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My son and daughter share a room

My son and daughter share a room so I can have sushi

By Alison Lowenstein |

My kids aren’t only siblings, they’re roommates.

Our apartment is 1,153 square feet of living space. In my part of Brooklyn this is considered family-sized, but in suburban America it’s referred to as a shack. We have two bedrooms, and two children, a four-year-old girl and an eighteen-month-old boy who share a room. It’s very obvious which part of the room is Lucy’s and which is Max’s. There seems to be an unspoken divider in the center of the room. Lucy’s side has a dresser covered with Polly Pockets, a large collection of dolls and a floral comforter on a white princess bed. Max’s area is cluttered with Thomas Trains, random Fisher Price toys, a crib with blue sheets, and a large mural of a dinosaur.

What bothers me is that people always ask, “How long can you stay there with two kids of the opposite sex sharing the same room?”

“I guess when they start to notice,” I reply. Of course, they’ve obviously already noticed they are sharing a room. The truth is, I plan on keeping them together until one of them protests so strongly that they try to convince us to give up our bedroom and relocate to the living room.

And Lucy and Max have a large bedroom even by suburban standards, so why can’t they share? Some people told me that they heard it’s against the law to have siblings of the opposite sex share a room after a certain age, which I can’t believe is true. If it is, I’m going to break the law. But those comments do make me question my parenting ethics. Simply by keeping my kids together, would they become like the incestuous siblings from Flowers in the Attic?

It can’t be true. I mean, that wasn’t the case with Jane and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins or Wendy, Michael and John in Peter Pan or Charlie and Lola or Pinky Pinky Doo and her brother Tyler, who all shared rooms with siblings of the opposite sex. In fact, in the past didn’t all siblings share a bedroom, which was referred to as the nursery?

There is something sweet and innocent about the concept of a nursery, because there is a closeness my children share that children who sleep in separate bedrooms miss. They partake in the same bedtime ritual. After their bath, I tell them a good-night story, and as I walk out and leave the door ajar, I always hear Lucy singing songs to Max. In fact, when we stayed in a hotel, I told Lucy to do the thing she does to put Max to sleep, and she began to sing. And once when Max had a high fever and came into bed with us, Lucy woke up in the middle of the night, looked over at his empty crib and screamed, “Where’s Max?!”

Obviously, there are downsides to sharing a room and living in an apartment limited in size. We must give up many aspects of privacy, and sharing a room leaves you with even less. I’ll admit that I cringed when I was changing Max’s diaper in their room and didn’t notice Lucy looking over my shoulder until she said, “Mommy, look at his silly little penis sticking up in the air.”

There was a period after Max was born that I entertained the idea of selling our apartment and moving to the suburbs to give my children their own bedrooms and more space. And during what I consider a space-related mental breakdown, I made my husband Peter drive the family out to Long Island and look around Port Washington to see if we could live there. As Peter assessed houses and real estate taxes, all I could talk about was finding a good place to pick up a burrito or sushi. We drove around the neighborhood in search of a playground, and when we found one empty despite it being a nice Saturday afternoon, it was obvious it just wasn’t going to work. I had the opportunity to give my kids a pleasant suburban upbringing with separate rooms and I gave It would be a shame to move just because our kids are different sexes. it up for quick take-out, lively playgrounds, sidewalks and corner stores. We quickly returned to Brooklyn, where my kids were just going to have to live with the fact that they weren’t only siblings, but they were roommates.

I’m not alone in this situation. A lot of Lucy’s friends share rooms with their siblings of the opposite sex. I tend to gravitate to these parents. We all talk about what the next step is and when we will be forced to move. In theory, we can move once Max is enrolled in our overly parent-involved local public school, because once you’re enrolled you can stay in the school even if you don’t live in the zone. Then we can move to another part of our neighborhood that isn’t zoned for a good school, which means we can get a lot of space for a lot less money literally just a couple of blocks away. These are the harsh realities of the city public school system.

But I don’t want to move. I love our apartment. I secretly admired the building we live in now for years before we moved in (it’s a restored church from the 1800s turned into co-ops), and it would be a shame to move just because our kids are different sexes. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I have a friend who grew up in Manhattan and his parents intended to put up a wall in the bedroom he shared with his sister, but the kids protested and stayed together until the boy left for college.

