• "I craved the support and companionship, but it seemed to me that it could also go horribly wrong." (Tetra images RF)
Welcome to ‘mummunes’ - communities of mothers deciding to live together for support and friendship.
By
Wilhelmina Ford, as told to Margaret Ambrose

8 Jan 2020 - 8:05 AM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2020 - 11:20 AM

I remember I was standing in the shower, just letting the water wash over me, thinking ‘wow’. It was the first time I had been able to have a shower uninterrupted since my first child was born. I didn’t have to rush, and I wasn’t consoling a crying baby or singing the opening lines of In The Night Garden while hurriedly trying to get the conditioner out of my hair.

And I was able to do this because I knew my kids were playing with another mum in the next room – a mum who understood the single mum’s need for time out, because she was one too.

Whether you call them ‘mummunes’, communities of mothers, or mummy share houses, an increasing number of single mothers are deciding to live together, some for support and friendship, others to relieve the financial burden of parenting alone.

When the relationship with my partner broke down, though, it was the last thing on my mind.

Leaving an unhappy relationship had far-reaching consequences for me because all in one go I no longer had my house and my business and I was on my own with two small children under two years of age.

I am a naturally outgoing and independent woman. I owned my own house on the Central Coast, NSW, from where I ran a successful dog training and boarding business. Leaving an unhappy relationship had far-reaching consequences for me because all in one go I no longer had my house and my business and I was on my own with two small children under two years of age.

I decided to initially rent a home while I considered where to buy. Was I in for a shock! Despite the fact that I had serviced a mortgage for years and had enough savings to pay for a year’s rent upfront, once real estate agents discovered I was a single mum, doors slammed in my face.

It was disheartening and frustrating, and actually worrying because we needed a place to live. One night, I posted about my experiences on a Facebook parents group, and I was shocked by the number of single mothers who had experienced the same kind of discrimination. Some of them had found a solution by moving in together.

In the end the only rental I could secure was a five-bedroom house, which was way to big for the three of us.

In the end the only rental I could secure was a five-bedroom house, which was way to big for the three of us.

Then my daughter got sick and I had to rush her to emergency with my son. It was a horrible time. I was lonely and exhausted and living with another mother started looking really appealing.

I craved the support and companionship, but it seemed to me that it could also go horribly wrong.

Did I really want to live with more children? What if the kids didn’t get along? What if they did get along and then were heart-broken when we moved? And besides, I was a mother – wasn’t I a bit old to be doing the share house thing?

I decided to dive in and after chatting with a few mums online, I met with Mary, a single mum of one child, who was a few years older than mine.

The age difference between Mary’s daughter and my kids turned out to be perfect. There were no fights over toys; there were no battles for mum’s attention; and there was no inadvertent competition between mums.

Mary’s daughter enjoyed playing with my kids, showing them how to do things, helping take care of them. It made her feel very grown up. And to them she was like a cool big sister.

Mary’s daughter enjoyed playing with my kids, showing them how to do things, helping take care of them. It made her feel very grown up. And to them she was like a cool big sister.

It was really helpful for me too that Mary was further down the parenting track. She intuitively knew when I needed a break, or to talk something through.

I think it’s really important that single mums contemplating bringing their kids up in a communal or share house situations really make their expectations very clear upfront. Mary chose me because my kids were younger and she wanted to help out a new, struggling single mum.

You’ve really got to be explicit about how much you expect to be in each other’s lives. Minding each other’s kids sounds fine, but can easily turn sour when you find yourself looking after someone else’s kids five nights a week, yet are never being able to pin her down to watch yours.

Also, boundaries around disciplining the other’s children is essential.

Safety should also be a priority. Deciding to share with a stranger is a bit of an unknown, regardless of who you are, but the stakes are so much higher when there are kids involved.

Who is going to be coming into the house? Sure, you might trust the woman, but what about her boyfriend or other friends?

Fortunately, I had no issues with Mary, and when our lease was up and we went our separate ways, we continued our friendship.

Fortunately, I had no issues with Mary, and when our lease was up and we went our separate ways, we continued our friendship.

I didn’t abandon my love of living with other single mothers, though: I now live in a complex that is almost entirely single mothers and their kids.

My immediate neighbour has a son and daughter under ten. Next to them are a six-year old girl and a four-year old boy, with single mums. Next to them are another kid and his mum, and so on and so on.

The kids hang out together all the time, playing in the cul du sac. They rarely want to sit at home on a tablet or watching TV because there are so many kids to play with! And we know if one of us has to do something, there’ll be at least one mum who can help out. We’re not alone.

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