We live with 9 adults and we’re pregnant — has anyone else tried something like this?

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Photo by Grzegorz Łobiński, used under Creative Commons license.
We currently live in a group house with 8-9 other people, all Burning Man artists, no kids — and my wife’s newly pregnant. We told our housemates and they were really supportive and great, and seemed interested in the idea of having something small running around the house so that they could witness the process first hand and pass on all their alt-culturey values once the kid was interactive.

Looking online, it seems like most people get their own place when they get married and have kids. The few exceptions to that rule write posts espousing the virtues of cohousing for raising children, which I was already on-board with. I can’t find anybody who talks about the practical implications of raising kids in a group living environment, though. How much space we’ll need, what we’ll need from the roommates, what the roommates will need to cope with if they sign onto this adventure with us. I figure someone has to have done it before, either a hippie co-op or a punk house or anything in the long (if low-key) history of group housing.

Does anyone know of any bloggers or people we can talk to or books we can read about raising a kid in a group-living environment? — Tom

Comments on We live with 9 adults and we’re pregnant — has anyone else tried something like this?

  1. i think the main thing to remember is that most friction between friends/housemates/coworkers is due to poor communication. it’s really important to talk about expectations before the baby joins your household, and to set some guidelines for what is and is not acceptable. and also to understand that these guidelines might change as the child grows, but to ask your roommates to talk with you about these things as they come up.

    also! be really, painfully, clear. like, when discussing discipline and who should/shouldn’t be a disciplinarian – what specifically is (and isn’t) discipline to you?

  2. You’ve gotten a lot of good advice already. It did occur to me that you may want to arrange for some privacy for the initial postpartum time – at least 2 weeks. During this time you will be doing new things with your boobs, which may or may not allow you to wear a shirt. You will be bleeding in a way that is similar to the worst period you’ve ever had, and depending on your labor and delivery, you may be a bit sore or in a lot of pain. You will also be on a hormone roller coaster which will have you soaring with joy and bliss about your new baby, and crashing at times with exhaustion and confusion. This phase passes, but in your circumstance, I would carve out private space for myself for my physical recovery. Once you and baby get in a rhythm, I would imagine you can make any living situation work if you want it bad enough. Babies are pretty easy and as long as they don’t choke or fall down stairs, they are quite adaptable and fun. Oh, and fans or some sort of white noise in everyone’s bedrooms can cover a multitude of night cries. Parents or roomates: everyone is happier when well rested.

    • Everything that was said before, plus the above. ALSO: Do you plan on having sex after the kiddo is born? I mean, not right away, but a few weeks afterwards and so on? You might want to start thinking about the time when your kid will need his/her own room so as not to create undue weirdness for the kiddo–or, I may be completely out of line and if so, I apologize.

      • To be honest, I didn’t worry about it when my kid was not yet speaking/still a larvae. The crib was at the foot of the bed, there was some visual obscurity due to different mattress levels and angles, and we just kept it down. But frankly, once the kid’s out, it should be fine… As long as you habituate them to sound while they are asleep, and you keep it reasonable (no BDSM probably, unless you also practice sound discipline, ha).

        We moved the crib when the baby was nine months, for non-sexy reasons, and I wasn’t worried about kiddo seeing things like groping or whatever for at least a year after that. Now that kiddo’s three, PDA is fine but we keep overtly sexy touching in private.

  3. We lived as a couple with a kid, in a roomie situation with 3-4 guys. You don’t really need much extra space until your child is a few years old. Main thing is to remember that you are the parent, the child is your responsibility not your room-mates. A lot of people have said extra hands around etc, but that’s not your roomies job – to pick up where you can’t. Rely on your partner for help, but NOT your roomates. You still have to pull your own weight in the house.
    Try to get your child used to noise early on (we would vacuum under the cot while she was sleeping, so no party would ever wake her)! Sympathise with your roomies if you have a bad crying night with your child. They can hear it too, and often if you just acknowledge that you know you are putting them out, it helps.
    We loved it! Our kid loved it and bloomed! Enjoy.

