The concept of co-parenting — former spouses or partners making joint decisions about their children — isn’t new, but Elon Musk and his girlfriend, Grimes, are redefining the term.
In a Vanity Fair interview published Thursday, Grimes revealed that the couple —“I would probably refer to him as my boyfriend, but we’re very fluid”— have a non-traditional living arrangement. “We live in separate houses,” she told the publication. “We’re best friends. We see each other all the time.” They are raising their son, X AE A-Xii — known as X — and new daughter, Exa Dark Sideræl Musk — know as Y — together, but at different addresses. This was news to a lot of people, not least because Grimes had announced her seemingly permanent breakup from Musk back in September 2021, and had failed to mention that the two had welcomed a second child in the past few weeks.
A lot of people have a lot of thoughts on the arrangement Grimes described, but the question isn’t whether what they’re doing is right or wrong. It’s whether living apart is best for Musk and Grimes’ children. Studies like this one in Science Daily support the need for co-parents to work together on behalf of their children’s mental health.
When my ex-husband and I divorced after 20 years of marriage, we intentionally bought homes five blocks away from each other. Deciding to live in separate homes wouldn’t have altered our decision to dissolve our union, but welcoming each other into our homes at any time took the sting out of our new family dynamic — especially for our children, who were 13 and 15 at the time.
Our kids were able to walk back and forth from our homes. If they forgot something at my house, they could retrieve the item in minutes. My ex drove my children to school during the weeks my children were with me. During his weeks, I did the same. We set up our homes to make the weekly transition easy, with our children only needing to take their school backpacks with them.
From the moment we swapped house keys, my ex-husband and I felt comfortable spending time in each other’s homes. If I had a meeting in the evening, my ex came over to help with homework. Likewise, when my son was in high school, he asked if he could have an afternoon party at my house for a dozen friends. When I found out I was going to be out of town that weekend, his dad stepped in as the adult-in-charge, host, and the one grilling burgers and chicken at my house.
Our willingness to treat our homes as interchangeable places for our children confused our family and friends. “If you get along so well, why aren’t you still together?” friends and family asked. Musk and Grimes no doubt face similar questions, but as she told Vanity Fair, “We just have our own thing going on, and I don’t expect other people to understand it.”
The concept of couples living separately — or what filmmaker Sharon Hyman calls “apartners” — isn’t new. The more than 4,600 members of Hyman’s Facebook group, ranging in age from 35 to 54, discuss issues and share stories about this non-traditional option. “People have always felt there was only one way to do relationships,” Hyman told The Wall Street Journal. Clearly, thousands of people are now rejecting that idea.
As a former professional organizer, I spent 15 years playing referee and counselor to couples whose design tastes and packrat tendencies clashed. One partner’s side of the bedroom overflowed with books, while the other’s nightstand held a lamp and a glass of water. They bickered about cluttered family rooms, wet towels resting below the towel bar, and colorful knick-knacks packed into bookcases. While it was obvious they cared for one another, they would have benefited from living in different homes or at least having their own spaces to spread out and live according to their own level of organization.
Musk’s and Grimes’ two-house situation is noteworthy because the 50-year-old and 34-year-old have young children. A couple living apart within the same city or across the country wouldn’t cause a fuss and would possibly create envy in couples yearning for their own space. But rather than be a detriment to their children, they are doing their little ones a favor by not cohabiting. Their alternative? Share one home, unhappily co-exist, and provide their offspring with the model of a couple unable to function together.
If two people want to live separately while co-parenting, and living apart brings out the best in them, they should be allowed to do so without judgment. There is one caveat for people who perhaps aren’t quite as wealthy as billionaire Musk and multimillionaire Grimes: As housing prices continue to climb, these co-parents may face less of a challenge of deciding to live apart than being able to afford their new arrangement. But for some, the cost, their children’s sense of security, and all parties feeling a sense of peace may be worth the extra expense.
Lisa Kanarek is a Dallas-based writer working on a book titled “How to Co-Parent Without Going Crazy: Strategies to Avoid Stressing Out Your Kids”.