Yes, there are obvious sacrifices, even if we had a three-bedroom and my kids had their own space. They can’t have a playroom. I have to limit their toy intake, and at holidays I specifically ask for gifts that don’t take up much space. I don’t keep a lot of mementos, and the kid’s artwork has to be exceptional not to be chucked. And since they live in an apartment building, they are constantly being shushed.

Despite the lack of space, there are advantages to growing up here. My kids are a subway ride away from major museums. They are exposed to a variety of people and cuisines. My daughter has become an expert at spotting open parking spaces. They get to attend progressive preschools that refer to recess as “gross motor play.” And they are becoming socially savvy, because we spend every afternoon at a playground with friends instead of isolated in a suburban backyard.

A few weeks ago, we were visiting my friend Aimee on Long Island, and my daughter stood in her backyard. “This is your backyard?” I didn’t ask her if she wanted her own room, because I didn’t want to know. she asked.

“Yes,” Aimee replied.

“So, you don’t share it with your neighbors?”

“No.”

Lucy pointed over the gate to the backyard next to Aimee’s. “So, those people don’t get to use your yard?”

“If I invite them,” she responded.

“So they only come over if you ask them?” Lucy asked.

“Yes,” Aimee said, wearily.

It was starting to look as if my child was being raised on a kibbutz or some communist-era Russian collective farm.

“This is your own yard?” Lucy asked again in disbelief, half saying it to herself. “You don’t share it with anybody?”

She was truly amazed. I didn’t ask her if she wanted a backyard of her own, and especially not her own room, because I didn’t want to know. The truth is, we had the opportunity to provide our kids with private yards and their own bedrooms, but I chose the city instead. I hope they don’t hate me for it.

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About Alison Lowenstein

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Alison Lowenstein

Alison Lowenstein blogs at Brooklyn Baby, and is the author of City Kid New York, City Baby Brooklyn and City Weekends. She has written for Time Out New York Kids, The New York Daily News, Newsday, National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Travelandleisure.com, Workingmother.com, and others.

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25 thoughts on “My son and daughter share a room

  1. kate says:

    I commend your choice.  My parents moved us from the city out to long island when I was 11 and my brother was 3 and there wasn’t even room enough in my sister’s and my room for him to move in.  I pined for the city all through junior high and high school.  Long Island still doesn’t feel like home, it never did.  Of course, my sister loved suburban life, so it’s a personality thing of course.  In any case, I don’t see anything wrong with sharing a room with a sibling of the opposite sex.  It’s a compromise easily worth making.

  2. BBBGMOM says:

    I have zilcho experience with this, being an only child.  My two sons share a room and my daughter has her own, well, she has ours for the time being – another story.  That’s just how it worked as a practical matter for us.  I admire your strong tie to the City (I share that, though my city is Minneapolis.)  I happily go without ample living space and a vast yard for all the urban amenities within walking distance.  Our house is possibly half the size of some [less expensive, interestingly] suburban manses that house smaller families!  I am curious how a boy-girl room sharing will play out as the kids invariably demand more privacy.  Granted this will happen to us with two boys in the same room.  But what happens when puberty hits and when big sis wants a pal to come for a sleepover?  Will they take turns changing clothes and/or entertaining friends?

  3. crabmommy says:

    I think it’s completely ridiculous and out of line for people to ask you when your kids should stop sharing. In an urban space, one doesn’t have the luxury of extra bedrooms and I think it’s wholly appropriate for them to share for as long as YOU deem it appropriate. People have to be creative in small spaces and if that means kids shifting around the house when sis has a sleepover, then for crying out loud, SO WHAT? People are very spoiled in our culture and expect children to be too. I think your kids will grow up valuing space and amenities, and one day if and when they get rooms of their own, they’ll appreciate them hugely. If it can’t/doesn’t happen, that’ll be fine too. My friend and her bro shared a room in Manhattan their entire lives and I think they are the fabulous, cultured, sophisticated, centered, normal people. There are ways to create a sense of privacy within a single room and it sounds as though you are already figuring all that out, so good for you!

