It’s been one whole year since my husband, my son, our two dogs and I moved in with my parents. And the transition into communal living has been so good for all of us in ways that we could never have expected. And to be clear: we never expected this life change. But it became the obvious next step for us. So, let’s flashback to December of 2017 during the moments that solidified we were looking for something more out of life.
Recognizing our former lifestyle restraints
I was working full time. And I was also waking up at 4 am every day to work on my freelance marketing projects because I became impassioned with building my own business and being able to step away from the restraints of a 9-to-5. I was making a gourmet breakfast for me and my husband every morning because I was ravenous after a night of nursing round the clock and hardly catching a string of uninterrupted Zzzz’s. I was kissing my husband goodbye as he embarked on a work day that would keep him occupied for the next 10 hours. I was feeding the dogs and letting them outside while praying their incessant barking wouldn’t wake the baby. I was getting dressed in a daze while trying to nurse the baby one last time before the nanny arrived. I was trying to focus on the office work that once excited me while swiping away the Nest camera notifications every time it captured a moment of my firstborn son that I wasn’t there to witness in person. I was driving home for lunch every single day to deliver another batch of freshly pumped milk because Milo had gone through my entire stash that weekend back in July when we left him with my parents to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary and I could never catch up again. I was trying not to stress about the shortage so as not to diminish my supply even more from the stress. I was making dinner. I was cleaning up. I was always perpetually behind on laundry. Most of all, I was struggling to remember what it was all for.
Challenging the societal norms
It felt like my husband and I were ships passing in the night. Working all the time and never really feeling like we had the time or energy to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And we realized that we had a choice. We could keep on going in much the same way, continuing to build a lifestyle that would depend on never, ever stopping. Or we try something else. We could figure out what we truly wanted and find a way to point ourselves in that direction. If you want what everyone else has, do what everyone else does.
Once we had the headspace to release ourselves from the momentum we were entangled in, we knew in our hearts that we didn’t want the white picket fence if it meant we had to work at jobs that kept our family split apart until it was time to retire at age 65. We wanted to build a life around what we felt called to do. So, we agreed that I would leave my full-time job to stay at home with Milo and pursue building my own businesses.
Except, it turns out that raising a child and running a business requires a lot of support. My parents lived an hour away and we’d each muster up the drive about 2 times a month. My in-laws lived about 35 minutes away, but they were always working. We had isolated ourselves from our village. And we were feeling the ill effects. So, when my parents invited us to move into their spacious home they had just built, we decided to take the opportunity to slow down. One of my sisters had already moved in with them to pursue her budding art business. And we couldn’t deny how much more support we would have on our side.
Here’s what communal living has brought to our lives:
Effective Communication Skills
One of the first things we did when we moved in was hold a family meeting. Each family member shared their hopes for the experience. We agreed to speak to one another directly when conflict presented itself, check in with life updates and communicate clearly and lovingly. This has been the single biggest aspect to making communal living work. While I am fortunate to have always had a wonderful relationship with my parents and siblings, it can still be challenging to own up to what I’m feeling. But with 5 adults in the house, it’s essential that we cut straight to the heart of the matter.
In this communal living arrangement, we have stepped up to make things run as smoothly as possible. For example, before we moved in, my mom was the primary household chef. Now, I help out in the kitchen as much as I can, often taking over meal duty. No one person is expected to cook every single day. And we have the unique opportunity of learning new recipes from one another. With so many helping hands around, my parents don’t have to take sole responsibility of caring for the house. And vice versa. We’re looking out for my parents, and they’re looking out for us. I haven’t missed the responsibility of taking care of my own house at all.
We moved from a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom house to sharing a jack-and-jill setup with our son. So, we sold/donated/gave away 95% of everything we once owned in order to fit into our smaller living quarters. And downsizing has helped us to see how economical communal living is. There’s no need for each family to have one of everything when we can just share amongst the family. For example, I haven’t had my own car since my husband was in an accident that totaled it (by insurance standards) over a year ago. There hasn’t been any rush to replace it because, when my husband’s not home, I can borrow my mom’s, dad’s or sister’s car.
Additional Childcare Support
Two of the caregivers we trust most to watch our son live in the same house! My mom is a full time homemaker, so she’s around every day to help encourage me in my mothering. Milo is a highly-active toddler filled with boundless curiosity. When I’m feeling stressed or worn out, all I have to do is ask my parents to watch him for a little while so that I can have a break. Date nights have also become a more regular aspect of our routine which has greatly improved my marriage. We also take advantage of late-night walk-and-talks, our heart to heart conversations we share while walking around the block while Milo sleeps upstairs from his grandparents.
While being able to press pause on paying a slew of household bills thanks to communal living, we have afforded ourselves the opportunity to slow down and reflect on what really matters to us. What do we want out of life? Are we just relegating ourselves to this type of existence because it’s expected of us? Is this the life we choose for ourselves or is this the life we woke up and found ourselves living?
How communal living fits into our future
While this particular living arrangement isn’t permanent (we’ll be moving out in 2020), we are making the most out of a good thing. My husband and I are building Carl’s music career, my Beautycounter business and Young Honest Mother while also raising our son. We are working our way away from the paradigm that requires we live most of our waking hours apart. We are flipping the script. And when we move out out my parents’ house, we want to bring the spirit of communal living with us. We’ve got our sights on moving into the same neighborhood that my sister-in-law lives in. We dream of potluck dinners, family game nights and the extra support that makes raising a family more enjoyable.