Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Would You Buy a Home (And Raise Kids) With Another Couple?

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“We are just two couples who plan to live together and raise children in one household, hopefully for decades.”

This essay in The Atlantic about two couples who bought a house together with the intention of sharing their home and their lives for several decades was an interesting read. The couples are not romantically or intimately involved with each other. This is not a story of polyamory but simply of sharing a home and domestic life together (including raising kids, cooperatively). I’m sure there are plenty of unrelated people who live this way, but it’s not something I have heard about often. When I think of communal living, I picture hippies living in teepees or Winnebagos somewhere far off the grid where they grow all their own food and run around barefoot and sing Kumbaya by the campfire every night.

The couples featured in this essay, however, don’t sound like hippies. And they aren’t living in a Winnebago far off the grid. They’re living in a rowhouse in a Northwest D.C. neighborhood, with a screened-in back porch, a vegetable patch, and a two-car garage. The couples, one of whom found out days after closing on the house that they’re expecting a baby, didn’t purchase their home together because it was the only way they could afford to buy property. They bought a house together because they believe sharing their home and domestic lives together as a family with four adults instead of the traditional two-parent/two-adult household will make them happier: “While most people take for granted that dual-parent households usually have more resources to deal with life’s challenges than single parents, why stop there? By forming a household with friends who share our values, we realized we could build an even stronger system of support than we would have in separate homes.”

Personally, I can be kind of modest, so I couldn’t imagine sharing a home with another adult who isn’t my romantic partner as I sit around in my underwear or an oversized t-shirt with my bra off. And having a kid has made me appreciate my privacy even more so. I make so many mistakes as a mother — I yell too much, I lose my patience too easily, I probably let Jackson spend too much time on the iPad, I cave too frequently when he refuses to eat his vegetables. And then there are all the things that aren’t necessarily mistakes but are parenting choices many other people — hell, even my own husband — might not always agree with. I’d never want to explain myself to, or have to compromise with or feel judged by, two additional adults in the household. But the author does make some strong arguments for this kind of two-family communal living:

Many nights, when one of us stumbles home from work exhausted from a hard day, someone else has already done the shopping and cooked a great homemade dinner. When a pipe burst this February, we all took turns bailing out the basement. Once the baby arrives, we look forward to being crucial reinforcements for each other during those first several nearly sleepless months and trading off so each couple can have date nights. Living together with another couple also has made it easier to identify and counteract some of the sexist patterns that emerge in many households. Because we discuss chores as a group and work consciously together to establish our household norms and individual responsibilities, there’s less opportunity for traditional gender roles to establish themselves surreptitiously.

[…]

Living together seems to be a great financial move so far. With four adults splitting the mortgage and other costs, it is easier for each of us to save more of our income, which will give us the financial freedom to pay for childcare or reduce our work hours later, when we need more time and money for our families. We can also more easily afford investments in the house itself, like installing solar panels or weather proofing the attic, which will reduce our carbon footprint and save us more money in the long run.

I don’t know that installing solar panels and weather-proofing an attic are terribly motivating factors for me, but I love the idea of having extra hands to help with domestic chores. I’d love to come home each day to a meal cooked by someone else, but, since I’m the one in our traditional two-parent family who stays home and cooks dinner every night, that would probably just mean that I would continue doing the cooking and simply have more people to cook for. I love the idea of having built-in babysitters, but the thought of dealing with someone else’s crying newborn makes my teeth ache. The thought of having a front-row seat to the ups and downs of another couple’s relationship under my own roof, and the thought of them seeing all the good and bad days of my own, makes me feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t even handle living with a roommate when I was single…

I do understand the appeal of sharing a roof with people you care about — people you aren’t related to and aren’t romantically involved with. I just prefer to share that roof for a few days instead of a few decades. Each summer, a group of my close friends meets up in Chicago where we spend 3-5 days camped out in our mutual friend’s 2-bedroom apartment. We sleep on air mattresses and on the couch and on a spare bed in the guest room. We share one bathroom. We pick up groceries together and make booze runs, and then we cook together and take turns playing bartender. We do each other’s hair and advise one another on outfits, and it all seems very communal and wonderful and I love it. And then we all go back to our respective homes and get to miss each other until we meet up again. It’s no row house with solar panels or a teepee colony on a reservation, but it’s exactly right for me.