  4. MelloMama says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with boy-girl siblings sharing a room. And I betcha you’ll know when/if things have to change. Trust your gut, stay where you’re happy. We moved from a decent-sized condo to a large 4-BR house about a year ago, so our then-1yo son could have a yard of his own. Guess where we spend most of our time? Playing with push toys in the front driveway or we walk to one of the three area playgrounds. (I won’t get into the whole twice-as-much-mortgage issue!) Your kids aren’t missing out on anything by not having their own yard. In fact, I’m a bit envious of the community ethic they’re learning — just imagine the world if more people learned to share space.

  5. crabmommy says:

    p.s. “against the law” to share bedrooms if you’re of the opposite sex? what a crock! I mean there’s no way, no HOW that could be the case anywhere in the world, much less in the US! I’m right…right?

  6. xiaolinmama says:

    My kids are 7 and 4 and they share a room.  I work from, so mommy needs the extra bedroom to bring in cash and pay the mortgage.  I think there is  a point when they REALLY want their own space.  Unforatunately, I think we are gettin’ close.  My son, (the 7 yr old) is talking more about  how he hates his sister’s dolls.  The girl, on the other hand, idolizes her brother and has never slept alone.  I think she would be the one devasted and not the older one.    We have had few problems withthe arrangements, when we have sleep overs they “camp” out in the living room.  I think you have a good 4 more years before you really have to worry.  Against the law??  LOL!  I guess criminals come in all shapes and forms… good luck!

  7. mamarati says:

    Good for you.  Don’t buy in to all the crap that people expect you to do as a parent.  There’s nothing wrong with siblings sharing a room.  Even if you didn’t live in NY.  I agree with crabmommy.  How spoiled are we in this country? What will your kids do when friends come over and they want some privacy?  How will they handle getting dressed?  Who knows?  My guess is they will learn to communicate with each other.  They will learn to compromise.  They will learn to be sympathetic, thoughtful, considerate of someone else’s needs besides their own.  Imagine such a thing, will you?  Now, I’m not saying this is going to happen in a pretty way, but growing up isn’t always pretty, right?  There will probably be some arguments and some things that both of them won’t like about sharing a room.  Great.  That will make them even more appreciative of private moments and any space that they have in the future instead of taking it for granted.  They will laugh about it one day and they will have so many memories together that lots of kids growing up in suburbia don’t.  There are kids who are a year apart in age and have their own rooms and they don’t even know each other. Your kids will definitely not have that problem.Don’t focus on what anyone else says about it.  You focus on the positive things that your kids will get from this situation — and there are so many.

  8. superblondgirl says:

    I only have one kid and have daydreamed about getting a one-bedroom so that we could live in the city – I’d sleep on the couch to be able to walk to the store.  There are so many trade-offs you have to make in order to raise your kids in a way that works for you and for them, so many sacrifices we make for our families and for our own mental health.  If you would miss sushi and people on the playgrounds, if those are important things to you, then you do what you have to so that you can keep those things.  People who want to judge can suck it.  I grew up in the suburbs and shared a room with my brother for quite a few years, until we moved to a bigger house when I was in 3rd grade.  I’m not dysfunctional, and sometimes I missed sharing a room – there’s a camaraderie to it that you miss out on when you have your own room.  After we were separate, sometimes if my brother had a bad dream, he’d still come to me over our parents, because we were used to sharing a space, we were used to protecting each other.  That’s something I’m glad I got to have.

  9. k1 says:

    The fact that you consider this enough of an issue to even write about just demonstrates that attitudes towards sex and gender in our country are just completely screwed up.  This is just simply a complete non-issue.

