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Babies @ Radish: The early review
.... some personal experience about having kids while living with friends
Co-writing this one with my wife Kristen.
We built Radish to be a great place to have kids. The idea was 15-20 adults, a handful of kiddos, spread across a cluster of buildings in Oakland, sharing meals and a life together.
In the first two years, that was all theory … there were no kids when we started. But then on a single evening in 2021, two different couples announced (on the same night, with the same due date, by total coincidence) that they were pregnant. And we entered a new chapter.
Radish now has 4 babies under the age of 2 years. One is our baby girl Rae.
So what’s the verdict?
People talk about the first year of having a kid as extraordinarily challenging. I feel like a bit of a jerk for saying this, but it’s been much easier than advertised for us. And we think our living situation plays a huge role in this.
Of course, it took a lot of upfront work to make this year easy. Building a community is hard. None of this came for free. But the payoff is there.
We’ve had to give up very little in our life to make room for our kid. We still eat dinner with friends every night of the week. We go out on a whim. And our baby girl has a whole clan of admirers.
Living situation is not the only variable here. We are fortunate to have an easy-going baby (a variable you can’t really control) and can afford daytime childcare. But I’d credit half of the ease to the living setup.
Our approach: Parallel parenting, not co-parenting
We describe Radish’s approach as “parallel parenting.”
We try to live life together, we support each other, but no one has explicit responsibilities over someone else’s kid.
Other communities have gone further down the spectrum of co-parenting, where the non-biological parents take some portion of true parenting responsibilities. We commend this (and would welcome anyone to describe their experience on this newsletter), but it seemed like one step too complex for us.
Baby Happy Hour
The babies are in childcare until about 5:30pm. They go to sleep at 7pm.
From 5:30-7pm, it’s Baby Happy Hour.
Everyone knows the babies will be out. And people come out to the lawn to hang with them. Drinks are made, ping-pong is played, and babies are fawned over.
The tradition is one of our favorite institutions in our new life as parents. And a perfect capstone to the work day. A moment of shared joy for everyone.
What’s surprised us (positively)
Biggest surprise: The non-parents really like having babies around.
We had a fear that when babies started showing up, all the people not in that mindset would leave. Who wants to live with some boring families exchanging notes on diaper sizes?
It turns out that pretty much everyone loves being an auntie or uncle for about 30 minutes per week.
They get a rent-a-child. They get to understand roughly what it means to have a kid. They get to skim all the good parts but don’t have to take responsibility for the bad parts. It’s a pretty good deal!
In the words of one parent: “17 humans = 17 ways to entertain your kid that aren't an iPad”
The ease and joy of “Baby Monitor Distance" after 7pm
Once the babies start reliably sleeping through the night, one of the big unexpected benefits shows up: Being within Baby Monitor Distance.
“Baby Monitor Distance” means living close enough to people that you can toss them a baby monitor and they can keep an eye on your kid (while they are sleeping) from the comfort of their own home. If something happens, they can pop over in <2 mins.
This means we are free after 7pm whenever want to be.
Having 17 people within Baby Monitor Distance means we don’t have to get a babysitter when we go out. We put the kid to bed, hand someone the baby monitor, and have a night to ourselves whenever we want and without any pre-planning.
And when I say “no pre-planning,” I mean no pre-planning. We walk into the communal kitchen say “who wants the monitor tonight?” and someone always raises their hand.
It’s not much of an imposition on the other person either. They just have to carry a device around in their own home (doing whatever they might have been doing anyways).
We do this at least 1x a week if not more - if we had to hire a babysitter for this, we’d be paying $120 more a week or $6k a year (not to mention the logistical annoyances).
What’s been challenging
The space needs of young families are different than couples. Our ability to flex up in space as people suddenly need more of it is limited.
Most families go from wanting a 1br apartment or single room to suddenly wanting 2-4 bedrooms. And that’s not something that’s easy to conjure up, even with 9 months notice.
We ended up adding some capacity by building a new building for one couple (they co-designed it... topic for a future post … ). Another couple bought the place next door as it happened to come up for sale. For the next one, we may reconfigure an existing space by combining rooms.
But if a a few more babies show up, it’s not clear we’ll be able to conjure up more real estate. And building a new building every time someone has a kid is impractical.
Coordination on childcare.
We thought we’d be able to easily run a daycare out of Radish and hire a single caretaker for all the kids. It turns out that coordination of needs and timing is tricky.
One family had to start a few months earlier because they were going back to work. Also the kid’s ages don’t line up exactly right. So we’ve all ended up in different childcare situations during the daytime even though we live together. We may try to coordinate on this when they get older, but have found it doesn’t always line up.
Childproofing communal spaces (primary designed for adults) is tricky. As a parent, you don’t control the space. There are competing and non-compatible uses. Dangerous stuff gets left out.
We’ve solved this by trying to make one space “the baby space” and de facto leaving some of the heavier trafficked areas (e.g. the communal kitchen) as adults only (or children under heavy supervision). This detente might stop working once the kids are more mobile, but seems to work for now.
Making it easy, making it great
People think living with others is about making your life harder.
In our experience, it’s been making our lives easier.
We cook less than once a week, we have a 17 OSOs to help with tasks, we don’t need to coordinate babysitters.
Sure we have some extra meetings, coordination, and LLC management. But net/net, life is just easier. And freer. And richer.
Even with a newborn, we see friends 5-7 nights a week. We go out to dinners and parties on a whim. And we have a dozen friends who are invested in our kid, share in their milestones, and feel 100% comfortable watching them for a hour or even a weekend.
All in all, we feel very fortunate.
And it has us wondering what it would take to make it this easy and this good for more people.
Can’t build a Radish? Don’t want to live with 17 people? There are easier versions of this…
Radish was difficult to put together, but there are simpler arrangements that might get you 50-80% of the benefit.
The first is simply choosing to live very close (like within 2 minute walk, max …) of another friend or family member in a similar life stage. I believe this is the highest bang-for-buck life hack out there … particularly with young kids.
Having even one "Baby Monitor Distance” friend can be a huge boon to your lifestyle.
Baby monitor distance is also “pop by unannounced distance” or “borrow some sugar” distance or “walk over in pajamas” distance. It’s that low friction distance that you might associate with life in a college dorm, where scheduling and logistical overhead didn’t dominate your life.
And it’s the best amenity you can possibly add to your living stuation.
Sneak preview: LiveNearFriends
In this spirit, I am launching something in the next couple weeks to help people live near friends. Think Zillow: But oriented around where you friends live rather than what houses have the nicest countertops. Want to be a beta user? Give me a shoutout at email@example.com
Curious about living with friends, coliving or co-buying? Find more case studies, how tos, and reflections at Supernuclear: a guide to coliving. Sign up to be notified as future articles are published here: