When our oldest child, Stephen, was 7 he was invited to spend a night in the hotel room of his visiting grandparents. I expected our middle child Daniel, then 5, would be excited to be the sole occupant of their shared bedroom.
However, as bedtime approached Daniel looked increasingly anxious. Eventually he took me aside and broke the news that he might have trouble sleeping. “It’s just that every time I look at the closet I think of Scary Green Guy, and Stephen won’t be here to help me feel better.”
You probably know Scary Green Guy as the Incredible Hulk. On a trip to Target department store, Daniel had seen the Incredible Hulk emblazoned on a 3-pack of boys underwear. That image was quickly seared into Daniel’s young mind and soon stood in for all scary figures lurking in dark closets.
After Daniel and I discussed his worries about sleeping, I realized he’d become comfortable sleeping on the lower bunk under his big brother. As Stephen turned during the night the beds swayed slightly, and this regular movement soothed Daniel, reminding him his brother was near.
Daniel’s experience was reassuring to me because having our boys share a bedroom was not always easy. When asked to dress in the morning, they often happily ignored us and wrestled in their pajamas for another 15 minutes.
We’d established personal places in the room for each boy’s things, and then set up rules about not raiding a brother’s belongings. Then there were the times one boy wanted to fall asleep to music while the other wanted silence. Or when one had a bad cough at night. And sharing a bedroom meant sharing a small half-bathroom as well.
Some days our sons’ room sharing seemed more a liability than an asset. But at that time we had no other option.
Then one day I decided to adjust my attitude about the challenges of sibling room sharing. I painted a plaque with the phrase “Close Quarters Create Close Families” and hung it centrally. Soon I began to notice the benefits of our situation more than the problems.
Sharing a bedroom required my sons to:
- Regularly negotiate with each other. (light on or off? window open or shut?)
- Be more alert to their roommate’s daily moods. Perhaps this occurred because sharing a room means you cross paths more each day. But I think the boys also realized that things ran more smoothly when they noticed the other’s mood.
- Practice patience regularly. When you share a bedroom and bathroom, you learn to wait your turn. And by necessity, you generate ways to pass the time while waiting.
- Be very comfortable with each other. The decade of room sharing in my sons’ lives has so far been the time they were closest as brothers and friends.
Our lives include various types of social relationships. One of the draws of connecting with others online is that you can control many aspects of this contact. You can wait and watch before you enter an ongoing conversation. Then you can type a message exactly as you want to say it. In these relationships you control the level of intimacy.
This is the opposite of what kids sharing a bedroom must learn to manage. When you’re at your most fatigued you still have to negotiate with your roommate. He sees you at your best and your worst. It’s messy, awkward, and challenging, but it’s real life. Visions of college dorms or marriage down the road?
One day as I walked through my boys’ room, I noticed Stephen had pinned a drawing to their wall. He was in his architect phase, and he’d drawn a good-sized house, complete with ample deck and small attic room, labeled: The House Stephen and Daniel Will Live in When They Grow Up. A sweet 8 year-old sentiment embodying their closeness at the time.
Looking at Stephen’s house drawing, I thought of the recent trend in new home construction with separate suites for each occupant. I can understand being initially attracted to this floor plan, but thinking of what my boys were learning by sharing a room, I realized this type of house wouldn’t work for me.
It would be too easy to lose touch with my family’s day to day ups and downs if each evening we retreated to our individual spaces to watch a movie on our own TV, or play computer games or check Facebook in our separate bedrooms. Even reading in our own rooms could be lonely. There would be no one with whom to share the funny or poignant parts of the book.
As with young Daniel’s experience, it’s comforting simply being in a room together with space for casual conversation. We are social animals after all.
The summer Stephen turned 12 we transformed part of our basement into a bedroom (a DIY story in itself). After Stephen’s move downstairs there was less jostling, fighting, wrestling, and bickering. Our family life became a bit easier and quieter.
Each child has had their own room for a while at this point, and I find I must work harder to get people to congregate in our cozy living room. Sometimes Todd or I lure the children in with food, then keep them there with a board game or chapter book. Lately we’ve been reading from David Quammen’s book of biology essays, The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature or playing the game “Truth Be Told”. But fighting the forces of family dispersion takes energy.
Now that my kids are in or near adolescence, I can see that keeping them connected to each other will be increasingly challenging in upcoming years. I find myself remembering that small bedroom filled with bunk beds, 2 desks, and 2 bookshelves with sweeter and fonder memories than ever.
Did you share a room as a child? What are your memories – good or bad – of this time? Leave a comment below!