1,000 Families Project: Raising a baby in a group house

This new dad and his wife are meeting one of the challenges of modern family life – increasing housing costs – in a really inspiring and gratifying way.

My 19-month daughter has two mommies and two daddies, but not in the way you’d think. Since her birth, my wife and I have been raising our baby in a group house with two unrelated friends. What started out as one big joke turned into the best living situation for our current season. Here’s how it happened.

Austin’s daughter hanging with housemate Laura.

After a year of marriage, my wife and I found out we were being evicted from our building (common in a growing Washington, D.C.) to make room for a new development. Starting the house hunt, we jokingly emailed two friends suggesting we all live together. The most introverted of the pair responded, “I think you’re joking, but if not, I’d seriously consider it.” The seed was planted, and months later the four of us signed a lease.

One year turned to two to three to four. Then my wife and I got the unexpected news that we were having a baby. Our group house was doomed – or so we thought. When we told our housemates, they voiced that they’d like to test out living with a baby. It’s been 19 months and we all still love each other. Here’s how we make it work:

1. Direct communication:
This is the backbone of raising a baby in a group house. Without it, the house crumbles (this applies to any living situation with people, not just with a baby). If you’re going to install baby safety locks for kitchen cabinets, tell the people you live with first. If you’re going to install a baby gate, communicate and make sure everyone is OK with it. From middle of the night crying to toys in the kitchen, babies leave opportunity for resentment to linger. The adults in our house have an agreement to be direct fast and the receiving adult agrees to not take it personally.

2. Respect:
To have direct communication, you need mutual respect. We are friends first and housemates second. Every Friday we gather for a meal to enjoy each other. This helps my wife and I see them as individuals worthy of respect. With that guiding principle, we rarely ask them to babysit or partake in the usual parenting duties (play time, discipline, logistics, etc). We budget for a babysitter. The guiding principle is to never assume they will help us with our daughter. It’s their house, not a daycare.

Housemate Keith with baby on the day after she was born.

3. Space:
Humans (extraverts and introverts alike) need space. To that end, we were particular in the type of house we moved into. Non-negotiables included everyone getting their own bathroom, each of us having a part of the house to escape to, and large common areas. If someone needs quiet, we close our bedroom doors and the others don’t take it personally. Buying your housemates sound proof doors is helpful too!

It’s been 19-months and raising our daughter in a group house is working. We just bought a house with our housemate making it a permanent living arrangement. As our daughter grows, we’re sure new hurdles will present themselves, but we’re confident that even more blessings will emerge by choosing to live in this way.

Read my full story in The Washington Post here.

This is #1000families post number 240. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.

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Austin Graff

About Austin Graff

Austin Graff works at The Washington Post and contributes to On Parenting, news, advice, and essays for parents from The Washington Post. He’s a new dad and lives with his wife, daughter, and two housemates in Washington, D.C. Follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter. View all posts by

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