I glanced down at the text.
“Hey, would you be interested in renting out a room to me this semester?”
It caught me off guard. It was mid-July, and our family was in full summertime swing: swimming lessons, mini-vacations to local family-friendly spots, and the pleasant new undertaking of hosting a high school student from Brazil for three weeks. All wonderful and all enough to keep things a little, well...busy.The text came from Alaina, a college student who babysat regularly for several of my friends and whom we had recently begun to hire on occasion. In our conversations, it had come up that we had this extra bedroom where we planned to host our foreign exchange student. My husband teaches at the college Alaina attends, and we are fortunate to live close enough to campus that he can bike to work, allowing our family to maintain a one-car status for the time being.
I hadn’t considered the possibility of keeping the room reserved for longer-term occupants, but we had recently moved our preschooler and our toddler into the same bedroom so it could be available for when family members visit.
“I could also watch your kids sometimes when I’m not in class or in the evenings so you and your husband could go out!” she texted again, sweetening the deal.
I was sold.
Alaina moved in while we were out of town for a couple weeks. When we came back to a nearly spotless kitchen, I felt confident some sort of otherworldly being had taken up residence with us.
Now, a semester in, and one more to go – as we figured out that we liked living with each other enough to have her stay for the academic year – I’m absolutely positive that having her live with us has made me a better parent. Here’s why:
Parenthood has this power to make you almost paranoid about which adults you allow around your kids, and particularly which adults you allow to stay alone with your kids. (Occasionally, I hear of grandparents who don’t make the cut.)
So when you have the opportunity to live with someone who does make the cut, and you also happen to like them, it’s more than a bonus. It’s a godsend.
When Alaina comes home, my kids usually shout out her name and run to give her hugs. While we try to make sure Alaina has the space for privacy, alone time, and especially the study time that she needs as a student, she often keeps the door to her bedroom open.
She really does love my kids, and on occasion I’ve found them in her room getting hair done, toenails painted, or even snuggling up watching a kids show. Occurrences like this not only mean that I’ve had moments to catch my breath during the day when I’m home with them, but also that my kids are learning they are loved and valued from trusted adults other than mom and dad.
Having someone who can provide live-in childcare makes finding time for dates and moments of alone time with my husband that much easier. Alaina is the first person we ask to watch our kids, and she’ll often offer certain nights without our even asking about her schedule.
Having the time to even look for childcare options has been a hurdle for us in the past, so it’s nice when the opportunities are shoved in your face and all you have to do is pick one. It’s also nice not to have to rush back by a certain time on date night to make sure the babysitter gets home at a reasonable hour. She’s already home, so she can go to bed whenever she wants.
This has also been incredibly valuable to me personally as I begin to explore the world of freelance writing – something that I can’t imagine doing while also trying to entertain and feed my kids (props to you if you manage it, though!).
Having a housemate produces a little bit of the Big Brother effect, though in a much more unassuming way. I’ve never felt judged by Alaina for my parenting skills (or lack thereof), but having her there reminds me that my interactions with my kids can be overheard.
It’s not that I feel I can’t be myself while she’s around (I’ve lost my cool more than a handful of times), but I find myself automatically becoming more measured in how I handle my preschooler’s tantrum, for example. It’s a little like having all of your parenting on display for someone to analyze without them realizing. I think it would cause quite a bit more self-awareness in anyone.
Alaina has expressed interest in having her own family someday, too, so in addition to recognizing how her presence affects my interactions with my kids, I am conscious that I may be setting an example for her. I want to make sure it’s a good one.
Let’s face it: being in the trench years of parenthood means that, to a certain degree – perhaps especially for us parents who exit the nine to five work force for a season – one lets go of being in-the-know about what’s happening in the world, and even sometimes what’s happening outside of their own four walls. That’s the amount of energy it takes out of you.
Having Alaina with us helps me to press pause on the part of my brain that is filled with diaper changes, preschool schedules, what needs to be bought at the grocery store, and when exactly the laundry was done last – especially when she talks about what she’s learning in her classes and what her own life experience is like.
I get to remember the days filled with midterms, essays, invigorating class discussions, and long long nights of studying. I also get to hear about the talk on campus and how the world of higher education is changing. I love when the my brain gets a chance for a good academic stretch.
While I know taking on a housemate isn’t for every family in every season, and that not every family has the space to rent out, I can’t recommend it highly enough if you have the chance. You’ll need to find someone who is the right fit for your family, and not every potential housemate out there will necessarily offer to watch your kids. But if you can find the right person, it can be a game-changer for finding a new rhythm as a parent.If you’ve had the opportunity to invite a housemate into your home, what personal and family growth have you seen from it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.