Interview: Communal Living with Five Single Mothers

A couple of years ago, I asked a close friend of mine, who is also a mother of a girl, how she felt about getting a three bedroom apartment together. As a New Yorker, rent is too damn high and a lot of folks are in roommate living situations. However, I just can't move with just anyone because I have a young daughter.

I asked my friend. I thought it was genius. We both have daughters, about 2-3 years apart, we could have communal and private spaces, split household chores, and switch going out every other weekend. Not to mention, save money, raise our credit scores, and possibly have a start in buying our own homes in the future. 

I was on a single mothers Facebook group a couple of weeks ago and there was an article post about two families living under the same roof. Rayona commented and briefly gave her approval and said that she once lived with not one, but FOUR other single mothers. I messaged her to find out more about her situation. She agreed to be interviewed. Below is the dialogue that took place. 

What is your name? Where are you from? And how old are your children?

My name is Rayona L. Young. I live in Baltimore, MD. I am a mother to three children: Eriq (18), Jonathan (16, has Aspergers Syndrome), Lena (13).

How did you become a single mom?

Well, I was married, and now I'm not. (LOL) I tell people that I made the choice to be a single mom, because a lot of women didn't, and don't want to be one either. I'm not saying that I necessarily 'want' to be a single mom, but I did make the choice to dissolve my marriage. It wasn't an easy choice to make, but make it, I did. Once the dissolution was final, I packed up myself and the children, and moved back home with my parents, one state away.

What led you to co-habitate with other families? 

Actually, it was a 'summer between college semesters' thing. I went to school in one state, and my ex-husband lived in another. (I became a college student after the children were born, also post-divorce). He had the children for the summer, and I missed my friends and family in the state he lived in. His mother and sister had become my best friends! Anyway, the two of them (both single mothers) and two friends decided to all move in together, as a single mother household to save funds. There were a total of 4 single mothers in the home, and though they had 8 children between them, only three lived in the home full time (my mother in law had all grown children by that time). The home was large enough so that everyone except the two little boys had their own room. Because I knew all of the mothers, and saw their living situation was working so well, I was excited when they offered me a room for the summer. That meant my kids were across town (instead of across state lines), and I could see them anytime I wanted. I was able to save money that summer and build great relationships that still stand strong to this day.

Did you all have prior relationships? 

As I said, two of them were family (my children's aunt and grandmother), and we went to church with the other two mothers. I'd known of them from church for years, but had never really gotten a chance to spend a great deal of time with them. Lucky for me, my family (sister/mother-in-law) chose them first, and I really trust their judgement, so it was a breeze when I moved in.

Was it a rental or a home ownership agreement? 

The house was a rental and from what I understand, the landlord was very supportive of the idea. He knew how many people were living in the house and was very active in the upkeep of the home. As single mothers with young kids, renting such a large home was the ideal situation for that time. Two of the mothers are now married and living in homes of their own. Unless one had owned the home at the time, buying wouldn't have been the best option. The home was a three story home with 6 bedrooms (the master had a bedroom and a separate sitting room, which was made into my room), and 2 1/2 baths in Cleveland Heights, OH. It suited our needs well.

What was the makeup of the families? 

So there was DJ: in her 50's, mother of 5 grown children, grandmother; SY: early 20s and her son EH, 6, who was engaged; CP: early 20s, and her son IP, 4; TI: early 30s, and her daughter, TR, 9; myself: early 30s, and my 3 children part time (at the time, they were 8, 6 and 2). All African American including my children, though I am bi-racial.

What was your short term and/or long term goal in this living situation?

It was short term (as I was only there for the summer). I was looking for a place to stay where I could see my kids and save money. I ended up with lifelong friends, if that counts as a long term goal. (LOL)

What were the strengths and the challenges of living with other families?

The strengths: We all had a few someones to lean on. When we needed time alone or just time away from our children, we had someone who was there to provide that relief. We were very supportive of one another! There would be family dinners with everyone, as well as mommy time, where the kids would be off playing together, and us moms we would just hang in the living room, having great conversations. Because our kids were all close in age, they always had playmates. We were lucky to have found a group that shared common beliefs and generally got along so well.

The challenges: Everyone had a different style of parenting. We had to be respectful of one another when they disciplined in a way that we wouldn't. I didn't always agree with something another mother did to her child, but I chose to respect it. Also, learning to share space with others. While everyone had their own room for privacy, everything else was shared. The kitchen, common rooms and bathrooms were open to everyone, which took some coordination. In the end, it all worked out for the good of everyone.

How did you address those challenges?

I am happy to say that we had plenty of discussions regarding our challenges. Compromise was important, as was realizing everyone's personality and parenting styles. We were all able to talk about things calmly, offer advice and opinions, (LOL) and still come out as friends. Things were handled in a mature and respectful manner.

How were you children impacted from this arrangement?

My children thought it was great. (LOL) They loved coming to visit, because there were always people to play with! I honestly believe that had they have been in the house full time, the only difference would have been in utilities, food bill, and noise level! With their mother, grandmother and aunt all in the same house, they were definitely well cared for.

Is it still going on? If not, why did it end? What are some tips would you give to families who are thinking about this arrangement? And would you do it again?

It is not still going on and I miss it so much. It ended because peoples lives began to evolve. Tow of the ladies got married, one found a place of her own, and the other two moved into another roommate situation. I went back to live at school. 

I would eagerly do it again. I was very lucky to have lived with the group of women that I did. Before I got there, they were friends, close enough that they'd spent time in each other's homes (having had sleepovers and such), and really knew how each other lived. Not everyone was a neat freak, but they knew that going into the communal living situation and accepted that fact. Since they were able to compromise and keep open the lines of communication, it worked well. Should I be in the situation again, I'd want to do it with a group that I know fairly well. We'd have to find a dwelling where'd have our own private space, as well as communal areas that were conducive to everyone's living styles. (For us, we wanted an open first floor-plan, so we had plenty of space for everyone to play and stay active with one another).

The biggest thing I can suggest is discussing up front what your lifestyle is like, and then live with no real expectations, because there is no room for great upset with so many people's lives in the balance. If you expect a sloppy person to change their ways because they live with a neat freak, there will be lots of tension, in turn making the entire household uncomfortable. However, if the sloppy person can make the neat freak happy by closing their bedroom door so no one else can see their personal mess, it creates a greater sense of community, saying "while I am not just like you, I am willing to allow you to be exactly who you are without forcing my beliefs upon you."

We all know that finances are getting tighter these days, and everyone is trying to stretch a dollar. I would suggest communal living to those who are open to it, if your motive is a financial one. Take your time in finding who you want to live with before the where. Many friendships can be made or broken over living situations.

~

What do you think about communal living? Would you do it? What other questions or concerns do you have?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Thank you Rayona for allowing Babymamahood to feature your story and allowing us to reimagine ways to create a supportive community in our homes for our children. 

Photo provided by Rayona.