Mommy Communes: Why I Moved In With Another Single Mother

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It took nearly four years and Ryan’s voice dropping before I could tell the difference between his and my own daughter’s call for “Mom!” With two moms in the house, each claiming only the ones she has birthed, it can be momentarily confusing when one of the kids calls out the generic title. Invariably, Jennifer – my 36-year-old housemate – and I will look at each other and ask: “Was that yours or mine?” or “Did that come from upstairs or down?”

You see, Jennifer and I share the middle floor of a house, with its entry and kitchen area. But the upstairs belongs to Jennifer and her 12-year-old son, while the downstairs is ours (that would be and my daughter Audrey, age 14, and son, 18-year-old Stuart). This is the saving grace of our living arrangements – that noise-barrier of the middle floor. Ryan is in his 6th grade band this year and decided to take up the saxophone. While his mom may be proud, I’m looking forward to him nailing some actual notes. The cacophony of his daily practice blasting down from third floor is balanced out by my 8th grade daughter’s emotional outbursts from the first.

It’s never a dull moment in the house with those two, along with my college freshman son and Jennifer’s often-around boyfriend. Despite each of us having a single-parent family, there’s always someone around. And that is that make this living arrangement – this ‘mommune’ (mommy commune), if you want to use the current vernacular –valuable. Well, that, and the cheaper rent.

I’d lived with my kids, just the three of us, for six years post-divorce before a volunteer excursion to Vietnam brought us the joys of living with strangers. Sure, there’s that whole thing about having people you don’t know and love seeing you first thing in the morning or having to share chores with mere acquaintances, but for me, the pros have (almost always) outweighed the cons.

Like desperate singles, we met on Craigslist. I was trolling the Shared Housing ads and came across hers, looking for a single renter who was child-friendly. I was desperate to find some place that wasn’t my parents’ guestroom to stay. I figured my daughter would enjoy having another kid around and I was thrilled at the price of rent. A 20-minute visit later, I shook her hand and sealed the deal on renting out the upstairs – one bedroom, a living room and bathroom – for the three of us.

Four years later, we’ve all moved into a bigger house where my kids and I don’t have to share a single bedroom. Our two families share the kitchenware, but not cupboard space or meal times. We try to share chores, but that doesn’t always work. Jennifer’s a part-time college student; I work full-time plus run an Etsy shop. The amount of time she spends at the house far outweighs mine, but the chores don’t get divvied up that way. I seem to be the only one of the five of us capable of washing dishes. She does most of the yard work. We never did say who does what and years later it’s the one real source of irritation in our living arrangements.

But then I remember the things that make it worthwhile to share a house with another single mom. My teenage daughter has someone to hang around with. And when I have to be at the office early, Jennifer will drop her off at school. When Jennifer wants a weekend away with her boyfriend, her son will stay with us. When I run out of eggs, she’ll let me borrow one. I’ll feed her son when he’s ogling my latest baking extravaganza.

Not to say that we are best friends. In fact, we’re more like acquaintances who know each other really well. But that’s what makes it work. We share a house, not lives. We also share a lot of similar ideals. Neither of us has television reception; it’s Netflix or Redbox or video games or, more often, audio books that occupy our evenings. The two of them in their third-floor bedrooms, the three of us down in our first-floor living room.

Jennifer isn’t a serial dater, and neither am I. We agree on discipline, generally speaking, and neither of us are yellers, though that may have to do more with the logistics of living together than with our true natures. I hate to admit it, but I’m a more conscientious parent knowing that nearly everything I say can be heard in the floor above.

As the kids grow up, though, the need for each other as moms wanes and I wonder just how long this will go on. There are times when I can barely tolerate another day of doing everyone’s dishes and just want a kitchen I can call my own and I want out now. But then I think about the two kids–Audrey and Ryan–who’ve grown up together like siblings (but not). I wonder what their futures hold. Will they remain friends into adulthood or look back fondly on those days when their house was filled with another family? For them, I stay and remind myself how lucky we got stumbling through those housing ads.

(Photo: Brand X Pictures)