This year will mark the second that my husband and I have lived with our close friend, Joe. But what looks like a roommate situation to many people is actually closer to communal living for us. We share cooking and cleaning responsibilities. When we go out of town, Joe watches our dog. And when I need to get picked up from the airport, it’s usually a crap shoot who I should expect: my husband or my roommate. And while this living situation isn’t for everyone, it’s opened me up to an entirely new realm of possibilities for what marriage can look like, and for that I’m eternally grateful. So today I’m thrilled to have Addie here to talk about living with her sister, her brother-in-law, and their children and why, at least for now, it’s exactly the way she’d have it.
by Addie Wright
Here’s a typical morning in our house:
6:15am: I wake up and put on a pot of coffee before stumbling off to take the first of the adult showers in the morning. My brother-in-law lets the dog out and wakes up the kids. My sister begins to make the kids’ lunches. Once I’m dressed, my sister showers while I make breakfast and arrange for food to be eaten. I start the arduous process of helping the youngest decide what to wear to school and convince my nephew that brushing his teeth is indeed part of daily hygiene.
7:15am: My brother-in-law finishes feeding the dog and leaves for work. Sis gets dressed and does my niece’s hair while I debate the latest sports news with my nephew.
7:30am: Sis leaves for work and drops nephew off at his school. Niece and I watch My Little Pony for a few minutes while debating/fighting about whether mismatched socks make her awesome or a hobo (we’ve decided that being a hobo IS awesome and left it at that).
7:45(ish): I pile niece into my car and we drive her to school (pre-K), which is conveniently located a half mile from my job. We count city blocks the whole way there because she’s currently really into counting things. I drop her off with a hug and promises to see her when I pick her up later that evening. Then I head off to work.
So yeah. I live with my sister, her husband, their two kids, and a dog. In one house. It’s not the most traditional way to raise kids but it’s a system that has been working well for us for the last two years. Did I mention that my sister runs a small business and I technically work for her? So she’s my boss and my landlord. And she’s my younger sister to boot.
Tradition smadition, that’s what I say.
The risks of living with my sister as an adult were huge. I am not opposed to group living. I am the oldest of six and spent all my college years with roommates. Communal living is not a new experience for me. But all of those communal living experiences are culturally sanctioned. Of course you live at home. Of course you have college roommates. Everyone is down with that scenario. Wait, you want to quit your very lucrative job, move across the country, and live with your sister while you eek out a living with an eighty percent pay cut? And you want to do this in the middle of a recession? I think I gave society the vapors. I was planning on throwing the very ideas of adulthood—independence (financial and otherwise), privacy, a home of one’s own, and autonomy—by the wayside in favor of shared bathrooms, financial dependence, and nap times.
Here’s the thing. That job was slowly killing me from the inside out, and no amount of money was going to make it better. I had just dragged myself through the field of broken glass that was a divorce and come out stronger and better for it. About a year after the divorce I made myself a solemn promise to stop doing things that made me heartsick. If I could leave a person who didn’t love me anymore, why shouldn’t I have the strength to leave a job that did the same thing? I am a healer by nature and one of the most important things is to maintain a clear heart and spirit. That simply wasn’t possible with my old job. So I left and never looked back.
When we were little kids my sister and I made a pact. Who ever could afford it first would hire the other; even, if that was to hold the other’s Blackberry. The idea was that successes should be shared, especially among family. So about two years ago my sister offered me a job with her company…with a significant pay cut. But I’d be doing work I loved for a company I believed in. I’d get to see my niece and nephew grow up. In exchange for the decrease in pay I could live with my sister and her family until I could afford my own apartment. It was a no brainer. I packed up and moved to Miami.
There are many up sides to living with my sister: unlimited access to my niece and nephew; people to vent to when you’ve had a bad day; people to cook for; a third person to break ties; a live-in babysitter for her, free rent for me; easy business meeting schedules (over wine obvs); the kind of collaboration that can only come from knowing your co-worker your whole life.
There are also downsides: having to explain to dates that no, I am not a single mom but, yes there is a car seat in my backseat (complete with tons of Barbies); getting used to the fact that my niece will join me in the bathroom every time I need to use it or take a shower; privacy is largely an illusion; I have to negotiate for television time; my Netflix queue is filled with Curious George 2 and Strawberry Shortcake reruns; personal space is nonexistent. I only have half a closet and most of a bathroom. It can’t always be easy for my brother-in-law to have to share a house with not one, but two opinionated women. In order for me to have any authority over the kids (which was super important to me if I was going to watch them all the time) my sister had to relinquish a little control over decisions. When Auntie says no dessert, I need them to back me up. But the same goes the other way. I have to back them up too. It’s hard to parent with three people. But it’s worth it. Bonus: you get to rotate being bad cop with the kids’ punishments.
But the upsides outweigh the down. My sister has time to dream big with her company because I’m handling the day-to-day activities. My brother-in-law has an advocate when my sister goes a little too far (I’ve been bossing her around my whole life, I know how she works). I get a built-in family without all the pesky birthing stuff. I get work that fulfills me and all the hugs I want. When my sister and her husband go on vacation, they know exactly who will be watching their kids the whole time. My sister and brother-in-law have largely allowed me to parent them the way I see fit when I’m in charge of them. I get to watch my niece and nephew grow into great little people. When my nephew does well in school, I’m super proud because we spent hours going over his multiplication tables. I know my niece can read because my tablet is full of books we read together. The kids have their mother’s looks, their dad’s attitude, and their auntie’s impeccable sense of style. If that isn’t worth giving up a little closet space, I don’t know what is.
Photo by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos