When my husband and I bought a 1,000-square-foot ranch house in the suburbs of Boston, we were only sure about one thing: We were going to have a baby and we needed a bigger place to live. There was no thought of second kids or tight quarters. And at the time, the two-bedroom house at a good price point was just right for us.
We had a very modest master bedroom. When our son was born, he stayed next to us in a co-sleeper for six months. Eventually we transferred him into the tiny bedroom across the hall. All was sweet and well. One couple. One toddler. Two bedrooms.
Until there were four.
When our daughter was born, our son, almost 3, was just transitioning into his "big boy" bed. Since I worked from home and couldn't give up my tiny office space, we knew that soon enough our son and daughter would be in a room together. But would it work?
At the time we weren’t so sure, but my kids, who are now teens, still reminisce about how much they loved sharing that room. My son always had the company he craved in the dark and my daughter always knew her brother was nearby.
As they got older and needed more space for their kid stuff, my husband and I took the smaller bedroom for ourselves and turned our master bedroom over to them. The four of us decorated their new room in colors that our children had to agree on.
We painted the walls white and the dresser blue. The curtains—that my son and daughter picked out together—had a fish theme and the rug they chose had a water pattern. When my daughter insisted on a magenta blanket, it clashed terribly with the ocean decor, but it also didn’t matter. We weren’t trying to look like a Pottery Barn catalog.
But they loved it, and it bonded them for life.
What mattered was that our son and daughter were happy and cozy. And they were. By sharing a room, they learned from their earliest years about the need to compromise. For example, there was the time that my son resolutely refused to dismantle his Playmobile pirates ship set that pretty much consumed every bit of their floor space but my daughter wanted room for her train tracks. Together they had to figure out a way to both be in that space with their favorite toys.
The answer? Wind the tracks around the ship and play together.
At night, my husband or I would curl up with the kids in one of their two pushed-together single beds and read them books that they both grew to love together, but might not have discovered if it weren’t for being in the same place at bedtime. "Humphrey the Hamster" stories could send both of them into fits of giggles. The Laura Ingalls Wilder series was also a hit with both boy and girl.
Almost better than reading, however, was that moment when my husband and I would tiptoe out after goodnight kisses and listen to their little voices still chatting away. On weekend mornings, they might stay in their room and play games like “camping,” in which they would crawl under one blanket and kick their feet in the air to make a tent above their heads.
The room was always crowded, covered with clothes and strewn with books. The floor had almost no walking space and there was only one dresser and nightstand. But they loved it, and it bonded them for life.
When my son was 9, we decided to put a second floor on the house, giving the kids their own rooms. My daughter cried when she heard our plans and relentlessly begged us not to change our house. She didn’t want to be across the hall from her brother and couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to sleep in a room alone.
We went through with our plans and the kids grew to love their new rooms. But when I think back on those six years they spent sharing, I know it was the best thing we ever did to promote a deep, loving brother-sister connection.