The Yellow HouseJan 12, 2014 10:00AM ● By Mandy Mowers
Buckingham-Weibel is a junior in college. On Jan. 15, 2009, just a few days before he turned 16, his three siblings and his mom moved into a house with his aunt and uncle and their five kids. A few months later, his uncle’s sister and brother-in-law joined them. Nine kids—now 10—and five adults have made a home in The Yellow House.
The oldest of the kids, Buckingham-Weibel was all for it when the families were deciding to move in together. The benefits, in his eyes, included getting to see his family on a daily basis, having cousins who are essentially more like younger siblings, and getting to watch them all grow up. “And you learn so much from everybody else in the house,” he adds. “There’s a lot of different life experience that everyone has had, so there’s a lot to learn.”
The appeal of shared parentingWas it kind of like having five parents? “Well, there’s a lot of accountability, and you really don’t get away with a whole lot,” he says.
That adjustment to the number of parents was one worry that his mom, Amy Lee, had when making this decision. Recently widowed, Lee had become a single parent. “I was concerned about them going from having two parents to one parent to three parents—or three adults in their life every day, nagging them about cleaning their room or whatever. And it ended up being more than three. It’s five,” she says with a laugh.
This idea of community living came about one day while Lee helped her sister with some childcare. “Eric had died almost two years earlier, in July of 2005,” Lee says of her late husband. “In that two years, my sister had two babies.” That’s in addition to the three kids her sister already had. “So she had needed help one day to take her kids to the doctor or something. And I had gone over and helped her.”
That day made her sister wish that Lee lived closer.
“Here I am, trying to figure out what it means to do life by myself. And here’s my sister trying to figure out how to deal with two small babies,” says Lee. “It was really just coming to this place of wanting to support each other. Moms with small kids get to feeling pretty isolated and alone. And moms who are widows get to feeling pretty isolated and alone.”
First the sisters talked about moving into the same neighborhood. However, when they started to look at the options, neither family’s needs could be accommodated in the other’s neighborhood. And that’s when the conversation turned to the two families buying a house together.
The hunt for a place that worked for everyone“We did some reading, we did a lot, a lot, a lot of talking, and we did a lot of praying,” Lee remembers. “And we decided: We’ll commit to five years.”
The house-buying process took a year and a half—“plenty of time for people to back out; plenty of space for the conversations we needed to have,” says Lee.
Those conversations included drafting a mission statement and other community documents that were specific about things like no extramarital affairs, no alcohol or drug abuse, and what “safe touch” meant. This ensured that they were all on the same page to start out.
In that time, “we looked at, gosh, hundreds of houses. And I’m not joking,” says Lee. They put offers on five other houses that didn’t work out for one reason or another. “Then winter hit. A bunch of houses dropped in pricing, and this house came more into our price range.”
The 3,600-square footage includes six bedrooms and two and a half baths, with expansive front and back yards. “It’s definitely more space than I could ever take care of on my own,” says Lee. But it was perfect for a community living space. (And it’s even been approved by the Omaha Planning Department.)
Adults No. 4 and 5, Amanda and Chad Knihal, were invited to consider living in this community shortly thereafter. As a couple planning to have kids, “I was pretty confident that, if we had children, I would want to stay home with them,” says Amanda. “And the idea of having two other moms who were also at home at that time was really exciting.”
The two years that the Knihals originally committed to went quickly, and now it’s been almost five. The Knihals had a baby last August and have been getting a lot of questions about whether or not they’ll stay in The Yellow House. For now, anyway, Amanda says, “This is just where we live—this is home.”
The payoff of a family that’s closer than everLee has loved having the Knihals around. Before they had a baby and became “real adults,” they were a great bridge between Lee and her teenagers. “Close enough to those teen years that they remember what it’s like, but adult enough to understand where I’m coming from,” Lee says.
And, as far as parenting goes, “I learn all the time from them—all four of them—even though I’ve been parenting longer,” Lee says.
“I really value that my kids get to live with other adults, especially married people. That they get to see two couples who love each other and who respect each other and who work together. They wouldn’t have gotten to see that if we didn’t do this. I think that’s really valuable in life,” Lee says, tears welling up. “On the flip side of that, it’s been surprising to me how that makes me miss Eric a lot, to watch that.”
Lee’s biggest concern in all this was moving the kids out of the house that they lived in with their dad. “That place carried so many memories for them—for us all,” she says. “And it was hard. It was hard to leave there. They’d already been through a lot of change, and so to put them through another one…I was really concerned about that.”
When she asked the kids about it, they had some questions, but they seemed very positive and interested. And the ways that the cousins have bonded have made it all worthwhile.
“I had hoped that our kids would be close,” Lee says, “but I feel like they really have forged some strong friendships. That kind of stuff anchors you in life. When you have made movies and played games and roasted marshmallows and skated with sparklers on the ice rink in the back yard—what were we thinking? Oh my gosh.”
Traditions like these are what make a house a home, and The Yellow House has no shortage of them. Winter Olympics on that same ice rink, playing Sardines with all the lights off, and countless celebrations mark the passing years. Five will have come and gone in January.
“I’m really grateful for family who were willing to try something that, for our country, is out of the ordinary,” Lee says. “I know it’s not for everybody, but I think more people should try it.”