Would communal living ever appeal to you? Do you know anyone who has bought a home with someone he or she isn’t romantically involved with with the intention of sharing a domestic life for many years?

[article and image via The Atlantic]

31 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Christy July 14, 2014, 2:00 pm

    When I was about 12, I visited an honest-to-god commune with my dad and his hippie girlfriend. (My dad is the opposite of a hippie. They did not work out.) There were larger areas where multiple families could live, and there were single apartments. But everyone ate together in the main hall, and the chores across the commune were shared (like yardwork and cooking). It seemed really cool to younger me, but now it sounds awful. I need my alone space, and I can’t imagine having to negotiate common areas like that, even if it’s implicitly.
    .
    I think I could live with a girlfriend OR a friend, but not with a girlfriend and a friend, and not with a friend and the friend’s significant other.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary July 14, 2014, 2:01 pm

    Honestly, this would not surprise me if this happened in my neighborhood. Or a few other neighborhoods in DC, So I’m not shocked. Is this piece curious because the couples aren’t related? Maybe. But people buy houses or live in houses all the time with multiple generations of their family. Or with their siblings and their kids. So I think in the land of nuclear-family america this may be weird, but for the rest of the world (or even in the united states), having 2 full families live together isn’t so weird.

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    • avatar

      kerrycontrary July 14, 2014, 2:53 pm

      Oh yeh also…there is a communal house in my neighborhood. It has people with children, singles, singles with dogs, couples, etc…It’s a co-op ownership situation. It seems to work out well. Each person cooks 1 meal (but it has to be vegan) and everyone has designated chores (watching children, dishes, cleaning, gardening, etc…). I think it’s more committing financially to another couple with the house-buying that freaks me out more than anything.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster July 14, 2014, 2:36 pm

      My grandmother and my aunt did that. They bought a “mother-daughter” house together 30 years ago. My grandmother lived downstairs and my aunt and cousins lived upstairs. Now that my grandmother has passed away my cousin lives upstairs with her husband and kid and my aunt lives downstairs. It works out really nicely for them.

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      • avatar

        kerrycontrary July 14, 2014, 2:57 pm

        Yeh my mom and her siblings grew up with not only my grandparents, but their aunts/uncles, cousins, and grandparents in 1 huge house until they were 8-10 years old.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 14, 2014, 3:47 pm

        I totally want my sis and her fiance to buy a house in a nice neighborhood in the city and I totally want to rent either the bottom floor or top floor from them. But…. I rent the bottom floor of a house right now, so it wouldn’t be that big of a change. I like it so much better than apartment complexes where you have to deal with skyrocketing rent.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar July 14, 2014, 2:17 pm

    My mom lives with us – so for my husband he shares his home with someone not really related to him. Having her IS an extra pair of hands to help with the baby or dinner or the garden. I love it. Seeing my daughter have a special relationship with her granny and the two of them giggling together is in my top three of best things ever in my life right now. My mom isn’t intrusive by nature and my husband and I still fight and he still makes as much fun of me as if she wasn’t there. There is a generational dynamic there though – and a family one too that I think makes it work. We have ties that bind us regardless of street address. I can happily sacrifice for my family…I would be less inclined for someone outside of the family. I think a peer wouldn’t feel the need not to be intrusive and wouldn’t necessarily act in the interests of family over self and that would create a different vibe altogether. I love the multi generations in one house but I wouldn’t be down for communal living with others.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra July 14, 2014, 7:25 pm

      That’s really neat that it worked out for you guys! My cousin had her mother in law living with her, her husband, and her two daughters for about 3 years. The mother in law is suuuuuper intrusive and gets all up in your business all the time. Apparently it was the longest 3 years of my cousin’s life. She loved having the extra set of hands to help but it was such that granny overstepped her bounds and was apparently judging their life choices and being all passive aggressive about it.

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  • mylaray

    mylaray July 14, 2014, 2:37 pm

    I saw that article and loved it. We have kind of done this. My husband and I bought a small condo and his best friend lived with us the whole time. Not for financial reasons, but because we all genuinely love living with others and having more of a family. It was my idea but my husband certainly loved it as well. He’s like a brother to both of us. Recently we rented out the condo and are now renting a big house where we have room to grow. Right now they are both away traveling and it feels too quiet. I do feel that we are more efficient. We have house rules and it helps my husband and I communicate even better because it’s not just us.

