My best friend and her kids might come live with us — any advice on creating a non-biological family?

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By: Ed BiermanCC BY 2.0

My best friend is a single mom with two kiddos who are my godchildren/niece and nephew. Since her divorce, she’s been living with her parents in a pretty cramped living situation in our hometown. She left college when she got married, and even living with parents, childcare costs have prevented her from going back to school for more than a class at a time and sometimes not at all. She’s been struggling even more financially recently, and my husband and I have been talking more and more about offering that she come and live with us for a bit to focus on school.

The kids know us pretty well and we’re doing fairly well and living in an incredibly cheap area and have a house far bigger than our needs. There is a completely finished and unused third floor attic (large open room, closet and sleeping loft) that could easily house her and the kids. We’re in a great neighborhood full of kids, and the local community college has a good program in the degree she wants that could be completed very inexpensively in about two years. My husband loves her and the kids and is behind making the offer 100%.

There are several factors in her personal situation that may ultimately make our plan unfeasible, but I’m a big believer in kids needing a village of adults and have always thought of my close friends as family. So that brings me to the question: do you lovely offbeaties have any advice on creating a non-biological offbeat family? — Sarah

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Comments on My best friend and her kids might come live with us — any advice on creating a non-biological family?

  1. Wow, you are such a generous and kind friend.

    I have no experience with this situation but my thoughts would be to sit down and write up an agreement/contract with her before she moves in.

    It might seem petty but try to come up with agreements about food shopping, cooking, use of communal areas, how much babysitting you will be willing to do, how comfortable she would be with you disciplining her kids (if necessary), what is she gets a new partner (can they stay over?) etc etc.

    Maybe agree to have monthly type meetings to check that everyone is still ok with the situation and if any of the ground rules need changed.

    While you are being a super supportive and wonderful friend, the most important part is that you are all able to remain friends throughout the stay without feeling like you are her mom or her landlord.

    Best of luck to you, I am sure it will all work out wonderfully so long as you are able to have open and honest conversations with each other

    • You could also suggest you try it out for six months to see how you all get on, just so there’s an easy way to get out of it with your friendship intact if it doesn’t work.

    • I am in a very similar situation — except my friends are the ones with kids, and I’m the auntie who they graciously let move in with them.

      One, come to agreements. My friends and I have lived together before in college, so we knew each other’s habits, but I do know that I have a debt to them that will take quite a while to pay back. It can quickly become frustrating — either you get resentful for her ‘freeloading’ or she can start feeling like a heel for not pulling her fair share. If you anticipate any money issues coming up (like giving a loan to start school), you may want to put it in writing. People get funny when it comes to money, and you never know what could come up that needs to be paid tomorrow; it’s to protect her as much as it is to protect you.

      Also, make sure you learn how she wants to raise her kids. For example, my nephew knows that Auntie can be a soft touch when it comes to getting another piece of candy, but he knows Auntie makes sure he’s eaten enough of his dinner first. In my experience, however, parents are very good at telling you exactly what they want for their kid and are more than willing to teach you how to handle situations.

      As far as terms of ‘creating a family’, do stuff together! Have a set dinner time with everyone, do a movie night, go to the park on sunny days. Things you’d probably do anyway because you’re all friends and you love each other. Not 24/7, of course. We always sit together and have dinner — even if it’s just eating off of tv dinner trays while the baby watches a movie — and catch up on our day.

    • This is such great advice, thank you! I hadn’t even though about monthly check in meetings, but it make sense that that would be a good way to have a structured space to address non-urgent issues any of us are having.

  2. the biggest thing in my mind is to make sure that y’all are on the same page about how you raise the kids: rules, discipline, etc. there are a lot of different ways to deal with discipline, and it’s not about which one is “right” or “wrong” (well, wrong might be important) or “better” – it’s about being consistent. they’re her kids, and they’re your kids in a broader sense; it’s your house, and it’s going to be her house in part – that means everyone gets a say and everyone needs to get on the same page (you don’t have to agree 100% on everything, but you do need to come to an agreement).

    my experience is with younger kids, and with the different parenting parties living separately, but kids learn real fast who they can screw around with and who they need to listen to – i can only imagine it would be a lot worse to have those differences while living together.

    edited to add: also, having that stuff established is integral to the idea of creating a family. if you have to say “go ask your mother” or “hey, friend, is he supposed to be doing that?” every time something comes up with the kids, you are pretty firmly establishing that their family is their mother, and you are some other thing. otherwise, though, kids are pretty expansive with the idea of family.

