How do I grow a (weirdly-shaped) family?
March 20, 2017 5:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm reconsidering what relationships I want to be central to my life. Help me figure out how to get where I want to be.

I'm a historically-mostly-straight cis woman in my late 30s. I had a break-up with a live-in boyfriend a few years ago. Subsequent attempts at relationships with male friends went badly (broken heart, got ghosted, etc). This coincided with a lot of general bad activity from men in circles I run in (Gamergate and tech generally). I'm worried this colored my feelings about men, even though nothing much happened to me beyond being called names.

I've lost a lot of trust in men. I've lost hope that it's possible to develop a straight relationship in which responsibility (particularly housework and emotional labor) is divided equally. I've always had this sort of deep visceral terror about that.

After all this I'm not sure anymore that I want to base my decisions about who I live with on who I'm romantically and sexually attracted to (which tends to be men, though some caveats follow).

In college I identified as bi, and part of me thinks I should finally start exploring the other side of that. I've never really been with a woman. So that all feels like starting over, and complicating things further with sex and emotions when the main things I think I want to focus on now are building stability and taking care of kids.

But part of me idealizes the setup my mom was in when I was a tween: she (platonically) took a roommate who was also a single mom. So we had other kids to hang out with, and mom essentially had a co-parent and friend to commiserate with about ex-husbands and being single. (Which I also worry colored my perspective on straight relationships).

I've always been drawn to the idea of "chosen families" in queer communities. I've long idealized co-housing and intentional communities. I was pretty unhappy with how isolated my parents seemed to me as a kid; I'm a more social critter than my parents. But I'm committed to living in a big metropolitan area where rents are getting insane. And I'm not sure if I'm being overly romantic about co-housing.

What I'm grieving is the distance of so many friends I've loved over the years. They're spread all over the world. What I really want is to bring them together, but they're all committed to their own families by now. I want to approach some of those families about something like co-housing, but I don't know how to broach the topic.

Regarding kids, I know I want to adopt them, not bear them. Talking with my ex and other friends brought me to the happy, stress-relieving realization that this was really what I wanted.

But I don't feel like I can go on dating sites and say "I want to adopt and/or foster," because I have this fear that will attract men who might get involved because they want to molest vulnerable kids. I don't really want to bring it up until later. Is that fear irrational? Should I just be up front about what I want?

The final challenge is that right now I'm in a job where I'm traveling a tremendous amount. Maintaining relationships with people I've known a while is hard, much less getting to know new people. It's pretty depressing. I'm not even sure how to arrange my life to stay in one place at the moment.

I guess my question is how do I find what I want? Dating sites are freaking terrible and I don't feel like I could get any of this across there. How could I tell my married friends that I'd rather move in with them and their kids than keep having a string of roommates I don't care about? Or find single parents who may need roommates? How does a person find other people who are fed up with nuclear families and want to try something else? How would I find someone to ask if they'd live platonically with me for the rest of our lives? Do I really want that? How do I find a family? (A lot of my family goals feel incompatible with most churches.) Am I blowing all this out of proportion because of recent bad experiences?
posted by Oda_a_los_calcetines to Human Relations (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Are you familiar with cohousing? It might be a good option for you. Generally there are lots of individual housing units all close together, and a central meeting/eating space where everyone has dinner together most nights a week. Nice mix of closeness and individuality. Nuclear families can fit in but lots of other folks outside of that, too.
posted by Sublimity at 5:40 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]

How important is it to you to have a primary parenting role to a child, as opposed to just being involved in a child's life in some way? Because what immediately comes to mind is that if you want to take a primary parenting role you'll have to almost certainly have to reduce and regularize your working hours, independent of anything else you do or don't do. That might take a while and involve a lot of maneuvering or even a career change, but the good part is that you can start working on it by yourself, right now, without needing anybody else's buy-in. Sit down and say to yourself: how much time would I want to be able to devote to a child, and what would it look like if I were to commit to having that time available five years from now?

