Coparenting: A lifestyle innovation from our broke middle class

Economic necessity and growing isolation are making some middle-class families try coparenting, explains author Alissa Quart.

Alissa Quart: So part of why this is such a problem in America right now is the cost of childcare. Right now it can be up to 30 percent, even 38 percent of a middle class family’s salary. We’re talking in New York City or in New York, $10,000 to $30,000 per year. So if you thinking oh a middle class salary is between $42,000 and $125,000 that’s a huge chunk of anybody’s earnings, so how are we going to take care of our kids? How can we actually pay to have children?

So one strategy to some of the people that I spoke to they just had one child or some of the people I spoke to weren’t parents yet and they wanted to be. Like a schoolteacher who drove Uber on the side in San Francisco, and what—he made what in other places would be a middle class salary, but because of the cost of living and the cost of rent he had to take a roommate, he had to put off having a family, he was in his 40s and he had to drive Uber where he was grading papers while he was at a stoplight.

I talked to a black educator and someone—she calls herself indigenous, other people would call her Native American—and they both had started this something they call co-family life, which would mean that they’re living in collective housing with other families with children. And partially the reason they did this was because their parents, having been working class African-Americans and indigenous people, didn’t own homes due to the history of racism. So they had to instead rent in expensive cities like outside Boston. So what they did was they shared their homes with other families and raised their kids together, fed their kids together, did pick-up and drop-off together. None of them were involved romantically. And this went on for many years. And it’s a new trend called the co-parenting that I write about in Squeezed.

There’s one way we can say “Oh this is bespoke and depressing,” like “We’re throwing back on ourselves, we have to parent collectively and barter and trade because our government doesn’t take care of us.”

But another way to think about it is it could be revolutionary, like this is a new family formation where you don’t have to be romantically or biologically connected to other parents but you could still live together in a community with them and share cost of living but also responsibility.

I met a bunch of them and I was actually really envious it’s like – a lot of middle-class life is pretty isolated, so I think things like co-parenting in some ways it’s two birds with one stone, because it’s like there’s the isolation and then there’s the economic frugality of being a middle class family.

So it’s an economic necessity, co-parenting; there will be people who are computer programmers who I met, or a teacher, or other kinds of professions. Like they weren’t a social worker, they were classic middle-class jobs. But because of the expense of these cities and also because of some of the isolation of being part of a middle-class family now, where you might not be near your biological family, these co-parenting formations were like really kind of beautiful in a lot of ways. I mean I also saw the dark side, because definitely some of those collectives didn’t last. It was hard.

  • Economic necessity and growing isolation are making some middle-class families try coparenting, explains author Alissa Quart.
  • Is the practice of sharing living spaces and parenting responsibilities across families a depressing trend or a "revolutionary" adaptation?

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