  10. BBBGMOM says:

    Hm.  I hope nobody was condeming my questions (sincere) in re what happens when puberty hits, etc.  I could read some of the subsequent comments that way, but hopefully they weren’t referring to my post.  Anyway, they are just honest questions since I know there was a time (maybe around 12) when godforbid ANYONE see any bit of my body (that phased out eventually, but still…)  Anyway, it wasn’t my intention to criticize the author at all… just wondering from a person with no experience in the matter.  But I did want to add, since I think it is so sweet and echos what others have said about the younger child’s love of the arrangement.  In our (thus far futile) attempt to get the girl to sleep in her own room, the only successful nights we have had were when we put her on a little mat in her brothers’ room.  I do think we are moving to having the three children share a room for a while – the boys love being able to “take care” of her (they read her books and put her blanket back on) and she adores the attention.  So we might have two boys and a girl in one room very soon!

  11. sfwork says:

    I’m totally with mamarati and you about sharing bedrooms. We live in SF and 1100 sq. ft. is practically a palace! We have a three bedroom but our son (5) and daughter (3) share a room so we can use the other bedroom as a playroom/TV room. They are fine with sleeping in the same room — truthfully, they don’t even know they could have separate rooms. I can’t believe anyone would think it’s illegal for boys and girls to share a room. It should say something about those parents who would even think that.

  12. cocoa says:

    Thank you for writing this – I also commend your choice and think you should accentuate the positive. Everything at some point is a compromise. If you compromised your happiness and sanity for spacious suburbia the room wouldn’t matter so much to your kids I bet. We’re living in a cosy London flat with a new baby and my (suburban) mother in law keeps trying to convince me to buy playpens and one of those mega high chairs that would literally take up half of our kitchen. But I’m convinced there’s no list of products or parenting criteria you have to subscribe to. Just do what’s right for you and your family.

  13. carliec76 says:

    I see nothing wrong with young opposite sex sibilings sharing a room. I do think as you near puberty it is best to keep them within their own space. I know that in most states when you have foster children you are required to have boys and girls in seperate rooms within a certain age range. I have a 3 and 1 year old and we are lucky enough to have 3500 sq feet in the city(Boise) so we get it all…but before my second was born we lived in a 928 sq ft condo  in a much more expensive city (San Diego) . When my oldest was 6 months we decided it just wasn’t going to cut it. So we moved to a different city and actually are better off. Instead of taking the trolley to the city like we did in the little condo we can actually walk to the city. We have more parks more family friendly but all the fun and buzz of the city in San Diego…Funy thing is the downtown here reminds us of the downtown San Diego. So basically you don’t have to give up the city…maybe just find a better one that suits ALL of your needs.

  14. bowie1977 says:

    My brother and I shared a room until I was six years old (he was four-and-a-half). We didn’t live in the city, we lived on an Air Force base — and my parents could only afford housing with two bedrooms. Neither my brother or I have any weird unresolved issues — in fact, after living together for so long, we both share the belief that both sexes are truly equal.
     
    My Mother also grew up sharing a room with her brother, once again, it was a matter of finances and both siblings turned out fine.
     
    We, as a society, need to mind our own business and not worry so much about yours.

  15. mama2v says:

    Ha. Your Flowers in the Attic ref made me laugh out loud. I really enjoyed your piece. I really think the boy-girl siblings sharing a room is a non-issue. Only in the USA is this an issue. Keep enjoying your Brooklyn aparment and neighborhood!

  16. artlibrarian says:

    I shared a room with my brother in a Brooklyn apartment until I was five (we later moved to a big house in Long Island). We had lots of fun together, and I think there is nothing wrong with it!

  17. mom2cate2007 says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece!  We are about to buy a place with 2 bedrooms.   If our next child is a boy, they will just have to share.  I’ve been hoping (and worrying, frankly) that I’m not the only person out there who thinks this is ok!  I only hope that if we need to move when they get to “that” point, we’ll be able afford a place with the amenities we want (good school, good restaurants, etc.).  For the next several years, though, I think it will be lovely for them to share while I get to enjoy the location.

  18. youngsterNYC says:

    My sister and I shared a room until we started high school. And we turned out perfectly normal (at least I like to think we did). Our attics were flower free. The best thing about sharing a room with my sister was the talks we used to have at night right before one of us passed out. My relationship with my sister informed my relationship with women (including women I dated) in very positive ways.
     
    On the topic of small spaces, my wife and I totally understand. We live with our two boys and our zoo (a dog, two cats, goldfish, and a turtle) in 850 sq. ft. of NYC realty. At least you’ve got over 1000.

