I’ve known my best friend Tia for 10 years. We’ve seen each other through marriages, career changes and the journey into motherhood.
This year was a year of relationship changes for both of us. Her marriage was coming to an end, and my live-in boyfriend and I decided to take a significant step backward so we could work on some of our conflicts. Despite our respective emotional rollercoasters, we were both forced to shift our attention to logistics. Finding an apartment in New York City is hard enough, but finding one that accommodates kids is like searching for a very expensive needle in a very expensive haystack.
As we shared our experiences with each other, the idea of merging our households kind of hit us like a brick. The aim was to help make both of our lives a little easier.
Tia is the mother of two boys, ages 3 and 13, and I am the mother of one 5-year-old. Her three-bedroom apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant could accommodate all of us. The master bedroom was converted into the boys’ room, with space designated on one end for the oldest child so he could retain some semblance of adolescent autonomy. Tia and I took the remaining two smaller rooms. We agreed to share all housing expenses ― groceries, rent, utilities, even Netflix. We also agreed to support each other, be each other’s first line of defense when dealing with parental ups and downs.
Logistically, we had it all figured out. We scheduled my move-in date for a little over a month ago; I packed my things and arranged movers. She cleared out the second bedroom for me, and we spent an afternoon figuring out how to set up the two youngest boys’ beds (one Hot Wheels bed and one Batmobile bed) ― which felt like a complex game of Tetris. When it was all said and done, the boys were wrestling in their giant room while Tia and I escaped to the backyard to sip on some congratulatory tequila.
“Our home has two parents in it. Two parents who have agreed to be each other’s backup before deploying more expensive or inconvenient options.”
Our arrangement goes beyond that of roommates. We’re genuinely leaning on each other; when one of us has more capacity than the other, she tags in.
When I had to figure out childcare for my son during the two weeks between his last day of kindergarten and his first day of summer camp, we sat down and talked about how we could work our schedules around the issue. She offered to take him to work with her for a few hours so I could get work done ― something I might have struggled to figure out had I been going this alone. When she needed to rest after a long night of work and play, I got up and made the boys breakfast. I use her car to take my son off to school if I’m running late.
We support each other with everything. We don’t need to reach out to expensive babysitters or strangers; there is always someone in-house who has our backs.
The most difficult time of day for most single mothers is between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays. We scramble to get children fed, bathed and into bed while also possibly finishing up work we left undone when we left the office. Having one woman in the house who can put down a plate in front of the kids while the other responds to important emails is a saving grace.
Our home has two parents in it. Two parents who have agreed to be each other’s backup before deploying more expensive or inconvenient options. This is a godsend in a city like New York, where work never sleeps and kids hardly ever settle down.
As one battle (the move) subsided, another gracefully crept in behind it: the heart stuff. I was watching my friend go through the end of her marriage. Arguments about when the child would be picked up and who wasn’t being supportive enough would often leave her exhausted. I was spun into an overwhelmed stillness as I dealt with my own issues, too, and grappled with questions concerning my career and relationship.
I, on the other hand, had established a home with someone I still love, and post-move, I was navigating my own raw emotions. We both had some mending to do which made our arrangement all the more helpful.
Being able to hand off the baton to each other quickly became a saving grace. I was able to reintroduce myself to myself, embrace alone time and create more balance in my life. I have also been able to help Tia, like when she needed a break from her youngest son so she could facilitate a workshop one evening. I didn’t need to be asked, because I’m a mom. I know it’s nearly impossible to do anything in the presence of a 3-year-old.
Best of all, our sons get to bond like brothers, learn how to compromise, share and help our household function by pitching in with clean-up and meal prep. This wouldn’t be the case had we attempted to live alone in New York City with our respective kids.
There is a stigma about single mothers ― that we are overstressed, overtired, underappreciated and permanently in bad moods. There is a sense of acceptance around these ideas. We ourselves accept them as truths and try to work around them with the pressure of society at our feet. It’s as if we are constantly apologizing for failing to create the socially acceptable nuclear family. So instead of asking for help, we take on more than the average person. As women, this is already something we’re used to doing ― this piling-on of life. As mothers, we do it usually to the detriment of our sanity and health.
“Mothers need each other ― single or otherwise. We understand the day-to-day and we hear the things that usually go unsaid.”
Mothers need each other ― single or otherwise. We understand the day-to-day and we hear the things that usually go unsaid. My co-mother doesn’t have to explain why she propped up her son on the couch to watch “PJ Mask” for 30 minutes while she sat in her room in silence. I don’t have to explain to her why I needed to spend the night at my boyfriend’s place just to feel emotionally catered to by someone who didn’t ask for a peanut butter sandwich as soon as I sat down.
These things we don’t have to say allow us space that the world won’t give us. Space we greatly need.
A co-mothership is about partnership. It requires the same level of commitment and communication as any partnership. We have to stay on the same page, respect boundaries, be honest about what we can and cannot do and about what we need.
In cities like New York, where the median rent cost is upward of $3,000 a month, being a single parent feels impossible. But entering the realm of finding a roommate can be just as problematic. How would this new person respond to your child? How would your child respond to them? My first roommate as a single mother was a woman without children. She loved my son as if he were her own, but I still felt like I had to apologize when he was louder than normal, wanted to be rambunctious in the living room or spilled something all over the floor. These are all things that wouldn’t even warrant a blink from another mom (who is also my best friend).
Our arrangement has already proven to be fruitful and healthy. There have been bumps along the way, of course. Like the moment we looked around the apartment, completely in disarray after my things had been dropped off, and wondered what the hell we’d just done. Or the fact that we have one bathroom and five people who need to leave the house every morning. We’re constantly reminding the kids to share toys, even if they were previously designated to a child who had his own bedroom. There’s the work of remembering who likes almond milk and who likes cow’s milk, who prefers turkey bacon and who prefers pork bacon. Keeping track of who is in the house on Mondays and who is out of school on which days. What mother can pick up or drop off which kids and who will do the grocery shopping today or mop the floor next week.
We soon found out that the caveat to co-mothership is to remain frightfully organized and stay ahead of the storms. But above all else, it’s about respecting each other’s contribution and experience in motherhood and womanhood. I wouldn’t be able to do this without Tia, and I am so grateful for the life I share with her right now.
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