Together at last

Folks, I would love some comments on this topic.  Anything you have to chime in on any aspect of this post would interest me greatly.  I am thinking of writing an article on this, and I would love to gain some other perspectives.


Zachary has been having sleeping problems of late.  I’m not talking about the nightmares, which happen every now and then and send me stumbling to his room to comfort him.

Nor am I talking about the five AM trips to the toilet.  These began a few months ago because his brain is ready to nighttime train but his body and his courage are not quite there yet.  So, a year after he gave up daytime diapers, he still insists upon nighttime protection, despite the fact that he rarely wets and he wakes up when he needs to pee.  Unfortunately, that is all too often.  We have started lifting him to the potty a couple of hours after he falls asleep, in the hope that he will not then need to go again two hours before morning has officially been declared in the Rosenbaum house.  Sometimes this works, sometimes he wakes up to go again seven hours later.

This is OK.  Neither J nor I really care if he potty trains completely, other than the obvious hassle and environmental impact of unnecessary diapers.  (Those things can only be reused for so long, you know.)  We aren’t big fans of getting up to help him to the toilet, but it’s not too bad if he goes right back to sleep.

If he goes right back to sleep.

But he does not.  After four in the morning, if he wakes up, he dutifully gets back in bed, but every half hour to forty-five minutes, he re-emerges from his room.  He does not seem frightened, he is just out of his room.  He sits in the hallway at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to come out to him.  If we ignore him, he starts to whimper.  I suck at ignoring whimpering three-year-olds sitting in the dark.

We tried everything.  We tried sternness.  We tried gentleness.  We tried lights on.  We tried lights off.  We even tried reason (yes, yes, I know).

Because we are both incredibly intelligent people, it only took about three months of this before something dawned on me.  “Are you lonely in there?” I asked him.

“Yes.  I don’t like being alone in there.”  And why would he?  Benjamin gets to sleep in the room right next to ours.  Zachary is all the way down the hall.  His room may be bigger, it may be quieter, but it is lonely.

“Would you like to share a room with Benjamin?”

We did not grow up in households where the children shared rooms.  In suburban, middle-class homes in the 1980s, it was de rigueur to provide each child with his or her own room, provided one had the necessary child to bedroom ratio.  Since almost everyone we knew lived in a four or five bedroom house and had only two or three children, almost everyone we knew also had his or her own room.

“I never thought about having the boys share a room,” mused J.  He was not opposed; it just never occurred to him.  That, I suspect, has to do with the fact that we only know the family model in which we were raised – even me.  I obviously got that some things did not work right in my households of origin, but there are some ways of doing things that we never really think about when everyone we know does them.

Of course, sharing a bedroom with a sibling is actually a more common experience than not sharing one.  It is an absurd luxury to be able to afford enough space for each member of the family to have an entire room to himself.  Throughout the world, people share rooms and beds with siblings, grandparents, and cousins.  Until not that long ago (OK, a few centuries), people in Scotland voluntarily shared their homes with the livestock, under the theory that sheep are sort of like an organic heating system.

This is partly a class and geographical phenomenon, but even children of well-to-do architects bunked together in the 1960s.  Alice, you will recall, was the only person in the Brady household to have her own room.

It is not that we thought children are better off with their own room.  Emily Dickinson had her own room, and, while I will admit she penned some mighty fine poetry while holed up there for a few decades, that’s really not the life we want for our boys.  We just never thought about doing it any other way than one child/one bedroom.

Sometimes, we consciously reject the things with which we grew up.  After learning about the benefits of whole wheat bread, for example, I have a brown breadricepasta household.  However, most habits are benign, and there seems to be little purpose to seeing beyond them unless someone challenges them.  But, we get very easily closed into a box in which we do not understand the myriad options for living a life.

One Sunday, back when Melissa and I were still on speaking terms, I was up visiting her in Boston.  “I wonder why the streets are so empty,” she said.

“Church hasn’t gotten out yet,” I suggested.

“No one goes to church anymore,” she laughed.  She thought I was kidding.  I was living in North Carolina and Virginia.  Trust me – people still go to church and the roads really are emptier on Sunday until a bit before noon.