    • “They’re her kids, but it’s your house.”

      Which means some rules, like where it’s okay to play with toys, how quickly messes need to be cleaned up, etc, are going to be YOUR rules. It’s going to be important that you aren’t undercutting her authority or vice versa by contradicting each other on this one. You may feel that when a child spills something they need to stop and clean it up, whereas she may feel that it’s not worth the battle and an adult should just wipe it down as it’s easier, faster and more effective.

      While putting your foot down too firmly on the “this is our house” line could leave her feeling alienated and like this isn’t really her home, its important that she have a firm understanding of how you expect her and her kids to treat and respect your property. I don’t really care if the kids spill juice on my cat scratched, craigslist chairs, but our paramours really don’t want any kids eating or drinking on their sofas. What one person thinks of as a default respect for possessions might not be part of someone else’s frame of reference and thus should be spelled out – even when it seems obvious.

  3. As others have said, take a couple of hours or more to come to specific agreements about everything you can think of. Write them down and make them the “house rules.” Involve the kids if they are old enough. Everyone needs to be able to ask for what they need and be heard, and everyone needs to agree to the final list of agreements. Rather than presenting them as “rules,” point out that these are agreements everyone is making so that everyone can get what they want and have a successful, happy living arrangement. I like the idea of revisiting the agreements monthly or quarterly, too.

  4. I agree with the others here. When my best friend and her husband separated, she and her daughter (my goddaughter) came to live with me. Talk it through first. Come to agreements on living arrangements, bills and utilities, finances, groceries, and parenting techniques. Children will invariably see the home as a whole (food and utilities inc) and all adult figures as extensions of their own parents, so get on the same page first. In our house I was the primary breadwinner and run my own business, whilst my friend went back into education. That put a lot of pressure on me to cover expenses, but she was expected to pick up the slack elsewhere (cooking and grocery shopping etc). We both acted as ‘parents’ and I reinforced whatever discipline she laid down with her daughter. We lived together for a couple of years and I don’t regret it at all. Despite the challenges, we both got a lot out of the situation. I had someone who cared for me and looked out for me when I worked too hard, a little girl (2 years old) to inspire me, the little one got a sense of stability during an uncertain time in her life, and my friend completed her degree, met her new husband, and now has a job she loves. It worked for us, but it does take communication before you step foot into the same house.

  5. I would first make sure that she’s interested in creating a family with you and your husband. I don’t say that to be snarky, but as an honest question – what if she doesn’t want you to discipline her kids, or to have everyone eat dinner together? What if she thinks of this as a generous and convenient living arrangement, but not more than that? Would that be ok with you too?

    Obviously you’d still have things to work out, but they would be different things. What level of noise is fair to expect at different times of the day? How would (would?) the fridge be divided? If you’re watching the kids on a Friday afternoon, is that babysitting that requires payment?

    Think about what you’re really willing and wanting to do with the kids, and know your own boundaries. Even shared amongst many adults, children can be very tiring and time consuming. You don’t want to end up resenting your friend because you good naturedly didn’t realize what the commitment actually meant. Remember, it’s generally easier to scale up involvement than to scale it down.

    I think that this is a very kind and generous thing that you’re thinking of doing. You just don’t want to create a situation where the kids feel like they get caught in the middle of any adult conflicts.

    • Thank you for the advice about clarity about the arrangement.

