Why I live in my co-worker's attic

RELATIONSHIPS | Stella Udeozor | 6 mins

After living with four kids for the last year, I have two major takeaways.

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One, kids suck. Two, I can’t freaking wait to have my own.

I remember the first time my co-worker, Joel, asked me if I would be interested in living in his attic. OK, that sounds really creepy. Let’s go with the “upper level” of his family home.

The first thought that came to mind was: “Live with you and your family? Um, no thanks. I’m a grown-a** woman.”

Don’t worry. My actual response was phrased a lot more politely than that. I respectfully declined, then swiftly walked away.

Joel and his wife, Kerry, are the parents of four beautiful children: Lyla (9), Olive (8), Petra (3), and Oscar (2). About four years ago, they started renting the upper level of their four-story urban home to two tenants. For them, it’s a tool to share Jesus with single women, earn extra income, and be vulnerable by opening their home to expose the good, the bad, and the reality of parenthood. The space consists of two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a shared living space. No private entrance. No separate kitchen. We live together, share meals together, cry together. All the things.

I know what you might be thinking. I was thinking the same thing. Who in their right mind would want to move in with a family with completely different DNA and children that are still learning their ABCs?

When Joel first asked, I was fresh off the graduation stage and eager to excel in my new career. A few weeks into my job I convinced myself that I was ready to take on the world, meet Mr. Right, and start having babies. I was wrong.

It might have looked like I was owning my autonomy. I had 1,000 square feet that I could (barely) call my own, two hand-me-down couches, and enough money in my bank account to split a Chipotle bowl across two meals a day. It’s fair to say I was a dignified hot mess.

Several months after Joel asked me to live with them, I started to reconsider his offer. However, my pride convinced me not to bother bringing it up. Mysteriously, a few days after the thought crossed my mind, an email came across my inbox: “Something to Consider.”

There it was, the second ask. This time my response was different. Six months later, I had six new roommates. I have not looked back since.

I’ve never learned so much in 365 days.

Being raised does not teach you how to raise kids of your own.
Many people enter parenthood with undressed wounds from their childhood and a resolution that they are going to be “better parents” than their own. If not for this past year, I would have been one of those people.

I grew up in a single parent household that was full of love, and I was raised very well. But the hard truth lingers that my parents made mistakes that I’m still paying for today.

We all say we won’t make the same mistakes as our parents. But the truth is that if we don’t know any different, that’s exactly what we’ll do. I’ve learned that I need to confront my junk from childhood to prevent scarring my future children the same way.

As an adult, there’s something novel about watching two adults train their kids. I am constantly growing by observing, noting do’s, don’ts, and maybe’s. These are notes you don’t take when you’re the one being parented.

I won’t enter parenthood with a fear that I will fail. I already know I will. But I now have practical tools to bounce back. I understand what grace looks like. There will be a lot less time trying to figure out what to do and more time building character in my kids.

Home-cooked meals are better than homestyle fries at Chili’s.
Between kids climbing on the table, broccoli flung on the floor, and whining over too much spice, connection happens over sharing meals. Sharing these moments has changed my perspective. Learning to cook healthy meals means quality time with family, free of screens or distractions, and saying grace together.

Family is a more dynamic word than you might think.
Three of Joel and Kerry’s four kids are adopted and of a different race than their parents. God never intended for the word family to be restricted to shared blood. This is not a case for adoption, but rather a challenge to learn what unconditional love looks like.

Opening your home to people who don’t look like you is extremely difficult. I’ve never witnessed so many meltdowns, identity crises, and healing in the midst of crazy in my life. It teaches you how to love, even when it’s extremely painful. That is not something you get from living alone in an apartment watching Netflix all night.

I get a front row seat to the chaos that is parenthood. And it’s awesome.
Joel and Kerry are by no means perfect parents, and that’s the beauty of living with them. Nobody’s perfect. But there are two extreme ends of the parenting spectrum that cast a false perception from the outside. One end tells you that kids are needy monsters who suck the life out of their parents. The other end paints a picture of parenthood as a glamorous Instagram feed with tiny baby Adidas shoes and rosy cheeks.

Both are lies.

It’s messy, it’s fun, it’s crazy, it’s confusing, it’s the single greatest adventure that I can’t wait to embark on. Having this exposure at 24 years old has literally changed the trajectory of my life.

To all my single adult friends who aspire to one day start a family, choose a family to learn from. Seriously, living with a family is one of the best decisions you will make in your single years.

To all my parent friends, consider opening your home to a young’un that might grow from doing life with you. No pretense, no filter. Expose them to the realities of life after “I do.”

I understand it’s not 100% realistic to assume everyone has an opportunity like this waiting for them. But I would encourage you, no matter what life stage you’re in, to surround yourself with people who are in a different stage of life. Get all up in their junk. Not only can you grow from them, but I guarantee you will have much to offer in return.

In a culture that glamorizes the lone wolf, dare to choose community.

If you’d like to try this type of shared living, but you don’t know where to start or who to ask, let us know by clicking here.

Written by Stella Udeozor on Aug 17, 2018