Women are joining forces under one roof, using the age-old power of sisterhood to split the household bills and raise their children.

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First, Kristin Batykefer lost her marketing job when there was a management change. Then her marriage fell apart, and she suddenly found herself with no income and nowhere to go.

To help her get back on her feet last year, two family friends invited Ms. Batykefer and her now 4-year-old daughter to stay in their four-bedroom home in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Then Ms. Batykefer’s best friend, Tessa Gilder, also went through a divorce and came to stay in the house, bringing along her two children, now ages 5 and 1.

Almost overnight, they had organically formed a commune for single mothers: a “mommune.”

All over the world, women are joining forces under one roof, sharing the load of child care and household bills through the age-old power of sisterhood. Ms. Batykefer, 32, who had chronicled her family’s mobile life living in a renovated Air Force bus on social media when she was married, spread the word about her new single life living with four adults and three children.


Living in a mommune, said Kristin Batykefer, far left, has made it easy to find an extra pair of hands to help.Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times

When she came down with a headache, sore throat and body aches that knocked her flat, the other women in her house cooked her homemade soup and cookies and shepherded the children to a nearby park so she could rest. “Support system like no other,” Ms. Batykefer wrote on an TikTok post that has been viewed more than 1 million times. “Shoulda moved into a mommune a long time ago.”

The living arrangement isn’t novel — mothers, particularly those in nonwhite communities, have been house-sharing for centuries. But the pandemic, plus a rising number of white, non-Hispanic single-mother households in the United States, has put a new spotlight on the make-your-own-family structure. “In Latino cultures, there’s this idea of a co-mother — a person who supports you and helps you raise your children,” said Grace Bastidas, editor in chief of Parents magazine. “At the height of the pandemic, we all started creating these pods of people, so this is just another iteration of that type of partnership.”


In their shared house in Florida, the women cook for each other, help with childcare duties, and even do each other’s hair.Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times


Kristin Batykefer’s daughter and Tessa Gilder’s daughter are the same age. Living together means they always have a playmate available.Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times


Kristin Batykefer, far left, and Tessa Gilder, joined forces to live together and share the load of raising their children after the two friends both got divorced in the same year.Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times


Ms. Gilder’s 1-year-old.Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times

Ms. Bastidas grew up in a mommune, raised alongside her sister and cousin in one house by her mother and her aunt, both of them unmarried and without partners. “We were told it takes a village, but it’s not always there, and single moms especially are juggling rising costs of living and reduced child care options,” she said. “This is part of the larger trend of parents stretching traditional boundaries of what a family is, and taking matters into their own hands to find creative solutions.”

Nearly 80 percent of single-parent families in the United States are headed by single mothers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and academic research has shown that these units are far more likely to experience poverty, psychological distress, low self-esteem and a lack of emotional support. Single motherhood, said Naomi Torres-Mackie, a clinical psychologist focusing on women’s mental health in New York City, often leads to role strain — the stress that comes when a person cannot fulfill the multitude of responsibilities required by their societal role. “Sharing resources is key, and can be an antidote to not just role strain, but social isolation and stigma,” she said.


Herrin Hopper, second from left, and Holly Harper, center, are single mothers. They bought a home outside of Washington, D.C., together in 2020 and created a mommune with two other women.Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times

In April 2020, with pandemic lockdowns in full force, longtime friends Holly Harper, a marketing executive, and Herrin Hopper, an attorney, were both newly divorced and managing remote work and their children’s virtual school from tiny apartments in Washington, D.C. Going it alone was feeling like an increasingly uphill battle. So they changed course, pooled their finances, and bought a home to share instead.

For Ms. Hopper, 46, a mommune offered a way to share the heavy burden of juggling home and career without a romantic partner, as well as a path toward homeownership post-divorce. “Both Holly and I have always been voyeurs when it comes to real estate, and we were like, why not?” she said. Sharing a home, added Ms. Harper, offers single mothers a key thing that is often taken away when their relationships fall apart — economic mobility.

“We want our kids to be safe, and we want the support we deserve as humans. The economic linchpin of that is real estate,” she said. “The most logical thing in the world is to share.”

The duo evenly split the $835,000 cost for a sage-green fourplex in the D.C. suburb of Takoma Park, Md., painting the interior walls in jewel tones and christening it the “Siren House.” Ms. Hopper lives with her 10-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter in a three-bedroom unit on the second floor.


Holly Harper, left, sits with Herrin Hopper in their shared mommune. The two women, both single moms, are longtime friends and refer to each other as “platonic spouses.”Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times


Holly Harper watches her 10-year-old daughter do a handstand at home in their mommune in Takoma Park, Md.Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times


Living in a mommune, said Herrin Hopper, has made balancing the duties of motherhood and career infinitely easier. Here, she helps her 15-year-old daughter put on a necklace.Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times


Holly Harper watches her daughter play in the “fairy garden” of their fourplex in Takoma Park, Md. Sharing a home, she said, offers single mothers economic mobility when their relationships fall apart.Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times

Her home is colorful and chaotic, its walls filled with artwork and photography and its rooms stuffed with knickknacks and bright furniture. Ms. Harper lives on the first floor with her 10-year-old daughter in their own three-bedroom unit, which is tidy and Zen. Six months after moving in, the pair invited two other women, including another mother with two children, to take the basement and attic units of the home and join them in their communal experiment.