If you haven't found a friend to do this with by the time you have the rest of your life in the right shape to raise a child, and if you can afford it, I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and adopt by yourself. If that's the main thing you want, you'll have it. And I think it might actually be easier to find someone on the platform of "let's platonically live together and raise our kids" than on the platform of "let me live platonically with you and be a parent to your kid" -- it's just not as far outside people's experience.

If you'd be OK with not being a primary parent, there are are intentional communities out there where the whole community is encouraged to take an active role in raising the children. If you can find one where you mesh well, I think it would also feed your desire to live in a nurturing web of platonic friendships. But obviously this would involve uprooting your life pretty significantly. Is your profession one that travels easily?
posted by ostro at 6:16 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]

Hi, I identify with a whole lot of this! Like, a lot, a lot. I don't have any answers, but I'm totally ready to spend some time thinking through it with you. One thing that strikes me is that there's a mixture of things you can control (largely to do with the practicalities of getting ready to care for a child) and things you can't control, though you can create positive, productive environments in the hopes that they come along (romantic relationships). Your living situation is sort of in the middle, between these.

So, starting with the things you can control: let's say you know you want to be ready to adopt or foster within the next 5-7 years. The first thing I'd probably do, if I were you, is start saving money - a lot of it - because you are either going to want to scale down your work hours significantly, or hire a lot of childcare help. Even if there ends up being someone who can take on some of this work, you are still going to want a big financial cushion. Tomorrow, you can sit down with a calculator and try and figure out how much you'll want to have saved before a child comes into your life, and how long it will take to do it. If possible, you should also start thinking about how to scale down your travelling responsibilities. Then, you can go straight to the bank and open a savings account. Once you put the first chunk of change in there, your whole plan will become much more real, and you'll feel like you're making distinct progress towards your goal. Yay!

Next, in a way that's perhaps linked, you might start thinking about what kind of living situation you're envisioning, apart from who you're actually going to live with. If you're committed to your expensive city, is there a less expensive neighborhood you might be able to move into, potentially one that has multi-bedroom apartments you could share with a roommate? If you could find a cheap, potentially child-friendly two bedroom, you could get on the lease, and sublet to a roommate, and you could save money now while possibly having a space for someone in your 'created family' in the future.

Then, you'd want to think really hard about how, exactly, you want to go about adopting - foster care, private adoptions, etc. Either way, they are long, multi-tiered processes, so once you start the first step, you will be able to start connecting, online and in real life, with people who are also on that same path. This might give you some really good leads for finding people who would want to share your space or in other ways become part of your created family. Read blogs, go to meetups, invite people out to coffee: do informational interviews with people (single mothers, adoptive parents, co-housing ppl, foster parents) who are living the kinds of lives you might imagine living.

Finally, join a Unitarian or a Quaker church or a left-wing Buddhist monastery - anything that offers a mixture of youngish people and community. Go every week, without fail, and join some committees with people of all ages. You know who I bet make great support systems for single moms? Grandmas whose grandkids live far away. Also find some of your friends with kids and volunteer to do some babysitting. You might not be able to say, "I want to move in with you," but you can say, "I'm seriously considering having a kid on my own, and I need some hands-on practice, can I set up a regular free babysitting gig with you once a month?" Hands on experience with kids + good babysitting karma + increased closeness with your friends. And if your friends are all completely scattered, hey, take some time off and do a visiting tour. It's a big ask to be like, "Hey, I want to move in with you!" but I bet all of your married, parenting friends have LOTS AND LOTS of thoughts about the way that contemporary parenting culture leaves us isolated and unsupported, and I bet they'd love to brainstorm with you about that.

(It occurred to me, writing this, that this may secretly be a 'Should i quit my job,' question; if your answer to all of these suggestions is 'I can't do X bc of my job,' then there's your answer)

While you're actively doing all that, I'd set aside the question of how this fits into your romantic life. Personally, the idea that a potential child predator would target you just because you're thinking about theoretically adopting a child someday feels overblown; if the question comes up, I think, "I've decided I don't want biological kids, but I'm definitely into fostering/adopting" is enough for early days; later, as you get closer to these people, you can talk to them more concretely about what your plans are, and that might mean you turn out to be incompatible, and that's okay. Sure, you should try and go on dates with women, if that's what appeals to you - I don't think there's really any merit to the idea of "starting over" - yeah, there'll be a sexual learning curve, but you start fresh with any new person, and the good habits (communication, thoughtfulness, etc.) still apply.

