As a parent, it’s tough not to compare your family to other families and wish that you could give your kids more.
Our family has always had enough, but we live humbly — at least compared to other families near us. We rent a 1,000-square-foot duplex. We’ve got a living room/dining room, a family room, and two small bedrooms. It’s pretty much perfect for our family of four, but it’s smallish, and it means that our two sons must share a room.
When we first moved in, our youngest child was still a baby and still slept with us, so sharing a room wasn’t really an issue, and we let our older son have the second bedroom. I knew that at some point the boys would share a room, but I thought maybe we’d use the family room as a third bedroom, or something like that.
I delayed making any real plans for them to share for a few years actually (our little guy co-slept with us forever). The truth was, I kind of worried about the prospect of them sharing a room.
I felt guilt that they couldn’t have their own spaces, like so many of my friends’ kids did. I worried about what would happen when the older one reached puberty — would he absolutely need his own space? Would sharing a room make my kids fight like cats and dogs? Would they end up hating each other for life? Would they compare themselves to their peers and feel ashamed that we didn’t have enough money for a bigger home?
And then, as I heard myself making all of these excuses, I realized that none of my worries were based in reality. They were just that: worries. And what I needed to do was stop stressing myself out and just take the plunge and see what happened.
So I told my older son few months ago that his little brother was moving in. There were some protests on his part, but actually fewer than I expected. I presented it to him like we were going to turn his room into a “Brothers Den” — a cool hangout for just the two of them. He had some requests: bean bag chairs, lava lamps, and a TV so he and his brother can play video games in their room. We moved some things around and made it work, and I was happy to see their excitement building as their space came together.
It wasn’t all fun and games of course. When two kids have to share a space, things clutter up quickly, and there’s just no room for lots of extra kid junk. So we cleaned out the closets, sorted through the toy bins, and cleared out floor space to make sure both of them would have room for their clothes and prized treasures without feeling claustrophobic.
Now they are a few months into their big move, and I can honestly say I have no clue why I resisted the idea in the first place. It’s the best thing, like evah.
It’s not perfect of course. There has been some whining and protesting and tattling associated with them sharing a space (though not more than there had been before), but the benefits have far outweighed any inconveniences or headaches. So, for anyone who is considering the merged bedroom whether out of necessity or “just because,” I will tell you that I can now recommend this setup.
Bonding between brothers can sometimes look exactly like an all-star wrestling match, but it’s bonding nonetheless. And no matter how your kids do it, being forced to live in close quarters means that they’re going to have no choice but to be close, however that plays out.
I don’t know about you, but my best memories from childhood aren’t just the most picture perfect times I spent with my family. It was just time spent — being, doing, living our lives together in the most basic, real ways. And now that my kids are sharing a room, there will be ample opportunities for them to create these kinds of everyday memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.
Having no other choice but to deal with conflicts
Part of my hesitation about my kids sharing a room was that I didn’t want them to have to deal with the potential conflicts that would arise. But I see now that being forced to deal with them is exactly the kind of life lessons my kids need to learn. Yep, sometimes someone is going to grab your stuff. Someone is going to be annoying. And sometimes you’re just going to need a few minutes alone to gather yourself. How do you create boundaries and advocate for your own needs while not being a total jerk? My kids aren’t experts at this yet, but at least they’re getting more opportunities to practice.
Learning to declutter and clean up your stuff
Sharing a small space means my kids have to be very selective about what stuff they can keep around. I do my fair share of combing through (i.e., trashing) their toys when they’re not home. But now they’re learning on their own to let go of stuff they really don’t need or want. Also? Their space is small enough that I am leaving them with no choice but to put their damn socks in the laundry basket and clean those freaking Legos off the floor.
The important lessons of a more humble lifestyle
My children understand that although they may not have as much space as some kids they know, they are blessed with a hell of a lot more than other kids who live with much less. This Christmas I told my youngest that not all children in the world get Christmas gifts. “What?!” he said. He was actually floored by the unfairness of that. This was all it took for him to happily declutter his closet full of toys and donate the unwanted ones to kids in need.
So if you’re on the fence like I was about whether to cram you kids into a room together, just do it. The benefits far outweigh the potential pitfalls, and even the difficult aspects end up teaching your children that life is about compromise, grit, learning to overcome conflict — and most off all, that living in close proximity to those you love can be an amazing, beautiful thing.