They have since bought a second three-unit building nearby with the aim of renting it to other single parents with a purchasing model that can help them build equity after divorce. Ms. Harper dreams of expanding the model to single parents in other cities as well.

“You can do this anywhere. It’s not gendered and it’s not political. It’s literally taking the existing structure and using it to your advantage,” she said.

But the co-living partners, who call themselves platonic spouses, have had their ups and downs. A year after moving into the Siren House, the women launched a drinks and snack shop that failed. Their two new tenants, one of whom had never dated women before, fell in love with each other and eventually moved out. Ms. Hopper and Ms. Harper still live in the home, but they now rent the basement unit to a gay man, and are keeping the upstairs unit vacant as a shared space for homework, dance parties and quiet time.

Despite the hiccups, they said they’re proud of what they’ve done: throwing the rule book for single motherhood out of the window.

“In the patriarchal, heteronormative story, you get divorced and stay in the house, or you buy another home, and you live this isolated life where you’re supposed to date and fall in love again and get remarried or blend families,” Ms. Hopper said. “It seems like it’s always a binary, and we have dispelled this myth that there’s only one path forward.”

The path is growing more organized and being formalized. Groups are now offering shared living arrangements for single parents.


Carmel Boss started CoAbode, a house-sharing platform for single mothers, as a nonprofit after her divorce 20 years ago. She says she was the first to coin the term “mommune.”Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Carmel Boss, a mommune veteran who said she coined the term “mommune” years before it entered the social media lexicon, started CoAbode, a house-sharing platform for single mothers, as a nonprofit after her divorce 20 years ago. At the time, she had just become a single mother to a 7-year-old son, and decided to invite another single mother in Los Angeles to live with her. She realized, however, that there was no easy resource for single mothers in seeking communal housing to find each other, and an idea was born.

At first, CoAbode was like a Craigslist for mothers, she said. But in 2016 she converted it into a for-profit business, and now estimates that 300,000 single mothers have created profiles for home-share matches on her site.

“We’re like an online village, except the women are meeting in person,” said Ms. Boss, 69.

Later this year, Commune, a residential housing developer based in France, will open a development for single-parent households in the Paris suburbs with space for 14 families. A second project will open at the end of the year in the north of France, with space for 28 families. Two-bedroom units with a kitchenette will start at 1,190 euros a month, said Tara Heuz?-Sarmini, Commune’s Paris-born co-founder. The company, said Ms. Heuz?-Sarmini, is filling a gap.

“I was not interested in creating co-living spaces for yuppies living in Berlin,” she said. “The elephant in the room was the demographics of single parents, whose needs are completely unaddressed by the market.”

The need is worldwide. Anna Dillon, a 42-year-old Irish mother living in Abu Dhabi, decided to create a mommune in 2021 with Emily Winchip, 40, an American. Both are education professors.

Ms. Dillon has been in the United Arab Emirates since 2013, but divorced her husband in 2019. In the first year of the pandemic, she said, the isolation was crushing, and caring for her two children — a daughter, 12, and a son, 13 — was challenging while juggling a social life and a full-time job.

Ms. Winchip, her colleague, was facing a similar struggle. She had lived in the Middle East for 13 years, but when the pandemic hit, she was newly separated and alone with her son, now 12.

“I told her I wished we all lived in a place where the kids could play together,” Ms. Winchip said.

In September 2021, they began renting a three-bedroom apartment in a gated community, splitting the rent evenly and taking turns cooking and watching each other’s kids. The arrangement isn’t forever — Ms. Winchip and Ms. Dillon both have new partners, and plan to eventually move out and start new lives with them — but after living through a pandemic in a foreign country together, they say their partnership has been essential.

“I wish we had done it about two years earlier,” Ms. Dillon said.

Back in Florida, Ms. Gilder and Ms. Batykefer also don’t plan on staying in that four-bedroom house in Jacksonville area forever. The duo hopes to buy and remodel a fixer-upper of their own in the coming year, and to allay costs, they’ve signed a deal with a television producer who believes the process of renovating their new mommune could make for entertaining reality television.

But whether or not those small-screen dreams come to fruition, Ms. Batykefer said the little community she’s built in her current house has helped her not just recover from heartbreak, but give her peace of mind. She said she is more present and focused as a mother.

“When I had to leave my husband, all I could think about was how I now had to figure out how to do everything on my own — buy a house on my own, pay my bills on my own, and raise my child on my own,” said Ms. Batykefer, whose divorce was finalized in February and now splits custody with her ex-husband. “I never thought about finding another single mother to live with and do it together. We just fell into it. But now, it’s like, why isn’t it more common for us to join forces?”

Audio produced by Kate Winslett.



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