The most important thing here, I think, is that you work really hard to just enjoy the people you're seeing in the moment without casting them in The Co-Parent Role too early. If you are dating with the idea that you're going to find the person who's going to make it possible for you to have this thing you want more than anything (a kid) you put yourself in a position of powerlessness; someone else will be holding the key to your happiness. Once parenting is wholly within your control, dating will just be dating, and it is much more likely to blossom into something rich and new.

Good luck!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:59 PM on March 20 [12 favorites]

The final challenge is that right now I'm in a job where I'm traveling a tremendous amount. Maintaining relationships with people I've known a while is hard, much less getting to know new people. It's pretty depressing. I'm not even sure how to arrange my life to stay in one place at the moment.

It sounds like your work is currently a barrier to the roots you want to put down. So I'd start there.

- Decide where you want to live.
- Start working toward the work-life balance you seek.
- Start building community ties.
- Read about how to prevent/address emotional labor inequality in relationships when you're not in one and the stakes are low.
- Set the cohousing/coparenting goals aside and start doing things with numerous people whose company you enjoy, period.
- Go through the foster parent training in your chosen hometown.
- Become friends with a few of your new acquaintances.
- Become a Big Sister or CASA advocate or DS Buddy or coding tutor or whatever speaks to you.
- Meet more people through the programs and through your new friends.
- And maybe, eventually, invite someone amazing and deserving and who is a natural good fit for you to join you in the life you have created for yourself.

What I'm grieving is the distance of so many friends I've loved over the years. They're spread all over the world. What I really want is to bring them together, but they're all committed to their own families by now. I want to approach some of those families about something like co-housing, but I don't know how to broach the topic.

Acknowledge that grief and honor those past relationships but don't romanticize them for the safety and intimacy you remember and hope for. A committed relationship with a family that lives far away would require considerable personal and economic sacrifice on your part to move there, and their relationship with you would be secondary at best to the primary relationships they have already chosen to establish with each other.
posted by headnsouth at 6:33 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]

I want to comment mainly to say:

1. What you want is possible.
2. Stay fluid in what you are open to, because some of the best things in life are not what you could have predicted.

In my 20s, I sort of figured I would eventually live with a partner. I'm now in my 40s, and I have not done so, yet, and, in fact, I would be very hesitant to do so. I love living with friends; I think shared households rock. But I like keeping the work of romance and the work of making a home separate.

I currently live in a house that I share with friends who are a married couple and their kids. This arrangement will likely end sometime in the next few years when they move away, and at that time, I hope to move in with one of my best friends and her kids. She and I are both in romantic partnerships but not living with any of our partners, and I think we both see our friendship as more stable-ly entwined than any of our romantic relationships.

How did I get here? I hang out with weirdos: queer folks, poly folks, activists, etc. Building a curious friend network of people who are not wed to the norm has really opened up a lot of options for me.

I also don't love dating sites; they really flatten personality, and I literally cannot tell if the chemistry will be good, even when someone's profile gets me excited. I met some awesome people at a recent anti-racism workshop series I attended; you might look for similarly progressive gatherings that have a sort of limited time-frame, so people will be engaged for the time they're going (as opposed to an every week meetup, which I think it can be hard for people to motivate to attend, even when they're excited about it).
posted by spindrifter at 10:07 AM on March 21

Thanks everyone. I came to MeFi because I knew people here would have unusual answers, and this is a good start.

I think my questions are actually about how I find some of the things mentioned above (some things had good pointers. Thanks for the reminder about Quaker communities). How do I find intentional communities? Or queer parents? Anyone have links to good networks? Fostering I've got a better lead on, since people here have linked to Fosterhood.

"Don't romanticize past relationships" and "offer to babysit" were particularly useful input, thanks.
posted by Oda_a_los_calcetines at 2:59 PM on March 25

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