It is in raising children, more than any other aspect of our lives, that we find ourselves unconsciously adopting the norms of our childhoods unless we consciously think about changing them.  So, while we thought about the pros and cons of co-sleeping before (quickly) determining that it was not right for us, we never really thought about whether the boys would share a room when they got older.

Here in London, I have few English friends.  It would be awfully lonely if it weren’t for the French people all over the neighborhood.  French people who, like us, never thought of doing things differently until they got here.  “It is a good idea,” one mother said to me, “this bathing children after supper.”  In France, they do it before.  That’s just what they do.  Never occurred to them to try it another way; never occurred to them people might bathe their children after they finished covering themselves in cheese sauce, rather than before.

It did, however, occur to them that young children might like to share a room with one another.  This is why it finally occurred to me.  So, on Thanksgiving day, we combined two bedrooms into one.  The tiny one next to our room.

The kids are sleeping less, not more.  They spend a lot of time talking to each other, although how Zachary understands what Benjamin is telling him is beyond me.  I am hoping that this calms down, because are they ever happier this way.

Last night, J asked Zach if he likes sharing a room with his brother.  “Yes,” answered my pre-schooler.  “It is much better than the big, hairy monkey in my room.”

Well, I guess that explains why he kept running out.

25 responses to “Together at last

  1. We’ve gone through every permutation of sharing/not sharing there is. My children are quite close in age (3 kids in 4 years… whoo boy was that fun!) and we were often (multiple moves too – endless party at our place!) in houses that were not set up well for single rooms. The chaos, mess and noise was increased naturally, but the friendship that emerged was pretty impressive. Until now – two are sharing out of necessity and at best I can call it an armed truce.

  2. I have always had my own room. My husband, up until renting an apartment at age 21, never had a room of his own. As a result, he is very space conscious and extremely protective of his things. However, he insisted that our twins share a room. We’re always open to rearranging if there comes a time when this doesn’t work; however, now and in the foreseeable future, they’re in the same room.

  3. I grew up with my own room. My husband did not. He and his brother shared a room until they were 10 or so. So, we put our boys in the same room even though we really don’t need to.

    About 2 months ago we had to split them up because Hollis was keeping his brother up at night. Then we put them back together about a week ago. Now Holden is keeping his brother up. They love sharing a room, but it’s not fun for us when they’re both crankier than hell the next day.

    We’re going to keep them together through the beginning of the new year and see if it gets better. We just try to get them down for earlier naps now and, if they let us, we separate them for nap time. It’s not nearly so scary and lonely then.

  4. I had four daughters in a three-bedroom house, so they always shared rooms until the older ones went off to college. It certainly made night-times much easier; the baby didn’t mind leaving our room to sleep with her sister. They often seemed to get along much better when we weren’t there to supervise. There were the inevtiabe squabbles over whose mess was whose. Sharing a room is excellent preparation for college when they might have to share a room and sleep in bunkbeds.

  5. Our boys have been sharing a room for almost a year now, and they love it. They are 4 1/2 and 2 1/2. One day my oldest came up to me and said, “Momma, now Tommy is in my room and I don’t have to be scared anymore.”. I never knew he was scared. He was always a great sleeper, and he never complained about being in his room alone. They do talk for a while before falling asleep, but after we go up there 2 or 3 times they usually fall asleep. Sometimes we have to threaten them that we will take away their stuffed animals if they don’t stop talking. It seems to work. We are considering moving the youngest into their room when he gets older too. We’ll see.
    Until I was in high school I shared a room with my sis. It worked pretty well.
    Give it some time, and then see what ya think. Hopefully the excitement of sharing will wear off and they will talk less at night. Good luck!

  6. I have a friend who had the same problems with her boys. It was the older one, too, who at a certain point didn’t want to sleep alone and his parents joined the two rooms like you did. They solved the problem with that. Years later, the older boy still, decided that it was time for him to have his own room back and both boys are happy with this arrangement.

