Mommie Dearest: Sister Wife-ing It Up

I used to watch TLC’s “Sister Wives” — a reality show about a Mormon household with one husband, four wives, and a combined 17 children =- with a mix of shame, incredulity, and, dare I say it, jealousy. While I couldn’t imagine sharing my husband like that, there was something appealing about the way the Brown family came together to support each other, living out the concept of “it takes a village,” and redefining what family means. Push aside the inherently sexist concept of religious male-centric polygamy for a second, and there is something really beautiful about a group of adults coming together to help raise a family.

I only have one kid, but even I can appreciate the village analogy in today’s world where “having it all” is something still pushed but rarely achieved. And due to the appeal, I have even experimented with the whole sister wife concept to varying degrees. When I first had my son, I took some time off work. My husband was working a job that took him to a new location almost daily, keeping him away from the home for up to 15 hours sometimes. As for me? I was home with a newborn, finishing up my Masters and itching for adult conversation. I started hanging out with another new mom — a woman I had met in a prenatal yoga class. Her husband had a similar, wonky schedule and we soon found ourselves spending our days, and occasionally nights together.

We ran errands together, folded laundry together, cooked together, ate together, and there was even that time I nursed her daughter … It was a sister-wife match made in heaven, only we each had our own husbands and didn’t share. I truly think that it was that friendship that helped me survive the delicate and fragile postpartum time. Our friendship is still going strong, and we actually toss around the “sister-wife” moniker whenever we find ourselves introducing the other to somebody.

A couple of years ago, my sister-wife had a second child, who I lovingly refer to as my timeshare baby. While it doesn’t placate my mother’s insistence that I have another child, regardless of our “one and done” stance, it’s perfect for me. Baby J (who is now a delicious toddler) and I spend quality time together, and I get all of the baby fun without any of the sleepless nights, crappy diapers, or wailing meltdowns. And, not a week goes by that we’re not swapping kids, allowing each couple to have some kid-free time while our own kids have playdates at the other house. This sister-wife thing is pretty rad, and I’ve found that extends in both directions.

My husband has this friend — a single man in his late-30s that he’s known since high school. He was a groomsman in our wedding, and despite his uprooted lifestyle and nomadic tendencies, we can always count on seeing him occasionally throughout the year. In the last month or two he’s found his way into our lives with increasing frequency. He’ll come up and stay, sometimes for a night or perhaps three or four. What could be seen as an unexpected houseguest has turned into a “brother husband” (Yeah, that’s not going to catch on like sister wife. We need a better name).

In return for a place to sleep, this friend does the dishes, takes the dog out for walks, plays endless games of Uno with my son — long after I would have thrown in the towel, and is one more adult in the house to spread the responsibility around to. In fact, in a few weeks I have to head out of town for work. Our friend said he’d happily come fill in, taking our son to school, our dog out on walks, and figure out dinner plans for the family, making this work trip easier on everyone, parent and child alike.

Now, of course, my husband and I are perfectly capable of managing everything without the help of our “sibling spouses,” but that’s not the point. We’re living in a society where people continue to isolate themselves, and put less and less energy and importance into relationships with those around them. That just won’t do for us. For my only child, he gets to experience the benefits of a larger family, only one that isn’t legally or blood related.

In fact, I have handfuls of friends who talk about their “chosen” families. The people in their lives who they consider closer than actual parents or siblings. These are the ones that they exchange holiday gifts with, celebrate milestones with, turn to in times of crisis in more. Some of them no longer have blood relations still living, while others have chosen to sever ties with biological families for a variety of reasons. They’ve all created their own amalgamation of what family means, and for many, they are as close — if not closer — than some nuclear families I know. In a world where trying to make mom friends feels like falling back into middle school, I will continue to cherish my village made up of various sibling spouses.