First, Kristin Batykefer lost her job in marketing following a restructuring. Then her marriage fell apart and she was left without an income or a home.
To help her get back on her feet, last year two friends put her and her daughter — now 4 — in their four-bedroom home near Jacksonville, Florida. Then Mrs. Batykefer’s best friend, Tessa Gilder, also divorcing, moved into the house with her two children aged 1 and 5.
Very quickly and unplanned, they found themselves in a community of single mothers. What Americans call a mommune, a portmanteau of mom and commune.
All over the world, women are joining forces under the same roof, sharing the raising of children and the bills. When she was married, Mrs. Batykefer had shared on social media her nomadic family life in a renovated bus. Aged 32, she now chronicles her new single life in a house occupied by four adults and three children.
When she was bedridden with a headache, sore throat and body aches, the other women made her soup and cookies and took the children to the park so she could rest. “A support system second to none,” Ms. Batykefer wrote on TikTok in a post that has been viewed over a million times. “I should have moved into a mommune a long time ago. »
This way of life is not new. Mothers have shared homes for centuries. But the pandemic and the growing number of single-parent families in the United States have shed light on this reimagined family structure. “In Latin cultures, there’s this idea of co-madre [co-mother], someone who supports you and helps you raise your children,” says Grace Bastidas, editor-in-chief of Parents.com. “During the pandemic, we saw all kinds of support groups forming; it is therefore a new version of this type of partnership. »
Mme Bastidas grew up in a commune of mothers, brought up with her sister and cousin in the same household by her mother and aunt, both unmarried.
Single mothers are hard hit by inflation and the scarcity of daycare, she adds. “It’s part of a larger trend of parents expanding the concept of family and taking matters into their own hands to find creative solutions. »
Nearly 80% of single-parent families in the United States are headed by single mothers, according to the latest census. Research shows that these families are much more likely to experience poverty, psychological distress, low self-esteem and lack of emotional support.
In April 2020, in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, Holly Harper, a marketing executive, and Herrin Hopper, a lawyer, had both just divorced. These two longtime friends telecommuted and supervised their children’s virtual school in tiny apartments in Washington. Living so small at such great expense no longer made sense: they pooled their financial resources and bought a house.
For Herrin Hopper, 46, the arrangement allows her to take on household chores and a career without a spouse. It also allows access to property after a divorce. “Holly and I have always had a thing for ‘real estate voyeurism’; we thought, “Why not?” »
Sharing a house, adds Holly Harper, offers single mothers one essential thing that often disappears when their relationship breaks down: economic mobility.
Carmel Boss has long lived in a commune of mothers. She claims to have coined the term mommune long before it entered the American vernacular. Twenty years ago, after her divorce, she founded CoAbode, a nonprofit home-sharing platform for single mothers.
When she decided to invite another single mother from Los Angeles to live with her and her 7-year-old son, she found that there were no resources for single mothers looking for shared accommodation to meet. The idea for CoAbode was born.
At first, CoAbode was like a Kijiji for mothers, she says. In 2016, she turned it into a for-profit business. Since then, 300,000 single mothers have created home sharing profiles on her site, she estimates.
“It’s like an online village, except the women meet in person,” says Ms. Boss, 69.
In Florida, Tessa Gilder and Kristin Batykefer have no plans to stay in this four-bedroom home near Jacksonville forever. The duo hope to buy and renovate a house within a year. To cut costs, they signed a deal with a television producer who thinks the renovation would make for an entertaining reality show.
But with or without that TV adventure, Ms. Batykefer says the little community she’s created in her current home has helped her recover from heartbreak and find some peace. She feels more present and more focused as a mother.
“When I had to leave my husband, I was obsessed with having to fend for myself to buy a house, pay my bills and raise my child,” said Batykefer, whose divorce was finalized in February and who now shares custody of her children with her ex-husband. “I never thought of finding another single mother to live with and do this together. It just happened by chance, that’s all. But now I’m thinking, “Why is it an exception to join forces?” »