    It’s nice to come home and have someone to hang out with too. And not just your SO. We don’t know how long the situation will last because our friend is single. I would love for it to last many years though.

    We never had issues with privacy. I think it works so well because all 3 of us have different work schedules so we all have time alone, time with one person, and time with the three of us. We all love each other like family, so we not create a family? I think it works so well because we communicate every little thing and have mutual respect for everyone.

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    • avatar

      Simonthegrey July 15, 2014, 10:48 pm

      Our household is my husband (and before that, SO), myself, and my best friend. The hub and I have been together for 4.5 years total now, the best friend and I for almost 12. We plan to buy a house together, or a duplex. She has a boyfriend but they haven’t been dating long, and she is not interested in living with him. Sure, the part that sux is having one bathroom, but we have plenty of privacy.

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  • honeybeenicki

    honeybeenicki July 14, 2014, 2:39 pm

    While I like this idea in theory, I think I would suck at it. I hate having roommates. I went through FOUR roommates in my first year of college – the first wanted to live with her friend, so we switched and I ended up with a girl who ate all my food then told me to go shopping. After she dropped out of college because she “couldn’t handle the pressure,” I got a new girl who signed up to live in a smoking room (we had smoking dorms back then) but decided she didn’t want to live with a smoker (me) and moved out. Then I got my last roommate who was awesome. As an adult, I’ve lived with two SOs and two non-related friends. The two non-related friends were roommates from hell (and I’m no longer friends with them). My husband is ok I suppose 😛
    .
    While the perks of doing this seem cool (help with household chores, cooking, kids, etc), the downsides way outweigh them. I wanna be able to wander around naked. I’m not modest, but other people might be. I don’t want to have to justify if I have a cupcake and a bag of chips for dinner. I don’t want to argue about whether or not chores are getting done (and correctly). And I wouldn’t want to compromise on things like how to raise children. I don’t even agree with my husband on everything related to child-rearing, so I wouldn’t want 2 more opinions involved.
    .
    That said, I do live right next door to my mom and wouldn’t change that for the world.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster July 14, 2014, 2:50 pm

      “I don’t want to have to justify if I have a cupcake and a bag of chips for dinner.”
      .
      IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK FOR????!!! My boyfriend thinks eating kimchi with an over easy egg for dinner isn’t “dinner”. Psh!!

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover July 14, 2014, 3:17 pm

        My husband thinks if there’s nothing hot, it’s not a dinner. So in the middle of summer, when you don’t want to cook, sandwiches and potato salad is not acceptable. But burgers and potato salad is totally fine. Or sandwiches and soup. It’s so weird.

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      • Portia

        Portia July 14, 2014, 4:37 pm

        I’m not going to lie, I’ve had meals of just potato salad.

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  • Portia

    Portia July 14, 2014, 2:40 pm

    I read this article yesterday and considering just how expensive a row house in a good area of DC is, this type of home ownership doesn’t surprise me. I think I might be ok with something like this since my experience with living alone for a year taught me I do not like living alone. Me and Bassanio have joked around with a single friend of ours about us buying a rowhouse and her having the English basement, but that’s as close to the idea as we’ve gotten. Bassanio really likes walking around in his underwear, so that may be a sticking point…
    .
    My grandma and great aunt actually raised their families in the same house, but they could have technically been separate apartments in a single house. My dad and his cousins loved growing up together and to this day basically all treat each other like siblings – I call my dad’s first cousin my aunt and I’m closer to her and her family than many of my other aunts and uncles. I also think it helped my grandma and her sister after they became empty nesters (and my grandma got divorced and my great uncle died). It was a sad day when they had to sell the place.

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  • Miel

    Miel July 14, 2014, 2:46 pm

    I know this is not about polyamory but I can’t help bringing the two topics together in my head. A lot of things that I want in a long term romantic partner are about cohabiting and co-parenting. Of course in this two-couple set up, you would have a partner that you love and have sex with, and two other people that you just “like” and do not have sex with. But otherwise, there’s still this long list of “things I want in a partner”. Like similar views on finance, budgeting, spending habits, savings habits… If I’m to share my mortgage and grocery bills with those people, it means I’m hopefully financially-compatible with the three of them (instead of just one). You also need similar values and similar parenting visions if you will all co-parent the kids in some degree. Again, it’s usually pretty hard to find ONE person that share your vision about living together, sharing finances, raising kids, so finding three seems like a really hard task. AND a divorce could not only happen in between the parents but also in between the two families, which just seem like an even bigger risk of instability for the kids.