    My kids never shared a room but I remember my daughter crawling under our bed when she was Zachary’s age because she felt more safe (but cold?) there. It does seem to be an age-problem, the age when they are starting to be more conscious about things …

  7. I shared a room with my brothers up until I was five. I guess my mother thought my sister (who is twelve years older than me) needed privacy more than the boys. We moved to a new house the same fall that my sister left for college, so I was suddenly in my own room, and the boys (now teenagers) were still together. I kept a sleeping bag in my closet, and whenever I awakened at night, I took it into their room and lay on the floor between their beds. I loved it. They hated it. But I was lonely.

    I have friends with children of the same sex close in age who have moved them into the same room and it is working out great. Keep trying. (Although I’m having similar dryness issues at my house and this is not heartening news you have for me. Yawn.)

  8. My three kids not only share a room, but also share a bed. I grew up sharing a room with my older sister, then my parents added another sister and then a brother before we finally moved to a bigger house (when I was 13). I then had my own room until college, and never again since. We started building our house just before we had our fist child. We planned for it to have two bedrooms, expecting to have two kids at the most, and figuring they could share (and we could eventually finsish off the daylight basement). We wanted a small, energy-efficient house that would not unneccessarily waste natural resources on extra bedrooms. When I found out I was having twins four years later, my father-in-law was ready to break ground on an addition to house them, but we figured Kid 1 spent the first three years of his life in our bed (and continued to sneak into it well into year 4) and that people in New York (not to mention all over the world) live in tiny apartments with multiple kids–so why not us? The twins started out in our room (in a co-sleeper, then a crib, then a queen-sized matress on the floor), then when they were nearly 2, their brother kept asking to sleep in their bed. So we moved it to his room and now the three of them sleep together. I probably would have never planned it this way, but it’s working out great, and I’ve talked to other parents whose kids share a bed (voluntarily), so it seems pretty common and natural and so Little House, that we’ll keep on doing it until it doesn’t work.

  9. Big hairy monkey – HA! Poor thing. My sister and I always shared a room and my twins now share a room. I’m all for room sharing. I’d like my twins to be able to have their own rooms, as they would like that – but we just don’t have anymore bedrooms. I hope this helps your little one with his sleep issues – it just might be the answer! Take care. Kellan

  10. dude, if there were a big hariy monkey on my room i’d want to bunk with my sibling, too!

    but seriously–right now my kids have their own rooms, but we have talked about them sharing at some point even though they are of different sexes. my son grew up sharing a room and really liked it.

  11. My sister and I went back and forth, sharing or not. I think it depends on personality. I liked private space, my sister liked company. With voluntary sharing, I got to have my own space in my own room and just slept in her room. Patience likes her own space. Persistence is the sort who feels lonely when alone.

    Sounds like you hit on a good solution, despite the talking. I am sure they will settle in to it, but you might need to lay some limits. (Do not ask me what these are…I might say “be quiet or you go to your own room.” and well we all know what to call THAT kind of parent).

    Maybe set a time limit.

    It’s all just trial and error. I wish I had the magic solution for you, though.

    Nothing worse than sleep deprivation.

    Using My Words

  12. While in Kansas City, we lived with friends who have seven children. The girls had one room, the boys had another, the baby slept in the master closet. The little girls loved sharing a room together, though they kept one another (and sometimes the rest of the house) awake. The boys liked it too – the only one who seemed dissatisfied was the oldest girl, who was much closer in age to her brothers than to her little sisters (she was 9, the little girls were 2 and 3). She would have enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

    I agree with thinking only in terms of what our family of origin did. Both Brian and I grew up with just one sibling, but we would like to have a larger family. This seems most surprising to our families – I guess the assumption was we’d have two kids, just like our parents did. It’s funny how what you know is so quickly accepted as the best way to do something.

  13. big hairy monkey? I’m laughing. did not see that coming at all.

  14. Calvin and Hobbes have been sharing a room since Hobbes was 5 months and moved out of ours. It has had its ups and downs, but we never even considered giving them their own rooms. They are the same sex and so close in age! It took a couple of weeks for Calvin to adjust and sleep well through his brother’s crying. When Hobbes got older, we went through a phase where he had trouble sleeping through Calvin’s constant bedtime chatter.