  4. One thing I’m not sure anyone has brought up is vaccinations. I don’t know your beliefs around them and don’t wish to start a big ol’ discussion about them, but from my perspective of believing in the benefits of vaccines, I will say that generally it is a good idea for anyone who will be around your newborn to be up to date on their boosters, especially for whooping cough. Flu shots are good as well. Generally it’s probably a good idea to ask everyone to be even more diligent about hand-washing, covering coughs etc. in the house until the baby is a few months old at least.

    The other thing I would say is that from my experience it is so hard to know what your new reality is once baby is here. I was surprised at how hard I was hit by hormones, and just generally how much of a huge mind-shift it was. It if of course different for everyone…but I guess my point is that it may be difficult to know how you want it to be until your baby is here and you get a sense of what kind of parent you will be.

    In any case, I do hope that it all works out the best it can! Exciting times indeed…

    • Absolutely not. If you study what is in vaccines, you will see they are poison. Why are you here? Shilling for pharma?

  5. We had housemates up until about 6 months ago, when the last one moved out. It worked really well for us because Rugz (my husband) and our two housemates all worked different shifts plus I had Nan at home with me for around 2 years so I almost always has some adult conversation and it made it easier to get out of the house. I didn’t have to go shopping by myself with one (and then two) littlies, I always had at least one shopping/doctor/exploring buddy. The main things for us were communication, respect and flexability. We still spend lots of time with our ex-housemates and are looking at moving in with Rugz’s nan because she needs a little more help around the house. She was actually one of our first housemates, so we know that we all get along really well.

  6. Communication has been mentioned repeatedly, but I will say it again. Talk to your roommates. Make sure everyone understands whether they want to hold fussy babies/change diapers/pinch hit on babysitting. Because in an emergency, most people will step up, but eventually they may start feeling used. Conversely, a roommate may be sitting in the sidelines just waiting to be asked and would *love* to take the little one out for walks and adventures. But talk and set guidelines (mom and dad will take the poopy baby and change the diaper…) and then revisit them regularly, because things will change.

  7. I’d love to see follow-up posts on this topic. When my fiance and I get married we are purchasing a home together, and we have several people interested in living with us to get away from their housing situations for cheaper rent costs they’d find elsewhere. It’s great for us because it lowers our payments as well… But I am concerned if we start popping babies out, it may become difficult for them to live with a baby whom cries during the night.

  8. My husband and I currently live with our 2 year old and with three other housemates(all single adults). It works *very* well for us, I think it works well for our housemates, too. We lived in the house before our son was born and there has been some turnover of housemates (though I don’t think it’s directly related to having the kiddo around).

    I think success will depend on a few things — having some private space for your little family is probably helpful, as well as having some distance between your child’s bedroom and where others sleep. We had no one else sleeping on our floor and so our son’s nighttime crying didn’t disturb anyone else, but if he had slept closer, the amount of crying probably would have been disturbing to others. Having your own private space may be important to you and your wife because having a newborn is draining and it may be nice not to have a lot scrutiny of your appearance, cleanliness, breastfeeding, etc. For us, this didn’t make much difference, but I didn’t have as many housemates as you do and they are away large chunks of the day.

    The personalities matter a great deal — I think it’s nice to live with people who enjoy your child, have experience with kids, are happy to hold/play with him or her for a few minutes. But I would not expect your housemates to be babysitters unless they offer. Just having other people around is an enormous relief, though, because early parenting can be very isolating, especially for whoever is at home all day with the newborn. Just having someone who can hold the baby for 5 minutes if you’re at wits end, or just need to go to the bathroom is very helpful.

    YOu have to be mindful of how much space you use in the common area for baby gear and toys (that crap can really build up!) — our roommates don’t mind the toys, but we did decide that changing table, and other large furniture all have to be in our private space.