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  • avatar

    RedroverRedrover July 14, 2014, 3:14 pm

    I think I could do it with the right couple, and with enough space. If it was a couple like my husband and I it would probably work out. We’re quiet and introverted, and we don’t raise our voices and don’t fight. It would just be like a family, doesn’t really matter if you’re not related.

    The big drawback for me would be the space. We would need a huge house, and where I live, even a 3-bedroom costs $700k-1M. I work from home so I need an office, plus we have a son, so that’s three bedrooms right there (or two bedrooms plus a room with a door in the basement). At least one more for the other couple plus more if they have kids. It would just be a no-go unless we left the area, which would be hard because it would make my husband’s commute pretty difficult. Anyway. Not like we would really do it so it doesn’t matter. 🙂

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster July 14, 2014, 2:15 pm

    I’m with you, Wendy, 100% for all the reasons you listed. The idea of this is so cool to me in theory, but I need my space or I become very cranky. A TaraMonster if you will. The funny thing is I grew up in a chaotic house full of boys (I’m the oldest, and the only girl), I had roommates for years and then lived with my ex-boyfriend up until I was 27 when I got my own place for the first time. I truly thought I would be lonely. NOPE. Living alone was fucking awesome. I have roommates again now (the allure of cheaper rent when a friend found a great apartment for us to share sucked me back in), but living with other people has only solidified for me that I’m a solitary creature. Even the idea of living with a partner again puts me off. I frequently fantasize about the day I will have my own place again! It’s on the agenda once I’ve got all my ducks in a row. So communal living? Def no for me, but props to anyone who can live that way.

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  • avatar

    zanderbomb94 July 14, 2014, 3:31 pm

    It seems like one of those things that works until it doesn’t. Granted, I just read this summary of the article and not the actual article, but if both families do own the home (as in 4 people deed and the mortgage) that could become a nightmare when one party is ready to sell. Especially if the other party is either not ready to sell, or if one couple is getting divorced. And without having any kids of my own (for at least another 2.5 months) I would imagine that as the kids get older (and want their privacy more) they also have more ground rules to agree on (are bf/gf allowed in the bedroom? overnight trips? drinking it the house before 21?). I feel like growing up my parents had a good group of friends, and everyone’s parents were allowed to discipline us when around then/at their house. But actually purchasing a home with another couple is just too big of an investment for me.

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  • Cassie

    Cassie July 14, 2014, 3:33 pm

    I just read the article, and found it fascinating. I wish it were a blog or a series; it would be interesting to see how they cope and how things change down the line. How will they transition once the newborn is there? How will they navigate the dynamics if one of the couples starts having difficulties? What if someone wants to get a cat? Fascinating.

    I think it’s great for people who can do it, but I wouldn’t sign myself up for it. The combined financial responsibility of home ownership would be enough to give me the willies. Also, I enjoy having control over what happens in my home. I enjoyed living with roommates back in the day, but it was nice to get into a place where I make all the rules. And, as Wendy mentioned, I feel it would be awkward to have that much insider’s perspective into another couple’s relationship– and, as the essay discussed, to also be called upon to mediate disagreements at times. Thanks, but no thanks.

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  • avatar

    Emily July 14, 2014, 3:43 pm

    Two of my great friend couples lived together in a house for 14 years or so. BUT they had their own living spaces (upstairs/downstairs) so it wasn’t exactly TOGETHER although they did buy the house together and pool their money for house expenses. Once they all started having kids though they kind out outgrew the space but I think it was a positive experience for them. And for me cause I could visit them all in one place! 😉

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  • avatar

    HmC July 14, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Oh I like this topic. Communal living seems like a win win scenario in a lot of ways. You can expend less resources and join efforts to run a household, raise children etc. My husband has a hippie background and is super into the idea, and I definitely see the benefits. I personally feel like Western society’s hyper focus on the nuclear family can put an unnecessary strain on marriages and families. However, I was raised in Western society and I like my alone time to watch trashy TV in my underwear. So for me I think I’d only feel comfortable living with extended family (not strangers) and I would definitely still need my own space to be alone.

