This article on “Momunes” caught my eye. What is a Momune and is communal living the future? Today we are going to be diving into America’s cost of living crisis, the idea of the nuclear family communal living and the creation of the Momune.
If you know me in real life, I have definitely brought up the idea of communal living with you. I am obsessed with communal living. It’s such a good idea. I think it is the light, I think it is the way, the truth, the path we should all be walking.
Additionally, I think all of us paying to live alone or with just one other person or romantic partner is dumb, annoying, expensive and slowly making all of us miserable. The New York Times even agrees with me.
What is a Momune?
A Momune refers to a home where two single mothers who have non-biologically related kids are living together. Moms are platonically raising their children and co-parenting together– even though they are not married and not biologically related. Here in the United States, it’s been hard to be a parent for a really long time. But parenthood and specifically motherhood took a major beating during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, daycares shut down. Parents had to work full time from home while looking after their children or while trying to teach their children. Additionally, everywhere in the world, from the grocery store to the playground, had become a scary and potentially dangerous place. Families, and especially parents, were stuck inside trying to manage everything.
For single parents, the pandemic was hard
For many single parents during the pandemic, it was truly hell on earth. No one was there to help share the burden of doing laundry, changing diapers and making food. As well as, working their full time job that pays for diapers, food and all the things that children need. This huge expense of trying to work full time, mom full time and still somehow be a human, drove a lot of mothers to the brink. It also drove some moms to the Momune.
In April 2020 with pandemic lockdowns in full force, longtime friends Holly Harper, a marketing executive and Heron Hopper, an attorney were both newly divorced. They were managing remote work and their children’s virtual school from tiny apartments in Washington DC. Going at it alone was feeling like an increasingly uphill battle. So they changed course, pooled their finances and bought a home to share instead.
Hopper says, “A Momune offered a way to share the heavy burden of juggling home and career without a romantic partner, as well as a path towards homeownership post divorce. Both Holly and I have always been voyeurs when it came to real estate and we were like, why not sharing a home?”
“Sharing a home,” added Ms. Harper, “Offers single mothers a key thing that is often taken away when their relationship falls apart: economic mobility.”
It takes economic flexibility and economic mobility to be a “good” parent.
I loved this quote because right there right at the end, it says the quiet part out loud. It takes economic flexibility and economic mobility to be a good parent. In the US, you have to have disposable income and the opportunity to both save for your own retirement and the money to spend on your child’s needs.
The history of communal living
Communal living offers parents a little bit of both economic flexibility and mobility, as it always has. From communes, to intentional living spaces, to religious organizations, to immigrant families doing intergenerational living, communal living is not a new trend. Humans have lived together ever since we came out of the caves and started roaming around, largely because of safety and help in numbers. This is true when we are hunters and gatherers. And it’s true now in our consumerist society.
In the United States, intergenerational living is much more common among non-white homes. Though arguably, the first white colonies here in the US were communal living. White people were fleeing Europe where they felt their religious beliefs were being persecuted and they arrived in a land where Indigenous Americans were already living communally.
Intergenerational living in the US happened prior to colonization
The Iroquois people practiced communal living pre-European colonization. They owned property together and worked together. Women performed difficult work in large groups, such as going from field-to-field helping one another work each other’s lands. Iroquois women of each agriculture group would select an old but active member of their group to act as their leader for that year and would follow her directions.
The men organized hunting parties where they used extensive cooperation to kill multiple animals at once. One firsthand account told of a hunting party that built a large brush fence in a forest to form a V. The hunters set a fire across the open side of the V, forcing the animals to run towards the point where the hunters awaited them. That could kill 100 deer at a time and with that plan and communal living, it helped them get dinner on the table.
In more recent times, “hippies” participated in communes
More recently, the hippies of the 1960s and 70s often left major cities for more rural areas where they were able to do things like live off the land, and live by a joint set of shared beliefs. Today there are many operating communes and collectives across the United States. So why did we stop living in communal spaces as the default? How could we kind of separate ourselves into the way that we live now?
Why did we stop living intergenerationally or communally?
It all comes down to that problematic period in American history called the Industrial Revolution. In the mid to late 1800s, the Industrial Revolution started and brought people off of their family farms. They moved out of the smaller homes where they lived intergenerationally into bigger cities where the jobs were. This is where we begin to see a breakdown in communal living.
