There is a phenomenon that every Realtor has watched happen: a family with a perfectly respectable home decides they need to sell their house and buy another because the family has grown, and additional children means the need for an additional bedroom. After all, every child needs their own room, right? It’s the “American” in the “American Dream”.
I recently posed this question to my Facebook audience. I’ll be honest. I, personally, was leaning toward the “Americans are spoiled” reasoning. There is no need for individual bedrooms, our grandparents raised our parents three-to-a-room, other cultures don’t have the luxury of private space, etc. Several of my Facebook friends shared that opinion. Cindy said “Oh mercy! We just stacked ‘em higher! They seem no worse for the experience.” Charlie commented: “5 kids, 2 parents, three bedrooms. Be happy they have their own bed…”
Several weighed-in on their own experience growing up. Perhaps seen through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, many remembered the experience as overwhelmingly positive. Some said they continued sharing the bedroom long after additional space made it unnecessary. Erica said she shared a room with her twin sister until she was 15. “We had two twin beds” said Erica “we would end up in the same bed.” Corinna came from a family of nine children. She shared a bedroom with her sister. “We fought, we schemed, we drew lines down the middle, we shared boyfriend tales, clothes, make up and stories of each other’s worlds. Today, Karen and I have special bond. When we travel together, we still share a room.”
The comments were also enlightening and helped me look at it from another perspective. Agnes grew up in a “Communist style” apartment in Romania. Her children now have their own bedrooms which Agnes believes helps with their sleep schedules. Genna says she and her brother were such total opposites in their personalities, she doesn’t know how they could have shared a room. Scott said he was so different from his brother a shared bedroom was “constant battles” to the point that he often slept in the basement rather than face the fight upstairs. Needless to say, Dad Scott is a huge proponent for separate bedrooms.
The luxury of individual bedrooms in America did not become widespread until the post-WW2 building boom introduced tract homes, often with individual “compartments” — as the rooms were called at the time. Even today, individual bedrooms is not the “norm” in most cultures worldwide. I remember driving a visiting Israeli around the suburbs I lived in. It was his first visit to the United States. To Americans, the brick two-stories at which he was looking were middle class. They were not starter homes, but certainly not homes of affluence. He asked if all of the structures were libraries or civic buildings. “No,” I said, “they are houses.” “For ONE family?” He asked in astonishment. Yep. That would be our culture.
Forget the 1930s promise of “a chicken in every pot”, by the twenty-first century the sign of affluence was a bedroom for every child. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a home has gone from 1400 square feet in 1955 to 2600 square feet in 2018. This increase is partially attributed to the need for more bedrooms. There are good reasons for having separate bedrooms for each child: privacy, sleep autonomy, creating good study habits, discipline in keeping a room clean — all of these legitimate benefits result from separate bedrooms. But, says Dr. Joan DiFuria, Author of “Affluence Intelligence,” it also makes parents feel better. It confirms their image as good providers and allows them to match the standard of their peers. “No one wants to be the one family who can’t afford a home with bedrooms for each child. There are subtle and not-so-subtle comparisons made even if they are not spoken”. Ouch.
The answer to the question about the need for separate bedrooms is there is no correct answer. Dr James Crist, Clinical Psychologist in Woodbridge, Virginia and author of “Siblings: You’re Stuck With Each Other So Stick Together” says that it is a family decision: “there can be great benefits from same-sex children sharing a room not the least of which is a life-long bond which develops in close proximity.” If a family is able to afford separate bedrooms the benefit is privacy and a child’s control over their own space and things. However, says Dr. Crist, it shouldn’t be a decision made simply because affluence allows separate bedrooms. There is some baseline agreement: boys and girls should have separate bedrooms when they reach an age where modesty matters. Beyond that, says Dr. Crist, room-sharing has great benefits. “First of all, it teaches them to share” he says. “This youngest generation is one of always having ‘my own things.’” Kids who share bedrooms tend to be better at negotiating and resolving conflict says Dr. Crist, “as long as Mom and Dad don’t do it for them.” The important role of the parents becomes setting the age-appropriate boundaries and acting as a “consultant” to guide resolutions of the conflict when disagreements interfere with sleep or harmonious living.
Do you miss the happier days of shared bedrooms and a simpler life? My guest in next week’s blog did. And she did something about it. Join me next week here in House Call.
House Call is a blog by Kathy Chiero, Team Leader of The Kathy Chiero Group at Keller Williams Greater Cleveland. Find Kathy at www.OurOhioHome.com