  19. Roomieforlife says:

    Don’t even worry about this! I shared a bedroom with my two brothers (I’m a girl) until my older brother moved out on his own and my nana (who lived with us) remarried. My younger brother moved to her room. I actually kind of missed it. I missed the company and late night talks and falling asleep with people who loved me unconditionally.It also helped me when i moved to college. You wouldn’t believe how disrespectful people are when it comes to personal space and possessions. I think rooming with people helped me respect others’ property.

  20. Lila says:

    I share a room with my two brothers (one two years older than I and one two years younger) and my 84 years old grandmother. Before I shared the same room with my grandmother, two older sisters, and younger brother. Than I shared it with my grandmother, older sister (4 years older than I) and younger brother. I would love to have my own room and just not have to deal with fighting about the light going on so bright in the morning, not having to yell “What if I was naked?” everytime I have the door closed and someone forgets to knock, not having to be yelled at by my grandmother because it is her room and she can do what she wants, etc., etc.. I even slept in the living room on the couch for three years (even though my grandmother hated it because of a dent in the couch) because I loved having that private space. My room is so cluttered and small and everyone is always all over everyone’s beds and I can never have any friends in the room, but it is okay. I’ve lived like that for all 17 years of my life and I understand why. I constantly ask my parents if we could move anyway, but I would miss lying in bed and turning over and talking to my brother about the day (and then getting yelled at by my grandmother whom I have to share a bed with) or just knowing that someone is still alive because they’re snoring so loud. I would hate to walk into a new room and not be with my grandmother who has had every grandchild and great grandchild sleep in her bed when there was nowhere else to go. She enjoys the fact that people don’t mind sleeping with her especially since so many people have died in her life (parents, her husband, children, etc.) and want to get out of her house and bed. She loves the fact that we appreciate her sharing her apartment and bed and bathroom and television with us and that every night we check to make sure she is still breathing like she does with us when we take a while to wake up. I’ve dealt and deal with puberty still and so do my brothers and we’ve grown up to appreciate each other even though we fight with each other constantly. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up any other way and when I move out I’m definitely going to miss the closeness, love, warmth, and safety that I have received throughout my life living in tiny apartments where I shared rooms with siblings, parents, and grandparents.

  21. Leeandra says:

    Your kids will turn out fine. This is not child abuse. As you pointed out, these types of room-sharing arrangements are common in most of the world, were common in America in generations past, and are still quite common even among the relatively well-to-do in NYC, where space is tight. I grew up in the country with one brother, no sisters, and a 4-bedroom house. My brother and I still shared a room for several years, though, because he was afraid of the dark and Mom found it easier to just stick him in my room and keep him from coming to HER bed at night. Hell, up until I was about six and my brother four or so, when our cousins–a boy and a girl the same age as me and my brother–came to visit or we went to visit them, to save time and work Mom or Aunt Judy just put all four of us in the bathtub at once and put us all to sleep in the same fold-out couch bed. None of us turned into incestuous mutants. If your kids start complaining and want more privacy, there’s always the option of putting in a portable wall or hanging a curtain to divide their room.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I live in a smaller cheaper city and I still make my kids share a room in our 3 bedroom house and the extra room isn’t even a playroom. I think it is good for them they may not like it all the time but there is something special about sharing rooms.

  23. MBKimmy says:

    Mine are 2 and 3 they are only 14 months apart … I am trying so hard to figure out how to make it work and I have the room for them to have their own room – BUT they are on opposite floors and one is “scared!” I liked the post! Thanks for sharing … any ideas would help me alot!
    http://mbkimmy.blogspot.com/
    this is my post asking for adivce!

  24. Anonymous says:

    When your son becomes a teen, he will start “exploring” his body. Best to separate them ASAP. Trust me. From
    experince.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I have to believe that not every single person in NYC is an insufferable selfish twit with no grasp on reality, but I can’t seem to come upon any empirical evidence.

    Oh how my adorable children love talking about one another’s genitalia! It’s all worth it for me to be near trendy sushi restaurants and the other stupid yuppies exactly like myself.

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