Oh good grief: Room sharing is not a parenting trend

Jun 9, 2016 at 10:13 a.m. ET
Image: Ned Frisk/Getty Images

When I was growing up, bedroom sharing was the norm. My family was considered small, with four kids in a 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom home. I shared with three of my siblings for the first few years of my life until my parents finished our basement and my brothers got their own rooms. My sister and I would share rooms through adolescence.

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When you grow up in a conservative Christian environment and are surrounded by other homeschooling families, large families are pretty typical. One family had six kids in a three-bedroom house until their kids were old enough to move out. Another family of seven had a little more space but still had to fit two kids to a room in order to fit everyone in their home.

I guess that is why I felt amused, and maybe even a little annoyed, by a recent article for the Detroit Free Press that praised room sharing as a beneficial new trend in parenting. As it turns out, more parents are putting their kids in shared rooms even though they have the space to put their kids in separate rooms. According to the article, certain types of children might sleep better with a sibling in the room, and room sharing often leads to closer bonds between siblings.

I don’t disagree with the idea that room sharing is beneficial. I am sure kids benefit from learning to share space and belongings with their siblings.

But I hardly see the practice of cramming multiple kids into a room as new, and I definitely don’t think it's trendy. It seems more like an unavoidable necessity for many parents, me included.

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It isn’t just because I grew up this way, the child in a single-income family where a smaller home was the only choice for much of our childhood. As a parent of two with a third on the way, this "trend" is the only option for my family as well. I love our home, but it is small. While I believe it is big enough for our family, that doesn’t mean we won’t be living in close quarters.

Our new baby will sleep in our room, partially so he won’t keep his sisters awake but also because my babies never sleep and co-sleeping is the only way we survive. When he starts sleeping for longer stretches of time, we will move him out of our room and in with one of his sisters. We don’t have a choice about putting two to a room, and that’s OK. I’m not sure who will share with who. We might put the two youngest together since my oldest is a light sleeper or we might put all of their beds in one room and their toys and clothes in another.

In some parts of the country, families with multiple kids are making do with small homes or apartments because that is what is available within their budget. Only a certain portion of the population has the privilege to allow their kids the choice of sleeping alone.

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In families like mine, the kids learn to share space and to find unique ways to get time alone because they have to, not because it enriches them in some way. As a teen, I created a reading nook in a closet simply because I needed a space to escape my extroverted little sister’s chatter from time to time. I spent more time outdoors because our room felt crowded, but I never felt I was suffering because I shared a room with my sister. Of course we squabbled from time to time, but I am not sure it was any worse than if we had our own space.

Even though the advice to encourage room sharing seems solid enough and the suggestions for easing the transition were helpful to an extent, it seems a little out of touch. In my world, and the worlds of most parents around me, there is no choice. Kids share rooms because there is a shortage of space and seem to do just fine living this way.

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