    Things keep changing as the boys’ sleep habits change, and they still nap in separate rooms. Most of the time, they sleep fine in the same room, though we have the occasional rough night, like any parent of even one child. It is definitely teaching them to be better brothers and friends. Just the other night I heard Calvin telling a crying Hobbes, “It’s okay, brother. Do you want me to sing you a song? Take me out to the ballgame…” How much cuter can it get?

  15. Oh, yeah, and the big, hairy monkey cracked me up, too. If I were him, I would have put it in my brother’s room a long time ago.

  16. I shared a room with my sister and I used to freak her out by sitting straight up in my sleep and then falling back, dead to the world.

    But even though we wanted to kill eachother, my sister and I now are the best of friends and I think it was from that shared space.

  17. I shared a room AND a bed with my sister until I was 11. That is when my Papaw died, and my sister moved into his old bedroom. For a while, she would still make her way to my bed.

    My boys share a room. We decided on that, b/c they got bunk beds and b/c it gave us a guest room. However, I have to put them to bed at separate times or they talk and play instead of going to sleep.

  18. It is amazing the types of things we all do without consciously thinking about it. One always says they don’t want to turn out like their parents yet they find themselves doing just that.

    I share a room with my brother until I was about 17. Though we drove each other crazy we were closer because of it. When me and my wife have another son I would love for them to share a room together. Not because we both had to share rooms growing up, but because I feel that it is a great experience.

  19. Oh lord, I had a good laugh over the big hairy monkey. As for the rest… where to start.

    1) I laughed out loud when I read that your solution to Zach not sleeping was to have him share a room with Ben. Only because I know the amount of sleeping my girls have done since they started sharing a room has drastically decreased. As in, they play, play, play. We now have a complicated put-to-bed routine that involves Eleanor being tucked into our bed and Sylvia tucked into the bottom bunk of their shared room, then Tobin transferring Eleanor into the top bunk when we are ready to go to sleep in our own bed. Every Friday night we give the girls a chance to start out in the bunkbeds together, and it lasts about 30 minutes before we separate them. But, even so, I do agree with the benefits of a shared room; the comraderie of it is great.

    2) I couldn’t agree more with your assertion that we so often only see things the way that we have been brought up to see them/do them. I love your example of the French bathing their kids before dinner. Hilarious. I’m sure there are many wacky things we do that an outsider would quickly declare absurd. One thing that I love about blogging is just that… the different perspectives and examples of parenting. I love the nitty gritty details, like sharing a room techniques, discipline tips, Christmas gift ideas, different traditions, etc.

  20. realitytesting

    Nina and Laura shared a room, although it wasn’t necessary, for a long time when we moved in to our house. One of our 3 rooms is teeny tiny, and we thought using it for an office made more sense. They loved sharing a room…but we eventually separated them, as Laura grew older, because they were chatting rather than sleeping and because Laura stays up a half hour later than Nina, and it just disrupted everything to have them together anymore. They were not happy when we separated them, and it took some major adjustment. It was sort of sad to have to do it, actually…..

  21. D and Peep really seemed to enjoy room sharing over the Thanksgiving break. As a child of the 80s in a not so nice neighborhood, my 2 siblings and I rotated rooms so that one of us could have their own room for a part of the year. Sharing was it.

  22. Very interesting topic.

    I have a boy and a girl, and they have their own rooms, but I’ve always allowed them to bunk in with the other if they needed to. This usually meant – one’s room was cooler than the other on a hot summer night; one had a nightmare; both had just watched a scary movie. Stuff like that.

    Whoever’s room it was got the bed, the other child slept on the floor.

    They’re 17 and 14 now, and though they fight like cats and dogs they are still closer than most siblings I know. And they have endless inside jokes they don’t share with us, and I think that’s great. They will know each other longer than anyone else they will ever know in their lives. I want them to like each other.

  23. I think you’ve done the right thing here!

    Only be prepared for the ‘right thing’ to change as the years go by. I’d predict that at a certain point having a bedroom of one’s own will gain tremendous appeal.

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