'It takes a village': Are 'mommunes' the secret to single parenting?

Picking up and dropping off kids. Making dinner. Walking the dog.

These are tasks that single parents might go through alone. But what if they didn't have to?

"Mommunes" are a potential solution, and yes, they are a real thing. It's a place where a group of single parents live together and share parenting and household responsibilities to better support each other.

Christine Yeh and Heidi Hartman, for example, live together as single moms by choice, or SMCs, and they raise their two baby girls together in a "mommune." The pair met online when they were pregnant and hit it off, later connected on a single moms trip in Lake Tahoe and thought an alternative living situation could work for them.

"We began exploring where might we live, what would be important to us in those housing situations," Hartman says. "I come with a dog as well. So that was an important part of our conversation. And as we started to explore and both of us needing this alternative housing, we came upon a home that worked really well for us."

Such a lifestyle isn't necessarily a bad idea, experts say, but people should vet whomever they cohabitate with for compatibility's sake.

"Mommunes" are a real thing. Just ask Heidi Hartman (left) and Christine Yeh (right).
"Mommunes" are a real thing. Just ask Heidi Hartman (left) and Christine Yeh (right).

What is a 'mommune' actually like?

While the name "mommune" might be new, the practice is far from it.

"The saying 'it takes a village' is a very, very old saying and has been in operation for long periods of time throughout history in different sorts of ways," says Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Bonnie Harris, parenting and child behavior specialist and director of Connective Parenting, adds: "Two-parent households are not what we're evolved to live in. We're supposed to live in extended families, and in a way this would be an extended family and there would be a lot of support, care, built-in babysitters. Moms taking care of other moms' kids so moms can get the self-care they need and do what they need to do."

Hartman and Yeh now share a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, where they enjoy both communal and separate spaces. It's working out well. "Our intention is always to be the best parent that we can be to our kids and know that that's how we are striving to do that every day," Hartman adds. "And we are human and we are going to mess it up. And we have somebody who we can lean into when things go a little sideways or when we're about to break down and we just can't handle that one more moment. There's somebody there that's like, 'I got it. Go take your time.'"

'There can be problems'

Saltz thinks "mommunes" make a lot of sense, particularly financially for single mothers so they don't have to work extra jobs, can have backup when their child is sick and also give their kids sibling-like companions.

Otherwise, stressed-out parents could lead to stressed-out kids. Still, "as in any family, no matter how many people are living together, there can be problems or not problems, depending on how the children are being raised," Harris says.

Be prepared, however, for this to not last forever. "In a commune situation, people will have the potential to find a future partner or a future reason that they want to move out and move on," Saltz says. "And it can be hard for a child to have other losses after a first big loss."

'Mommunes' are not platonic life partnerships

"Mommunes" and platonic life partnerships are not the same thing. Best friends may choose to live as platonic life partners because they share the same values and feel they could commit to a nonromantic, nonsexual life together.

Think of a "mommune" as more like living with a slightly more involved roommate who can help back you up with child care and errands.

'You shouldn't just move in'

Parenting with someone else is like dating – compromises and deal-breakers pop up. This becomes thornier the more people involved.

"You shouldn't just move in," Saltz says. "You should really figure out and ask a lot of questions of each other and listen." This way you avoid potential toxicity.

Benefits of these situations also include sharing toys and clothes among kids and live-in walking buddies and personal motivators. Plus, for children and adults, more love and caretaking around you generally can't hurt, according to Saltz.

Yeh says this atypical living situation has enabled her to be a parent, which is the most important thing to her.

Yeh adds, "I think this is a choice that people can consciously make and do well at."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is a 'mommune'? The key to single parenting