Parenting is a series of stages. And at each new stage, there’s a sort of letting go, a grieving that happens, as you watch your child grow-up. Sometimes the stages are easier to let go of than others, but sometimes they rip your heart out unexpectedly.
Up until New Year’s Day, my two children shared a bedroom. It was messy, disorganised and underused. But it was theirs. A shared space that forced them to negotiate and get along. They’d shared a bedroom for the past 8 years, and despite the 3 and a half-year gap, and being different genders, they seemingly managed pretty well.
I was often smug about it. Loving the fact that my kids were close, and putting it down to the bunk beds they slept in, and the wardrobe they had to both use. So when my daughter decided, at the ripe old age of 11 that she needed her own space and it was time she took over our home office, anyone would think she was suggesting a life of crime. I didn’t take it well. In fact, I behaved extremely badly. I manipulated, cajoled, and promised. I even resorted to the ultimate parent no no – you don’t know how good you have it.
The thing is I’d never had to share a room as a child. Growing up in the outer eastern suburbs, we had enough rooms for everyone, even the fish. So maybe I was projecting an ideal sibling relationship onto my own kids by making them share, or maybe I was just selfishly using the third bedroom as a dumping ground for my stuff. Whatever the reason, I really struggled with the idea of them not being together. In fact, I was desperate for them to stay together. I saw them parting as the end of an era, the end of their loving, goofy relationship. I didn’t believe it could survive once my daughter could slam her own door and refuse to let anyone in.
Luckily for her, her dad isn’t quite so sentimental, and he facilitated the room move. While I sulked in the corner on New Year’s Day, he dragged furniture, undid bunks, carried desks, divided glowing stars, and cleaned like a demon, until she had her own little nook. The smallest room in the house, which was once my office, was now her bedroom. Just room enough for books, a bed, a desk and all the teddies she still carries with her, because she’s holding on too. Her brother was ambivalent. He didn’t really want the bunk beds to be split up, but he didn’t put up that much of a fight either.
And so on the first night of the New Year my children slept soundly in their own rooms. And I slept restlessly in mine.
The next day my son pulled out a couple of old Walkie Talkies and presented his sister with one, fully charged. Now, even though their rooms are right next-door, I often hear them talking to each other through their Walkie Talkies. My daughter has also discovered she can escape through the screen wire on her bedroom window and go around the front of the house and climb into her brother’s room, without us knowing. Oh and she’s rescued a little plastic stool from outside in case her brother wants to sit and chat.
It’s now been 11 days. And instead of the instant death of their relationship that I’d gloomily foreseen, they are just doing things differently. Rather than being forced together in a room not big enough for two, they come together for bits of the day when they are happy to. They now have to seek each other out, and find neutral spaces; up a tree, bouncing on the trampoline, or chatting in the bath.
And because they now have their own spaces, they clean. My son, who is the most reluctant helper in the world, now makes his bed every morning and insists on folding his clothes and putting them away. My daughter even vacuums her little stretch of carpet.
Last night when normally they would have been scratching around, irritating each other, one was reading in her room, and the other was hosting his personal disco. They were doing their own thing. Things that I’ve just started to realise are very different. One likes noise. One likes quiet. One likes clutter. One likes sparse. One likes reading. One likes making.
And what I’ve learned is that forcing them to share a space wasn’t why they loved each other. They just do.
I think sharing rooms is a lovely stage in a child’s life, but there is also a natural endpoint to it. And just because a child longs for their own space, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be part of the family anymore. It just means they want their own mess, their own clean, their own stuff. They want a little patch that’s theirs.
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