~ MARCH 2022 ~
- I bought a four-unit apartment building with another single mom to help us build equity and share costs.
- Our kids are getting a close-up view of how the people they love navigate life’s challenges.
- By merging our families and lifestyles, we’ve learned to find the bright side in some tricky situations.
I believe that experiencing different living situations throughout your life is critical. By living in a community, we build empathy and connection to the people who become our neighbors.
While there are a ton of financial perks, co-housing also has a powerful capacity to teach all of us — especially the kids. We now have conversations not only about what my daughter and I are going through, but by being part of a tight-knit community, we also get to talk about what others in our house are going through. This has helped my daughter in widening her horizons and being more compassionate than ever.
Hard things are easier when experienced together
The best way to learn empathy is through experiencing challenges firsthand and watching others navigate them. When navigating our separation, my ex-husband and I involved our daughter, Madeline, who is now 9, guided by our therapist. We speak with her in direct, age-appropriate terms, so she can comprehend and feel different emotions while we hold her close.
Now that Madeline and I live with two other families under one big roof, we are all contributing to a rich, diverse family experience.
As one of our dear pets, Ranger the Jack Russell, comes up on his 18th birthday, the kids — ages 9, 9, 10, 11, and 13 — are already anticipating his death. Madeline has already had a beloved cat die, so she has talked openly about how sad it was, how the cat still is in our hearts, and how sad it will be when Ranger passes.
I know when the time comes, Madeline will be able to process his death and be there to help the other kids deal with their grief.
One of the kids at Siren House experienced a traumatic situation during the past year. I explained to Madeline what her friend was going through and what we’re all doing to help, and she better understands trauma and warning signs. We’ve modeled how sharing our secrets actually empowers us, because our family can help as a team. Since we live with that hurting child, Madeline sees how we can all heal together, too.
Often, children of divorce have anxiety about their parents dating or remarrying, but Madeline has already seen the moms and dads in our extended family date, fall in love, move in together, and break up.
When I asked Madeline two years ago if I should start dating, she said, “Nope. No way.” When I asked her two months ago, she said, “Yes, of course!”
Madeline is also taking the confidence of Siren House and carrying it into the world. Just the other day, she corrected a school friend: “It’s they, not she, anymore.” Madeline is confident and clear on pronoun allyship because of her own nonbinary best friend who lives here at Siren House.
Some of our tough conversations turn into comedy gold
While we discuss heavy topics like death, trauma, divorce, and heartbreak, the kids are also growing up together and exploring new ideas.
When one hamster ate another, we had to explore the Venn diagram of murder and cannibalism.
When we were tricked into a game of Apples to Apples, we had to explain important historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Bob Hope, and Adolf Hitler in third-grade terminology.
One day, when the grown-ups were hanging out, one of the other moms said, “My kid was home when your boyfriend came over. They asked me what that ‘owl noise’ was coming from your bedroom.”
Through tears of laughter, we processed what I sound like during sex, and I asked how Leandra explained it.
“Well, while I was trying to focus on getting them to do math, we had to pause for an impromptu refresher on the birds and the bees,” she said. “They’re 11, so it was as good of a time as any.” Shrug. Lesson over.
We are all following the same age-appropriate, direct approach to teaching our kids so they can be balanced, healthy grown-ups.
The way we see it, learning about a neighbor’s “owl noises” is an educational opportunity without having to walk in on your own parents. And now the kids do math lessons in the dining room.