We’re About to Turn Friends into a Pod Family During Coronavirus. Are We Fools?

Two families look to join forced in quarantine. Is this a good idea or misguided utopian vision? The Goodfather weighs in.

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We need support in raising our kids. We need socialization for our sanity. So we’re moving into our friends’ home because a) it’s bigger than ours and b) we all agreed it would be best for us to unite and become one big pod family. I think it’s going to be awesome. We have kids of similar ages, we get along, I get to live with my friends… hell, it’s something we maybe do from here on out. Why live the lonely home life when we can have babysitting, friends, and playdates all in one?

My wife thinks I’m too sunny on this utopian vision. She believes that our kids will get sick of those kids and it will all sour and that we’ll get sick of each other and then get, like, ugly. Is there something I’m missing? What will make this successful?

Pod-Curious from Pittsburgh

I’d never heard of the word “pod family” until a friend of mine from Brooklyn brought it up. From what I understand it’s basically communal living on a limited scale, but made specifically for quarantine times because both families are committing to isolating themselves from the larger community to protect from coronavirus transmission.

Based solely on that basic explanation of “pod families,” I’m completely in favor of the idea. You’re right: We all need support right now — kids and parents alike. From the broadest perspective, teaming up with a like-minded family of people you honestly enjoy is a damn good way to get a bit more of that support. But I also understand that people, especially modern American people, aren’t particularly primed to live life in a collectivist and egalitarian community. We tend to have strong opinions and ideals, particularly when it comes to parenting and how we run our own homes.

I get that you believe your two families will coalesce into a wonderfully balanced melange of parenting philosophies and supportive values. However, I urge some caution. I think it’s important you double down on your communication skills before, during, and after you pod up. Many a utopian dream has crumbled when exposed to the corrosive nature of interpersonal conflict, misaligned expectations, and bad communication.

Notably there are plenty of cultures for whom communal living works really well. Fans of paleolithic parenting often point to hunter-gatherer tribes as the apex of child-rearing. These tribes, be they the Kung! from Africa or the Aka from South America, are said to share parenting among tribe members. Children are rarely disciplined and rarely misbehave. Despite being given the greatest of consideration kids grow to be productive members who contribute meaningfully to the tribe. We should all be so lucky, right?

But the view of these communities is a touch rose-colored. I’ve been guilty of romanticizing these tribes too. But in our idealization, we forget that children in these tribes born “different” or disabled may be abandoned immediately. And children begin providing for their tribes basically from the moment they can walk — to the point that a 5-year-old will be resource neutral, meaning they provide as much as they consume. Besides that, the communities live or die on their ability to share resources. If they don’t share, they perish. Considering we can still find some hunter-gatherer bands in the world, you can imagine how deeply embedded these cultural norms are.

Here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A, we do not need to live in communal extremes in order to survive. We’ve got DoorDash and PoshMark and local pharmacies when shit goes sideways. We’re not used to being relied on and relying on others. Personally, I think it’s incredible that you’re going to embark on a grand pod experiment. But you’re going to need to get pretty damn serious about the rules for everything to work out.

Before you move house, sit down with your friends and make sure that you’re assumptions about how simpatico you are aren’t just based on the fact you both thought the last season of Game of Thrones was a fucking shit show. Everybody agrees on that. What everyone doesn’t agree on is how many hours of TV time kids should get, snacks between meals, whether gluten is the literal devil, or how much an adult can raise their voice for proper discipline.

That’s not even including the more sticky issues. When you pod up, do all parents have equal authority over all children? Will rules and discipline for kids be applied evenly? Do you have a game plan in place for explaining inconsistent parental approaches to your kids? Is there a chore chart in place, or some other way to make sure that household chores are being shared evenly? What are the other couples thoughts about alone time, recreational marijuana use, or drinking?

You may think you know the answers to these questions, but you need to progress from assumptions to assurances. The reason communal societies work is because they dismantle ambiguity. Everyone knows their role. They know what they are meant to contribute and they do so because they receive commensurate support.

Once you have all of that laid out, and you start living together, I suggest you make time for weekly check-ins. And don’t leave the kids out. What you perceive is working may not be working for your kids. So give them time to weigh in and then move on to the adult issues. Be open and be honest. Suspend judgement. If you want this thing to work you need to be willing to adapt. Listen carefully, and talk gently.

Look, the fact is that you’re going to be entering into a relationship that will have new and challenging dynamics. If you go in with the right preparation and the right attitude, it might be the best time of your life. I, for one, am rooting for you.

Just be safe and treat each other with love and respect.