulder half the burden (and even though you don’t view your kids themselves as a burden, the domestic chores surely can be, at least at times).
Then there’s the question of babysitters. When you were half of a couple, running out to do errands unencumbered by rugrats, or even going out for an evening of fun with your friends, was feasible even if you couldn’t afford a sitter. Though your husband likely wouldn’t agree to watching them five nights a week (unless work was the cause), an occasional “evening out with the girls,” or a kid-free, stress-free grocery-shopping trip was not an issue. He’d watch them while you went out.
Now what do you do?
Co-operative living may be the answer.
If you decide to try it, likely you’ll want to share a large house with one other single mom, though other arrangements are possible. (Other arrangements include: a single mom and her kids sharing with a single dad and his kids, with no romantic or sexual entanglements between her and him. Or more than just two single parents and their kids—three or even four—might share a huge house.)
Now there are two (or more) of you to take turns cooking, share in the household chores, and watch each others kids, too.
But before you decide that this sounds like your idyll and jump in with both feet, stop and consider the questions you need to address first:
1 – Do you and the other single parent you propose sharing with have compatible lifestyles? The Odd Couple was a funny stage show, movie, and TV series, but in real life a neat freak and a slob don’t make very good housemates. Too, if she’s given to having different boyfriends over all the time, are you going to be comfortable with her modeling such behavior in front of your kids? Do you both have compatible food preferences? A vegan and an omnivore don’t meld well; other, albeit less drastic, differences in food preferences, such as if you’re a gourmet cook and she’s strictly Hamburger Helper and mac ’n’ cheese from the box, also can create problems between housemates.
2 – What if one of you wants to have a boyfriend spend the night? Will the other have a conniption on religious, moral, or bad-example grounds? Maybe your kids are with their dad the night you invite your boyfriend to stay over, but your housemates kids are in residence. Will that cause problems? Or maybe you’re the one who’ll be uncomfortable, not on moral grounds but just due to having a strange male in the house.
3 – If one of you chooses to terminate this living arrangement (because of remarriage, a move out of area, or simply a desire for more privacy), will the other be responsible for the entire rent or mortgage? Whose name will the lease be in? What if you decide to remarry but don’t want to move? What if the house was in your name even before the co-operative living arrangement was established?
4 – How will expenses be covered? If you have unequal numbers of children, does the one with more kids chip in more toward the cost of groceries? Rent? Electricity? Water? Other expenses? And what will you do if, one month, one of you is short of funds and cannot come up with her half of the expenses?
5 – Do your kids and her kids get along? They needn’t develop into best friends, but they’d better not be constant antagonists either. If one of her kids (or yours!) is a bully, a whiner, or even a petty thief, the other kids (and perhaps the adults too!) will find it hard to get along with her or him.
6 – Do your potential housemates ideas about discipline mesh well with yours? From the small but annoying matters such as whether you both consider it an infraction to bounce on the sofa, to eat snacks in the bedroom, or to play for an hour after coming home from school before doing homework, to the larger and more serious ones, will she object if you discipline her kids for something you don’t allow but, you later discover, she does? Will your kids object if the other parent’s kids (of the same age) are permitted to stay up an hour later than your kids are? If your housemate, catching your miscreant son in a serious no-no, gives him a swat on the rear, will you see red and call it child abuse?
7 – How will you handle the expenses, and the task of cooking, if you want to have a couple of friends or relatives over for dinner and it’s your housemates night to cook?
8 – Do you have compatible schedules? If you get up and bustle around at 5:30 AM while your housemate doesn’t need to get up till 7:30, will the sounds you create wake her up and create tension and friction? Similarly if she’s up till 1 in the morning and you’re abed at 11, will she keep you awake?
9 – How will you handle sleepover guests that either the kids or the two of you might have? (I’m not talking about boyfriends, now, but rather friends or relatives from out of town.) Will you agree in advance not to let anyone sleep over? Decide on a case by case basis? Allow the kids to have guests in bedrolls in the kids’ rooms but disallow adult guests?
10 – How will you handle it if you both want to go out the same night, and neither wants to stay home and watch all the kids? And what if one of you simply goes out more often, so that the other finds herself watching all the kids for an unequal and, she thinks, unfair number of times?
As labyrinthian and tedious as these questions may seem, it’s easier to work it all out in advance than to move in together and then find the arrangement isn’t working. Then one of you needs to look for other quarters and move all over again, and the other one, with a lease on a larger house than she needs for herself, is stuck with a whopping rent that she has to pay single-handedly…or at least till she finds a new housemate.
Still, for all the possible pitfalls, sharing a house with another single parent (or several) and her (or his) kids may be just the solution to the burdens you’re now facing. Is it for you? Only you can decide.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.