      Just to clarify about this, in our case, we’re already still very much a family, even though we’re at a distance and this would be a big shift in our day to day. She asked us to be her kids’ godchildren, and we are both each other’s first call for basically any significant life event (often even before parents). Both my husband and I would pretty much drop anything for the kids when they call, since they’ve unfortunately lost quite a number of important adults in their lives for reasons beyond their control and it is really important to both of us to be a stable force in their lives. And yes, I certainly wouldn’t take on two young kids lightly, they are definitely quite a bit of work. One of the things left out of the final post was that I was a preschool teacher and then full time nanny for quite some time, often for kids of similar ages, so I have a pretty good sense of the needs of little ones. I would certainly be more nervous about their needs if I didn’t have that experience.

      That got a bit long and was covering some context that got left out of the final post. In any case, thank you for bringing this up.

  6. My cousin lived with me for a period of time while we both had kids. Agreeing on kids’ discipline is one thing that you definitely need to go over. We had a few rules. One was to discipline your own kids, but not anyone else’s. The other was to ask One Adult, One Time, which meant that the kids could only ask one person for a snack, movie, etc. All the other adults would either back what the first person said, or the person asked could just tell them to go ask their parent. This way we cut down on the kids asking a whole bunch to get what they wanted and showed that we were a united front. We did have difficulties in the communal space. I was more lax in letter my kids play when I was in the other room and my cousin felt responsibility to watch them if I wasn’t right there. So, talk about that stuff first.

    • Thanks for the advice. Having different top-authority figures for different kids would make this infinitely trickier. And yes, discipline clarity is so very important.

  7. I agree with everyone about establishing boundaries and guidelines up-front, especially when it comes to the mechanics of sharing a home – who cooks? Who cleans? How much and when? Are any of you the kind of people who can’t sleep if there are dishes in the sink? What’s the policy on food/drink in non-eating spaces, and do those rules apply to everyone, or are there age restrictions? (Grown-ups can eat on the couch, but kids can’t, for example.) What about accidental damage – spills on the couch, holes in the wall, etc? Is her space hers, or yours that she’s staying in? (Can she paint? Hang art?)

    (If you’re looking for ideas on what to talk about, I’ve seen some good “new roommate screening” kinds of questionnaires coming out of the poly community; Googling will probably turn some up.)

    My then-husband and I lived with my best friend for a while, and it was more stressful than I expected, and I really wish I’d stopped to establish some of these things up front.

    • Thanks for the advice, especially from your experience. I know establishing boundaries with friends can be kind of tough, so it’s good to hear from so many people how important it is up front to get me motivated to actually have those somewhat tough conversations.

  8. Wow, you’re incredibly sweet. =)

    My hubby and I are in a somewhat similar situation. Basically, our closest friend really wants to move from New York to Georgia (where we live). We have a house that’s a bit too big for us, with plenty of spare rooms for the friend. On top of that, we’re looking to adopt kids later on, even though the friend will more than likely still be living with us.

    If it helps, this is what we decided to do… first, he’s going to visit us for a week (next week actually, lol) to see if he likes the area and if we all like living with each other.

    Near the end of that, my hubby and I are going to explain some ground rules for living with us. It’s kinda like basic stuff that my hubby and I decided on for someone living with us. Like for example, keeping your area picked up, no smoking at all while in the house (I’m severely allergic), don’t leave a mess in the kitchen, making sure he’s okay with kids in the future, etc. Lastly, we decided to charge him a super low rent, but only after he finds a job within the area and has a couple paychecks.

    Basically, I would suggest to have her and the kids stay over for a mini vacay to serve as a test for ya’ll. If it works out, then have a talk with some basic ground rules for living together.

    Also, instead of rent payment, you may want to suggest dividing up the chores with her instead. Kinda like earning her keep? It might make her feel better in working at the house since she’s not paying any money towards it.

  9. First off, this is such a kind gesture. So, yay.

    Now, as for advice… I’ll set up by saying that I have 9 siblings (my parents got divorces, both remarried, one re-divorced) from various parents, and I am an RA at a university and worked with family housing… setting up an agreement is crucial. Whenever you are sharing a space with someone, you need to set up ground rules about cleaning (how often, is there a particular way), discipline (since children are involved), general expectations out of each other (do you babysit? does she pay rent? do you share a vehicle?) and anything else that may cause tension.
    Another thing I’d suggest is letting the kids know the space, not just you guys. If they are comfortable there, it would make things easier because they don’t have to adjust as much to a new living space. Let them know what they can use and let them get to know the area.
    I think that the key thing is making sure everyone is comfortable about everything, set up boundaries, and give everyone time to adjust. The most difficult part of sharing a living space is getting accustomed to another person’s living habits. After some time you can re-evaluate any boundaries set.

