How do I talk to potential roomies about living with me and my kid?

August 12 2013 | offbeatbride
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Wanna hang with me and my kid? Like, all the time? By: Lisa DusseaultCC BY 2.0
My soon-to-be ex-husband and I have shared custody of our son, which means he is with me about half of the month. In addition to being a mother, I work full time and am studying full time as well. (Read: I'm poor.) I'm living with a family member at the moment but I'm trying to relocate closer to school and work.

However the area is expensive to live in and having my son in a dorm room is not an option. How do I tell potential roomies that they will be sharing a home with my child for half the month? — Brittany

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  1. Let's start with the big question: Are you looking to rent from someone or rent to someone?

    The latter may be your best choice, although it carries more risk. If the apartment/house/cardboard box is in your name, then you can just tell anyone who applies, "Hey, by the way, my kid will be here half the time." If they don't like it, they don't have to rent from you. As someone who looked for a place to share, I avoided these ads, but I sincerely appreciated the heads up. I would have hated to find the perfect place, rent it, and then find out that I'm living with a child half the month.

    As to renting from someone else, say something right away. "Hey, I'm calling about the half an apartment you have for rent. My kid lives with me half the month. Would that be a problem?" If they say yes, then move on. As much as the comparison sucks, treat shopping for a place with a kid the same way you would treat shopping for a place with a cat or dog.

    Something to consider… Are you comfortable rooming with someone who has a full or part time child too? You could leave an ad in local day cares or ask around your mom's group to see if anyone else is in a similar situation. You're definitely not the only student who is raising a child. Band together! They may not be best friend material, but you know you're less likely to come home to your roommate teaching your child how to roll joints.

    • Looking for other people in the same situation sounds like a great idea.

      If you're looking for a roommate to move in with you, I would be clear about what having a child around half the month means in terms of house rules. Is it okay for your roommate to drink or smoke when your kid is there, for example?

      • In addition to house rules, what exactly does "half the month" look like? Is it 2 weeks straight? Weekends? Some random days each week? That would really effect the flow of things, in my opinion. A kid who is there every other weekday, or two days in a row, two days off, all month feels different than 2 weeks in a row, know what I mean?

      • Yes on the house rules! And not just for people with kids. Other rules to clear up beforehand with potential roommates are cleanliness, overnight guests, noise levels, and bedtimes.

  2. Just be upfront and honest about everything. The right kind of people will appreciate it, and the wrong kind of people won't want to rent from you once they know the truth anyway.

    I was on the opposite side of this once. The roommate I was renting from asked if I could occasionally babysit, and would give me a few bucks off rent in exchange. I was fine with that. However, she assumed I would be home at any given time, and didn't have any kind of a life. She would dump her kid on me when I made any kind of plans or wanted to leave spontaneously, and then laugh–literally laugh in my face when I told her I'd done so. Then she'd try to guilt-trip me into staying because she'd lose her kid if CPS found out nobody was home. I left after 2 months. Had she told me I was not allowed to have a life if I agreed to babysit her kid whenever she felt like going to the nail salon or something, I wouldn't have moved in in the first place.

    Not saying you'd do something like that (at least I hope not!). But just be as upfront and truthful as you can about *anything* you can think of that might possibly involve interaction with your child and your roommate, and your personal expectations about it. ["Hey, my kid loves to sing, and The Beatles are his favorite, is that going to be a problem if he hollers out a few verses on random occasion?" or "My kid loves to hug people, does that freak you out?" or "My kid is currently on a Superman kick, so just pretend along if he thinks you need rescuing from something, ok?" etc.]

  3. Did you make sure that there was no on-campus living for you and your child? My undergrad had "family housing." They were mainly for PhD students that were already married with kids, but I believe anyone with a family could live there.

    • My alma mater has what they call "married student housing" because it is so common in my home state for couples to get hitched during their undergraduate years. But they actually let anyone doing their studies there (including single people!) live in those apartments, and they are very cheap and family-friendly as well. I'm wondering if Brittany has looked to see if her school offers that kind of housing.

  4. My former roommate had a child; I was friends with roomie for something like 10 years before were were roomies, and we both needed a roomie at the same time. She was upfront about it "kid will be here for 2 weeks every two weeks" and I was like "okay, fine with me!" Kid was about 4 years old. We did talk about how we'd deal with issues; kid leaving messes, asking me for things, coming into my room, whatever. There were little to no problems, she parented her child well. I only babysat kid twice in the year we lived together, I offered both times; roomie did not take advantage of me that way.