    I watched this documentary on Netflix called “Happy” about the science of happiness, and as social creatures it seems to really benefit humans to have regular human contact and to have many people around helping to raise children. I like that idea, because honestly I want to have kids but being cooped up raising kids with just one other adult sounds pretty unappealing.

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    • Portia

      Portia July 14, 2014, 5:07 pm

      Honestly one of the major reasons I’m not interested in having kids is that it’s a lot of work for two people, especially if they both work. Obviously it can be done, and it is done, but I think I’d much rather spread the responsibility around a little more, and it’s a bonus if they’re good friends.

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      • avatar

        HmC July 14, 2014, 5:54 pm

        Oh yeah I have told my mom many times that she is moving in when/if I have a baby. I hope she realizes I’m not kidding!

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      • Portia

        Portia July 14, 2014, 10:18 pm

        Ha, I love it!
        .
        When people ask me why I don’t want kids, I ask them if they’d like to raise them for/with me. So, I guess I’ve basically been testing the waters for a communal situation like this anyway…

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie July 14, 2014, 5:35 pm

    For several years I shared my house with another couple. Issues came up from time to time but we all got along pretty well. They moved out to buy a house down the street with another woman friend when I sold my house to buy a live aboard boat. I visited often and the other woman and I got married. During the week we all lived in their house and Onnie and I spent weekends on the boat. Sometimes it was tense but we’re still friends and visit often. It was indeed a compromise most of the time but so is marriage…

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  • Lyra

    Lyra July 14, 2014, 8:49 pm

    This would DEFINITELY not be for me. I’m ridiculously independent and I looooove living by myself. I love having my alone time, I love that if I come home to a mess it’s mine and mine alone, I love that I can do whatever the heck I want…the list goes on. I really haven’t had roommates since freshman year of college and I think that’s a big part of it. I’ve always liked having my own space.
    .
    My grandma and her sister were raised by their mom and her two brothers (their uncles, my great great uncles). Their dad died in a tragic farming accident, so the brothers moved in on the farm to take care of it with their sister, and the siblings ended up living together for the rest of their lives. They had 80+ acres including fields, livestock, gardens, the whole works. Their mom (my great grandmother) didn’t want to sell the farm but obviously in the 30’s with just her and two young girls ages 2 and 4 she wasn’t going to take care of it herself. The brothers never did get married or have families of their own and I don’t know if that was because of the fact that they were living with their sister or what. It’s just really interesting because when I talk to my great aunt about it (my grandma passed away before I was born) she mentions how it seemed so normal to them. Their uncles both became the “dad” they never knew.

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  • shanshantastic

    shanshantastic July 14, 2014, 9:18 pm

    We actually lived like this for a few years when I was a kid and then again as a teenager. Same family both times. I don’t feel like anybody got enough privacy and there were definitely conflicts over parenting styles. That said, it was an overall good experience… that I don’t intend to repeat. (I REALLY like my privacy.)

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  • avatar

    Lily in NYC July 15, 2014, 8:27 am

    This would be my nightmare come true. I can barely handle living with a significant other and need tons of alone time. I would probably end up moving into the backyard shed.

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  • avatar

    AndreaMarie July 15, 2014, 10:10 am

    Like others have mentioned, this is great in theory. I think this set up could work in a mother/daughter style home. Each family having their own “home” while still sharing the housing expenses. You have the convenience of an extra set of hands/babysitter/cook/etc just a flight of stairs away but you can still maintain your privacy. In the case of sharing a living room with another family, for many of the reasons Wendy mentioned, would just not work for me. I would need my personal space, and the ability to enjoy private moments with my family.

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  • Jess

    Jess July 15, 2014, 12:25 pm

    Agree with the above. I think this works best when couples have a split unit with their own entrance/kitchen. It allows for LOTS of opportunities to do meals together, collaborate on home repairs, share childcare, etc, etc but still affords some privacy.

    I actually have a similar set-up that works great. My sister and bro-in-law live one block from our house. I can see their porch when I stand on mine. We eat meals together once a week, we carpool to family events, borrow food/cars/etc, and we swap dog-sitting duties. We are both expecting our first babies this Fall and are now talking about shared childcare which will save us money. We’ll also be able to pay one babysitter if we want to go out on double dates. And we can take turns watching the other child in order to go out alone. I have no doubt we will disagree on lots of parenting things but at least we’ll have the privacy of our homes to bitch and moan about it!

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