    I’d be happy to talk more with you about this. I love living with my housemates and my son — my housemates are all warm, loving people who enjoy kids and they actually contribute a lot to my parenting style by demonstrating different ways to interact or giving me their perspectives. For us there really haven’t been a lot of down sides. But I do think we’ve been very lucky in the composition of our household and also in the physical set up. Good luck and congrats!

  9. Oh! I forgot to mention! I think this environment is really wonderful for my son. He loves our housemates and so enjoys having lots of adult attention, especially when his parents are exhausted. And learns lots of cool stuff from them that his father and I don’t have the talents/skills to share.

  10. I am not a parent nor have I ever been a roommate in this situation, but I was the kid, so I’ll just share from that experience…

    I loved it. When I was first born my parents originally moved out on their own in a little house all to ourselves. When my parents separated, my godmother moved in with my mother and I and there were also roommates at my papa’s house around the corner. We moved a lot but the people were the constant, and the people were truly my anchor. As I grew up, teachers always commented that I was such a thoughtful kid, that I knew how to communicate really well with adults and I attribute this to the community of people who raised me to think for myself, challenge adults without getting everything I wanted, and never abandoned me, or lost sight of me, even when I lost sight of myself.

    If you have the right group of people surrounding you as you raise this child, you can truly provide a village to raise them, and a village may be better than just two. Just make sure that your philosophies align similarly enough that you trust them to be the substitute parents. My parents trusted their friends and now I call them all my family. At 23, thinking about kids of my own, I hope we are lucky enough to have the amazing community I grew up with.

  11. It seems that you’ve got a lot of advice here that I would agree with! We have a 16 month old and have lived all but 5 months of his life in community of somesort, whether family (right now, we are living with my parents and two teenage sisters) or roommates/community (tho I the most we’ve ever had in our house at once was two roommates).

    First thing I’ll say is that there are definite pros and cons. First pro is that your baby will learn from and love having so many other adults around. You will always have someone to talk to and an extra pair of hands AND you will likely get to use the toilet by yourself (a big plus in my opinion!).
    The hard part is that — especially if it’s not your house — you WILL turn into the baby nazi. You’ll want your baby to sleep at normal hours and you’ll often (like, everyday) be asking someone to be quiet, mind their language, could they watch that tv show after your bub goes to bed and then, could they please turn that tv down so your bub (and you) can get some sleep! You will be self conscious during those times your baby cries and you just can’t seem to console him/her. At least that’s how I often feel.

    Its also tricky with parenting advice. Even if other people aren’t freely offering unwanted parental advice, I have a hard time with knowing that they would do things differently etc. Just the feeling of being judged — even if it’s not a big deal — sometimes can be a big deal if you know what I mean.

    I don’t say this to scare you because the pros are so obvious and so wonderful that for some people, they far outway the cons. It’s just good going into this kind of living situation, so that you can discuss things openly with your roomies if you feel you need too. We will be continuing to live with my parents indefinitely! But our real hope is to get our own place sometime this year.

  12. I was living in a house that turned into a commune by accident, with about 10 humans living in the house by the time I left. One of those humans was my boyfriend’s daughter (5 at the time), and I had a major hand in raising her. The other was a couch surfer with a newborn.

    Living with people and a 5 year old was interesting. Almost everyone who moved in did so knowing she was there, and took an active role in babysitting, but that was also communicated as an expectation when they moved in–basically trading babysitting for crash space as we were all cash-poor.

    It was pretty well communicated from the beginning that Boyfriend and I were accepted as Parents, and everyone else was a Babysitter or Friend. Munchkin was old enough to grasp this concept, and I don’t know if it was just her personality or something we did that she never tried to play the game of asking a different adult until she got the answer she wanted. I mean, maybe she did and it just got nipped in the bud, because if a Parent was available then we made decisions full stop. Babysitters only made decisions if Parents weren’t around.