    So, just be upfront about it, don't expect your roomie to help you with your child, keep our messes clean and you should be fine! I liked having a kid roommate, she LOVED being called "lil roomie", whenever I see her now she and I get along great!

  5. If you are getting a 'random' roommate, make sure to check them out to make sure they are not a danger to your child. Check court records for your state, police records, sex offender registry, facebook, google them, etc.

  6. I've lived in a number of houses (mostly collective houses) with children when I did not have any of my own. In general, there were not a lot of issues. A lot of people don't mind living with kids part time. I enjoyed having kids around the house!

    I have always appreciated knowing what parents expectations of me were (bed time, yes or no to TV/computer/electronics, times people shouldn't come over, if they would prefer no drinking/swearing around, etc). It was also nice when I was given an opportunity to set some boundaries about my personal space and needs, too.

    One thing that worked really well was making a "house rules" list and having the kids participate. That made it a lot easier to navigate things with the kids (such as quiet time, sharing collective spaces, collective vs personal food, clean up) without having to turn everything into "Im talking to your parents."

    Good luck with the house hunt!

  7. I agree with being upfront, and having rules. We let my husband's cousin and kids move in with us at one point, and the fact that we didn't lay out ground rules kind of spoiled the situation – especially when she refused to disipline. We'd tell the kids not to do something, and they'd go running to mom who would then come running and screaming at us to not disipline her kids because they had disabilities and we didn't know what we were doing because we don't have kids of our own. Yes, they had medical issues, but they were smart, and they knew exactly what they were doing. So just make sure your respectful, and you teach your child to be respectful – you will have to take your roommates opinion into consideration even if you disagree with it because you have to share space together. Better to be upfront in the beginning than have issues down the line.

  8. I've been on both sides of this issue! As a broke-ass grad student, I spent several months renting a single room (in an apt that was one floor of a multi-family home) from a single mom with two kids. I didn't know anything about kids but tried to be at pleasant to the family. The kids wouldn't talk to me and the mom generally made me feel unwelcome– like I was a source of extra income and absolutely nothing else. It was pretty rotten and I got out of there as soon as I could.

    Ten years later, my partner and I have a toddler and share a big rental house with two of our oldest friends, a childless couple. It seems to be working out well so far, with certain rooms absolutely off-limits to the kid and a generally high tolerance for strewn-about toys. It probably helps that the kid goes to daycare most of the week, has a very set (early) bedtime, and we pay well when they babysit for us. Group living is priceless when there's other folks around to make dinner some nights, do half the cleaning, etc.

    I suppose the main conclusions there are: it helps if you room with friends/folks you know well; don't expect free babysitting; I have no idea how any of this would work out with an older child.

  9. Does your school have a housing office you could speak to? I was able to find some fantastic lodgers from my local college because they really new what their students required and could match my needs with theirs. Definitely worth a phone call if their is one.

  10. In my single college years I lived with 2 families. And it was hands down my happiest and low stress living arrangement. I knew they had kids already though. Simple rule it was their house, I rented a room. Which made for a great life while I worked 2 jobs and an internship. I kept my party life out of the house. I also didn't contribute at half. Which I think is key for determining your expectations. I don't believe its fair to ask for half rent if you have 2/3 bedrooms, 2/3 of the fridge and cabinets and also expect the roommate to alter their behavior to suit your child. Now maybe this isn't the case for you its just something to think about. Babysitting rules were clear. If it was quick trip to store= free favor. Anything scheduled was a traditional babysitting gig.

    • Agree with the proportion of contribution. As a student I had friends who shared a house and one of them had a child. Generally this was fine, however when the lease was up they decided to look for a new place as a group. The parent insisted on getting a four bedroom place, because the child was getting older and she didn't want to share a room with him anymore, however she also insisted on only paying a third of the rent, expecting the other two housemates to effectively pay for 2/3 of her child's bedroom. This expectation caused lots of friction in the group and whilst they initially went along with it, it really altered the house dynamic.

      Basically make it clear and fair upfront and also ask the other person to do so.

  11. When I was footloose and fancy free, I had a wonderful roommate for about two years who, every second weekend, had her two delightful daughters living with us. This was no problem at all, as it was understood right up front. Make it clear from day one that you come with strings, and anyone who isn't into the kid scene will skedaddle. 🙂

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