While boarding houses were common in cities for factory workers to live in, these were individuals renting rooms. People lived in the same houses and they ate at the same table. But they weren’t working together towards a joint collective goal. They were just a collection of individuals sharing a space, much like roommates are today. The goal for a lot of these factory workers was to be able to send money back home to their family. Or, be able to buy their own farm or home themselves with their factory wages.
From there, as cities began to grow and workers continued to pour in, single family homes became the focus of development. People wanted then, as a lot of people want now, their own space. They didn’t want to have to share a wall with a neighbor. They didn’t want to have to smell what their neighbor is cooking. Most notably, suburbs were built because white people didn’t want to be around non-white people.
Redlining and housing in the US
In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration was created. It provided mortgages and mortgage insurance to house buyers and lenders. And at its founding from its outset, the FHA refused to insure mortgages in neighborhoods of color. This process is called redlining. The FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass producing entire subdivisions for whites with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African Americans. So now we have white people literally separating themselves from non-white people. They lived in houses that literally separate them from other families, in towns that require a car to get to, further dividing us all. This was making communal living all but impossible.
There’s a phrase in the United States that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But what do you do when you have a kid and you don’t have a village? Maybe you had to move out of your parents home and out of the town that you grew up in because there were no jobs there. What do you do when you had to put 1,500 miles between you and everyone you know? What do you do when you live in a city where you don’t have any close family and friends, and your kid gets out of school at three, but you work until six? Which brings me to the cost of living in the United States.
The cost to raise a child in the US is expensive
I feel like I talk about this often, but that’s because this is a very expensive country to live in. It’s even more expensive for parents, particularly mothers. From the day your baby is born until the day they turn 18, a child costs about $310,605 — or about $17,000 a year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of data from the U.S. Ag Department. This cost in urban areas will be even more. Now add in paying for housing, health care, transportation and saving for your own retirement. Understandably, parents have a lot of financial stress.
We live in a culture where the standard for success is to do everything by yourself, never asked for help raise your children and do all of this on your own dime. Asking for help from other people, or from the government, is severely looked down upon in the US. If you, like me, have to grow up on food stamps, you’ll be called “a welfare baby” or a “welfare queen,” if you are a woman.
The cost of living crisis is contributing to homelessness
Take it for me, people are really really mean about that. And these rising cost of living and parenting is helping feed the homelessness crisis that we’re experiencing. In the US, parents and children make up 30% of homeless people in the United States.
On a single night in January of 2021:
- An estimated 161,070 people in families — or 51,000 family households — were identified as homeless.
- Approximately 17,337 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.
Families are struggling with inflation. They are struggling with corporations raising the prices of their products and they are struggling with cost of living. Women are up against the gender pay gap, as well as the gender wealth gap, and are being hit particularly hard.
Momunes may be permanent or temporary
Enter the Momune. Moms living together, pooling assets, sharing time, sharing resources and defining a family home structure outside of the heteronormative family. Some people building communes see this as a permanent lifestyle choice. Others see it as a means to an end, financially speaking.
Ms. Winship and 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. Winship said.
In September 2021, they began renting a three bedroom apartment in a gated community. They split the rent evenly and took turns cooking and watching each other’s kids. The arrangement isn’t forever. Ms. Winship and Ms. Dillon both have new partners and plan to eventually move out to start new lives with them. But after living through a pandemic in a foreign country together, they say their partnership has been essential for some of these moms. The Momune has allowed them to find financial stability. It’s a way that the normal way of doing things was never going to offer them. It’s also allowed them and their children to build lifelong friendships.
Communal living is also about relationship building
That’s honestly the coolest part of communes to me. It’s not just the financial benefits that can come from this, but the relationship building that can come from this, for both the parents and the kids. Can you imagine being six years old and getting to live with your best friend for 5 years or until you both turn 18? That’s such an interesting idea and it’s such a wonderfully big way of living.
It’s a way to introduce yourself and your kids to the idea that other people aren’t the scary enemy. Other people are your friends. They help you pick up your toys. Other people learn algebra with you. They can be helpful and other people can be cool.
Is communal living the future?
When it comes to communal living, there is truly no one size, shape or way of doing it. People build communes and people live communally in a million different ways. And no one says that you have to live in a Momune forever. In a country that is deeply hostile to parents and their financial needs, communal living offers an abundant way of approaching a very expensive and very stressful thing: raising another human.
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out our video on Momunes below and be sure to subscribe to our Youtube for new videos each Monday.