      • By “know the space” I mean getting the feel of your home. It sounds like they have been there before but I know that visiting a house isn’t the same as knowing where everything is and if there are particularly rules for particular rooms. If they are staying in the attic, maybe they can play there one day while visiting to get a feel for what it is like up there.

  10. I was in a situation similar to this, as the one who got divorced and had a kid and needed somewhere to be. While it was great at first, it ended badly – basically because we didn’t all sit down together and get everything hashed out and written down. So, if you can do that and come to agreements, then you should be pretty ok. And I second the monthly check-in idea. Although I think everything was okay we started out, there was a lack of communication about things that weren’t anticipated or that needed to change and that was probably the biggest reason for the breakdown of the situation. But, even though that didn’t work out long term, we’re all still friends. πŸ™‚ And, having once been the one in need of generosity like you are willing to offer, I can say that it will very well may change your friends outlook on life and mindset about her future. Even being willing to offer it can make a huge difference for her. You’re good people. πŸ™‚

    • I’m sorry this didn’t work out, even though it sounds like you were able to remain friends. Thank you for being the voice of experience.

  11. I agree with everyone regarding setting up agreements beforehand.

    But mostly I’m writing to say I think it is a beautiful gesture you are offering your friend. I will forever be in debt to a friend for giving me and my then-2 yr old son a place to live for a few months while I was trying to get away from my horrible ex-husband. So I extend a huge thank you to you and your husband for being the type of friends that you are to her and her kids.

    • Thank you! In many ways, I’m just trying to pay it forward to the many wonderful friends of my mom who let us stay with them (albeit for shorter periods of time) during my parents’ very tumultuous divorce.

  12. Thank you everyone for so much awesome advice! I especially appreciate how many people emphasized the importance of ground rules/agreements beforehand. I tend to be a bit overly optimistic and non-confrontational (my husband is the grounded one), so having one of these in place to begin with is so very important. Also, I love the idea of monthly check-ins. Thank you again!

  13. One thing I might just want to add here. For a bit of clarification here: I and my ex-husband shared houses with many people during our 7 year relationship (only lived alone together for probably a maximum of a year!), and we enjoyed the most of it. Before we got together and after we separated we both still share houses with other people (not each other anymore, although I am glad to say we are still very close friends).

    We learnt that:
    1) some people just do not deal well with confrontation, regardless of how the confrontation happens (i.e. gentle discussion, one-on-one discussion, full-on screaming, whatever happens within that discussion);
    2) some people will discuss things with you and you both have an understanding of the situation, but then nothing changes;
    3) with this one person in particular, she felt like she was continually ganged up on by us even though when we discussed issues with her, it was almost never with all 3 of us, just me and her or my ex and her;
    4) my ex and I would discuss whatever issues were happening, and then come to an agreement to what we would like to do (usually confront/discuss the issue with the housemate), but as the issue went on over time, he and I would begin to argue and get really angry with the situation because one of us would try to be “fair” whilst the other would be the “angry venting one”. This ended badly with the housemate. I’m sorry if that made no sense, I hope it did!

    The majority of the above issues happened with one person, however, so not to be all scaremongering here. Most of our housemates have been great and flexible. No kids though!

    And also, I wanted to do the same thing as you with my bestie with my godkids as well because she was also in a shit situation – separated, living with parents in a difficult environment, but she didn’t want to do this. It was a mixture of pride/worry that I would end up resenting the kids. So we just ended up taking the kids a lot and having overnighters and so on. If your bestie isn’t comfortable with sharing a house, then perhaps offer to have the kids sometimes, or have hubby look after kids while you guys go out for the day/night, then have a sleepover. Every little bit helps, and now my bestie is in a new relationship with a lovely man.

    Whew, long post, sorry.

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