    The big thing that made it work for us was that I always knew who was in charge of her. There may be all 10 people in the house, in which case Dad and I were in charge, but I could tell him I was refusing responsibility for a while–and he could tell me he needed some time off as well. If we were leaving the munchkin with the other roommates, even if they were all around, we made sure that one person was designated as “in charge” or her, so that the others could be free to come and go or do as they pleased. Just knowing who was In Charge of the munchkin at any given time was a weight off everyone’s minds, and made the whole ordeal much more functional than it could have been (see also: the day that my boyfriend didn’t make sure to designate a Person In Charge before he left for work, and the munchkin never got her dinner or put to bed because everyone thought everyone else had that taken care of–fortunately we didn’t get home TOO late!).

    The wonderful thing about it is that even 7 years later, she still has a large group of adults she can call and count on. When I had to walk away from the entire situation for my own sanity, I knew that there were people who would make sure she was taken care of.

    For a couple months at the end of my chapter in that book, we had the aforementioned couch surfer and newborn baby. The hardest thing about that was that the baby was ALWAYS SLEEPING. Right in the living room and only common area of the house. Add that to the fact that we always seemed to have an adult sleeping in there as well, and I don’t think the carpet got vacuumed once which was a big part of why I ended up having to leave. I think if we had known ahead of time what the situation would have turned into, we would have rented a storage unit and turned the half-finished basement into sleeping quarters. It was fantastic for the newborn’s mom’s postpartum depression, and yet not–she didn’t have her own space in any way really, but she was able to put the baby down in the bassinet and go for a smoke break if she needed to, and had plenty of us around who would watch the baby for a little while at a time, even if she needed to go grocery shopping. That was rarely me only because I was the one with the car to take her, though.

    I can’t say I would trade those memories away for the alternative of just Me and Boyfriend and Munchkin, but I wish we’d been able to walk into the situation mindfully and carved out more space for people to begin with. I will say though that the 5 year old having her own bedroom was a blessing. We could shut the door and have a party and she was Just Fine.

  13. I don’t know of anyone who did it based on a “takes a village” mentality, however my sister and brother in law did it out of necessity. They live in a house with their 8 year old son and 2 other male roomates (my sister in law is always complaining that she is out numbered and her only ally is one of the 3 cats).The situation works out well for them. At first the boys were kind of scared of the new fragile thing that was now out side of the womb, but as the months progressed they embarrassed being “Uncle Kyle” or “Uncle Chris”. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are never EXPECTED to care for the child. They are always asked and it’s always appreciated. I think this way of thinking keeps the peace and keeps them wanting to care for and interact with the child.

  14. Hey! I love that this conversation is ongoing. 🙂

    I’m polyamorous, with two co-parents. We have two kiddos: 3.5 yrs, and 3rd trimester fetus. Since before my first pregnancy, we’ve always had at least two roommates. These days, we own our home and have four adult roommates, plus a four year old and a newborn!

    The stuff that matters, in my experience… is a lot like what matters with housemates generically. Two big points:

    Make sure everyone has enough space to eat/sleep/poop 😉 We were lucky enough to buy a house that is essentially two 3BR apartments in one home, though we had to add a kitchenette to make sure everyone had enough space to cook in. Nothing will start fights like ten people sharing one kitchen sink!!! (We spent $1000 to put a dishwasher in a bathroom and a full fridge in a hallway, then added a microwave and a toaster oven and an induction burner, plus some wall shelving. We’re *soooo* happy we did!)

    Figure out what matters to you, and what stuff is okay for housemates to have their own ideas about as they build their own relationships with your kiddo(s). Have the big conversations, and be more direct than you think is necessary for polite conversation! “We are teaching Pumpkin that their bodily autonomy matters. Please stop trying to hug them without their consent.”

    My email is saganlearning at gmail dot com, and I’m happy to chat with folks who are thinking this stuff through. 🙂

    In cahoots…

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