I have a confession.
Sometimes I daydream about having only one child.
In reality, I have three children — three little joys that fill me with unlimited love. But while welcoming a third child allowed my heart to grow, it did not grow an extra set of hands, or ears, or a brain for that matter. Caring for three children requires so much of my time, energy, and patience. I never feel I have enough.
So on the most challenging of days, I daydream about a time when I can have each of my children all to myself for two days a week. I could devote my full attention to what each of them needs. And then we all could come together on Sunday for a big loud family day. Sounds lovely, right?
Alas, here we are, back to reality in an isolated world — all three children and two parents living as each other’s only friends until the unforeseen future. We should be overwhelmed. We should be sick of each other. We should all be in one big fight and hiding in our own corners of our small world.
And yet, I sit here on a Friday afternoon watching my children wrestling like puppies in the back yard, that early spring sun making 60 degrees feel like it’s the middle of summer, and I notice how happy they are simply being in each other’s company.
At a time when we are asked to distance ourselves from everyone but the people in our own home, it is easy to be sad for our children and their need for socialization. There are so many lessons they learn beyond the classroom by interacting with friends and neighbors — lessons on sharing and turn taking, empathy and kindness, patience and adaptability.
But as I watch my children chase each other around the yard, I realize they haven’t lost any of that. They practice those skills every day in their own home. And more specifically, they practice those lessons in their own room, together.
Yes, that’s correct, all three of my children ages 1-7 share one bedroom. I know this is unconventional. I know this because when I was pregnant with my third and wondering where we were going to sleep everyone, I went to the internet, like any good researching mother of the twenty first century would do. I was trying to decide if a serious rearranging was necessary for our current guest room/office for a work-from-home spouse situation. My then five year old and three year old had shared a room since the middle child was a baby. I knew about room sharing because I had done it before. And there were plenty of examples of how to make this work with two siblings. The internet told me so.
But could it be done with three?
Many doubted us. The question after “Congratulations!” was usually a hesitant “soooo…where will everyone sleep?” I shouldn’t be surprised. Clearly I had these concerns as well, so much so I decided to consult the internet of all places.
From my research, I determined adding one more to an already shared room was possible. Those living in large cities where smaller apartments are the norm make this work all the time. What I knew I didn’t want to do was let real estate determine the family I wanted to have. If this child was coming into the world, we would welcome him — into our hearts and our rooms.
As soon as our third decided sleeping through the night was exciting enough to do it on the regular, we started the nightly sleepovers of the three siblings. Space was not an issue as their room was plenty large for a bunk bed and crib. Bedtime was streamlined with everyone headed to bed in the same place. And other than a few annoying wake ups every now and then, it has been an ideal transition. I regret any minute I ever spent agonizing over this stress (which will likely be the title of my future memoir.)
I have always wanted an opportunity to pay it forward to the space that first told me this was possible. I wanted to be another voice for that curious parent, consulting the internet at 3 AM when she can’t get those voices out of her head, doubting her capabilities of providing enough space for the family she chooses. I wanted to grab her by the hand and say, “This will be okay. Your children can do this. And they will thrive because of it.”
As I sat down to write out the skills my children gain from their unique experience, I noticed these weren’t just lessons captured from room sharing. The growth and adaptability required looks a lot like what we are all facing currently — living in constant close quarters during social isolation due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Right now your home probably looks a lot like mine, where siblings are on top of each other regardless of rooming assignments. Let me then leave you with this: at a time when there is uncertainty of what our children are missing from being outside of school, there are skills I can certainly promise they are developing simply by learning to live with one another.
Here are my Five Lessons Learned from Room Sharing that We Can All Learn During Social Isolation:
1. Consideration for the needs of others.
We have three children with various sleeping needs. Since we choose to put everyone to sleep at the same time to save ourselves the hassle of multiple bedtime routines, this means some children are in bed before their body clocks are ready. But they learn that part of the routine is respecting the sleep their sibling needs. They use flashlights to read books if they aren’t tired. They tiptoe out of the room quietly if they need something. We talk about respecting their sibling’s sleep needs because they want their own needs respected. The golden rule applies always.
2. Tolerance of distractions.
Many fears we hear about room sharing is whether they wake each other at night. My answer is always yes and no. Yes, children wake up at night calling for their parents. We have had sick kids, wet beds, and bad dreams. And despite the sound machine, they wake up. But they also learn to go right back to sleep. This is an excellent coping skill for sleeping, particularly when traveling to new places. It’s going to be noisy. Learn to tune it out.
3. Empathy and ability to help.
It is not unusual for us to peek at the monitor and see an older sibling reading a book to their younger brother, retrieving a lost pacifier or stuffed animal, or even walking with the sibling to get help from parents when they are scared. It melts my heart every time. I want them to know they can come to me for help, but I want them to also know they can help each other.
4. Adaptability to find own personal space when needed.
We recognize that even though sharing a room is a great life skill, it is still important for people to feel they have a place of their own. Our children each have their own beds and have to stay out of their siblings’ beds when not invited. We reinforce afternoon quiet time for all in separate rooms of the house, which is especially valuable for the introverted members of the house (narrator raises her hand.) And they all know that it is important to respect each other when a member of the household announces they need to be alone (again, narrator raises her hand.)
5. Awareness that we are one unit.
When you share a space it is a constant reminder of the importance of family. While individual needs are important, we are better when we learn to work together. If there is anything we are all taking away from this self isolation, this lesson is top of that list. We are all better together.
My children miss their friends and the structure of school. They miss the parks and the activities, the gatherings with cousins and hugs from grandparents. I miss all these things too.
But we are not lonely. We have each other.
I have never been more grateful for this loud, needy, and overflowing home than I am today, and that is my true confession.