Kids Sharing a Bedroom: Pros and Cons

by Suzita on May 10, 2012

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.

SOCIAL CONNECTIONS

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.

FAMILY 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.

SEPARATE BEDROOMS

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!

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie May 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I shared a room with my sister from the time I was a baby until 16 and I have such a close relationship with this sister. We both were bed wetters and we had an understanding that whoever wet the bed first could just climb in to the other’s bed (after taking our wet pj’s off, of course). :) It was sweet and comforting and not always perfect, but the imperfection of it all was perfect. Thanks for the entry — it was a great reminder of my fond childhood memories!

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Suzita May 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Yours is such a cute, thoroughly human, story of childhood! No wonder you and your sister continue to have a close bond.

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Corli May 14, 2012 at 9:06 am

I came here via Simple Mom – Thank you for this post! We recently downscaled to a two bedroom house, so now we have three children in one bedroom – age 10, 8 and 5. (The baby is still with us!) I had an inkling that it is not necessarily bad for them, in spite of generally horrified reactions from others, and this post was just what I needed – thank you!

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Suzita May 16, 2012 at 10:14 am

You’re so welcome!

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Katie May 14, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I also came via Simple Mom as I was drawn by the title of your post. I shared a room with my younger brother until I was 10, and my three daughters (5, 3 and 2) now share a room together. While sometimes I wish we had another room for our eldest as she ages, I am enjoying the closeness between the three girls as they sleep in the same room.

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Suzita May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

It’s a cute image, your three girls in one room. I’m sure they’ll look back on this time with fond memories some day.

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sherry May 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

We just moved from a very small house to a larger one, not huge by American standards, but big for us. I have to say we are all enjoying more elbow room right now, but the fact of the matter is that that isn’t (or at least hasn’t been for us) an option. I think that the most important thing, more than what size a house is, is being thankful for what we have at any given time.

I took away from your post that you are making the most of what you have and looking to the positive aspects of your life, and that’s where happiness comes from. (at least in my opinion!)

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Suzita May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

It’s like Grandma’s rule (one of them at least) – We need to learn to want what we have.

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becky@oursweetpeas May 16, 2012 at 6:29 am

I ALWAYS shared a room until my senior year of college when I got an apt. with friends and FINALLY had my own room. :) I have to say I think it helped me live with others more easily. I roomed with 2 separate college room mates who had never shared a room and it was VERY apparent. My twin 5 year old boys currently share a small room and unless we build one in the basement it will remain that way. I am sometimes conflicted about having them share such a small space but at this point they LOVE it and this article beautifully reinforces the fact that a lot of positive things can be taken away from learning to live in small quarters together.

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becky@oursweetpeas May 16, 2012 at 6:30 am

Just to clarify in my comment above I meant that SHARING a room all through my younger years prepared me to live easily with others.

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Jen@Creative and Curious Kids! May 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I shared a room with my sisters. We did fight a lot at children, but are very close as adults. My daughters share a room. They have bunk beds, but you will often find them in one bed snuggling. :) My oldest asks for her own room, but I have a feeling that she would end up somehow with her sister. They bicker for sure, but are also very protective of each other.

Jen

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Margot May 18, 2012 at 7:18 am

I’m the oldest of 4 girls and the mother of 2. As a child our room arrangements mirrored whatever the dynamic was between us at the time. My mother made it a point to be flexible in arranging our space and making the best out of whatever we had or preferred at the time. I plan for my 2 girls (3 and 18 mos) to start sharing a room near the end of the year. But I am definitely nervous about the transition. I find your post reassuring that the gain (learning compromise, familial intimacy) may just outweigh the cost (reduction of individual space, increased opportunity for conflict). Thanks for sharing!

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Lucy May 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm

I shared a room with my brother until I was almost 10 and we moved into a house with more than two bedrooms. After we got our own rooms, we missed each other so much that we had “slumber parties” for years. I’m kind of sad that my kids will never have that room-sharing experience. We bought a big house when the oldest was a toddler with the plan to fill it with children. Well, that’s not how it turned out. I have three kids and they each have their own room. I would have put them together anyway, but their birth order of boy-girl-boy made that more complicated. The oldest is now 11 and I just don’t see him being willing to share a room with his 6 year old brother. But at least they do the slumber parties like my brother and I did, and they do often sleep better, especially in the summer when they can do it every night. :)

Great post, btw. Came here from Simple Kids. :)

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Rachel June 18, 2012 at 8:59 am

I shared with my sister. I was younger, so I liked it. She was older, put up various dividers, and tried to keep our space separate. Still, we giggled at night together, played with each others’ friends, made boxes into forts, and just generally spent much more time than we would have in separate rooms. I agree with what you wrote and just the whole feel of sharing space. As Americans I think we’re indoctrinated to think bigger = better, and to become really dependent on privacy and not having to compromise. But the truth is, what you get from sharing space far outweighs the irritation. I think this is all part of the “New American Dream” idea (I think I found your site through them, actually).

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Suzita June 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for your comments on this and other posts! I’m going to go check out your blog now!

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Elizabeth July 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

My sis and I only had different rooms for maybe 2 yrs. when we were in our 20′s. We then again chose to share because we missed being together! My 3 brothers always shared, too. I believe it makes for better people! ( – : You gotta learn to compromise and get along!

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Elizabeth July 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I’m also a fan of smaller houses so the family congregates better. We had one living room and no family room. I believe it makes families closer! Also, less to clean and hopefully less room for unneeded possessions to accumulate!

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Tracy July 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Loved the reframing offered by this piece. I’m a single mother of 8 mo. old twins and am already finding myself having to consciously focus on the positive–that I own the 2-bedroom condo we live in, that we have food in the refrigerator, that we have many friends and family. It’s so great to hear some of the real positives, things I wish for my kids, that can come from what I have been fretting about—a small home and little likelihood of moving in the next few years. Thank you!

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Suzita July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Sometimes I think reframing is the answer to the majority of life’s problems! Although as you mention, the ideas in this most are more than a simple reframe. I’m glad they were helpful to you!

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Sorcha O'Connor July 26, 2012 at 9:50 am

I shared a room with my younger brother until I was 11. It used to be fun around Christmas, etc. when excitement was around, but when I passed the age of about 8 I began to hate sharing so much, and I resented all of my other friends with perfect pink little rooms. I was so embarrassed of friends coming over. My brother was messy, loud and annoyed me so much I used to cry all thr time about how much I wanted my own room. Now I’ve got my own room and I love it. I think I would kill him if I still had to share

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Alyssa January 13, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Before my sister was born, my younger brother and I (who are just under 3 years apart) each had our own rooms but never slept in them. When we were very small we would fall asleep head to foot each night. As we got a little older, my mom eventually bought my brother bunk beds in his room so we could continue our nightly sleepovers more comfortably. My younger sister, who is 9 years younger than me, has shared a bedroom with me on and off throughout her life. Most recently after I moved home from college. Even though we are older, I can say that we certainly have our disagreements over our shared space but overall I really don’t mind and it really has made us even closer. I’m glad I’ve had this time to spend with her before I move out again and she’s off to college. Parents, don’t be afraid to have your kids share rooms. It’s never going to be absolutely perfect but it is a great learning opprtinity and leads to a lot of opportunity to bond.

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