Roommates and single parents: How to make house-sharing work for you

Life as a single mother can be confusing and lonely-- not to mention expensive. This is why, as a single mother, I dreaded the idea of living alone with my one child. When I decided to move to a new city, I pictured myself in a lonely, isolated apartment, with no one besides my daughter to ease the loneliness. I wondered: how can I afford an entire apartment by myself? How can I enjoy life in a new place with no companions?

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a friend who needed a roommate at the same time that I needed one. So far, our living arrangement has worked out flawlessly, and has been much easier for both of us than an isolated, no-roomie existence. Several basic steps have helped me work out the kinks involved in having a roommate as a single mom. If you're a single mom and want a roommate, here are some important factors to consider.

1. Know your roommate well. My roommate and I have been friends since we were 13. I know, and trust, that she is safe around my child. If you have any doubts whatsoever about how much you trust your roommate, skip house-sharing entirely. Any concerns about the other adult's mental health, habits, substance abuse or criminal history should be addressed fully before you enter a lease together.

2. Make sure your roommate likes kids. To live with you and your children in peace, your roommate must not only tolerate children-- she must genuinely love them. No matter how well-behaved your kids are, a roommate with inevitably encounter times when your kid will act like a kid. If your roommate doesn't truly love children, the living situation will not work at all. One possibility is to choose another single parent as a roommate-- this can maximize understanding while also allowing kids to experience a sibling-like dynamic.

3. Be willing to pay more. Your child won't just be taking up an extra room in the house-- he will also be using cabinet space, making the house dirtier, using water to take baths, and expending electricity. Before you enter a lease agreement with a roommate, take the initiative of offering to cover your fair share of expenses. Make sure that you and your roommate both agree to the arrangement.

4. Discuss child care issues. Your roommate is watching TV while you're in the shower. Your child asks the roommate for a glass of juice. How would roomie react? You must make it clear to your roommate that you do not expect her to play a parental role for your child, but that you do appreciate small favors such as these. Make it clear that you do not expect free babysitting-- any time that your roommate watches your child, pay her for it.

5. Talk to your child. Your kids need an explanation of who your roommate is and why this person is living with you. Explain that the person is not family, but that your child should treat her as an authority figure, just like a teacher. At the same time, you also need to let your child know that the roommate situation is not permanent (unless you plan for it to be). Listen to any of your child's concerns, fears or apprehensions regarding the roommate. Your child deserves to know what is going on in his life and home.

6. Expect a bond to form. Whether you want it or not, your child will almost certainly develop a strong bond with your roommate (and vice versa). It's almost impossible for people to live in the same household without forming some sort of attachment to one another. For this reason, expect that your child will come to view the roommate as an authority figure (and possibly even a family member) during the time that you live together. If you aren't prepared for this bond to take place, house-sharing may not be for you.

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