Picture a family. There’s a mom, a dad, and two kids – a boy and a girl. They live in a house with a white picket fence that is bordered by daffodils poking their green tips out of the earth. Coming in and out of the house freely is a black lab with a smile in his wag and excitement in his breath. The house is a Victorian with a wide front porch, hardwood floors, and crown molding. Step inside and you will see a room for each of them. The first room on the left is the 4 year old girl’s room, and it sits directly across from her dad’s office. A little farther in is the master bedroom, a large King size bed in the middle of the room and a closet for each spouse on both sides of the room. Walk through the bathroom and you reach the last bedroom with the 1 year old drooling boy grinning out at you from his crib. Everything is in its own place, every person has their own space, and all is harmonious in this family of four.
Now picture the same family two years later. A lifetime of hurts has torn them apart and there is no choice but to divorce. The mother and two children leave the house they had made a home, give away the dog, and let the daffodils die where they grow. The father disappears into his own tragedy – the result of poor choices and resulting circumstances. There is no money. The mother is forced to go on any kind of aid there is just to be able to feed herself and the kids. She moves in with her parents for several years to get back on her feet. They sleep all in one bedroom, but are greatful for the roof over their heads. The kids are 3 and 6. The toddler sleeps with his mother, while the 6 year old sleeps in a bed on the other side of the room.
After some time, the mother is able to find a job that pays well, but not well enough to be able to afford an apartment at today’s rental prices. Luckily she qualifies for low-income housing. She applies for an apartment after searching everywhere for the right fit, and is accepted. The draw?
The apartment has only 2 bedrooms.
At this point the kids are 5 and 8. And the mother knows that her choices are slim. “When they are a little bit older I will surely be able to afford a bigger place so that they can have their own space.” She knows that right now there really isn’t as much of an issue of privacy. They are still young enough that it really doesn’t matter, and truthfully, they are all more thrilled at having their own space than to nitpick over the particulars. She takes the small apartment gladly, proud of the fact that she is able to afford to take care of her kids on her own and that they will now have a new apartment to make into a home. The kids are placed happily in their new room, ecstatic over the new bunkbed they will now sleep in.
3 years later, and the family still lives in this apartment. The mother has since gotten more pay and hours with her job. But all it has allowed her to do is to get off of public assistance. While the mother is happy to not have to accept money from the county to be able to live, she is no better financially. She lives very simply and frugally, and there is still no extra money. Her ex still contributes the same amount as he did before – zilch. Her kids are older now: her daughter is 11 and her son is 8. And they still share the same room, and sleep in the same bunkbed. The room is a disaster – clothes and toys litter the floors since there really is no room in one tiny bedroom for a proper place to put their things. The walls near the top bunk hold posters of the latest movie stars and pop singers. This is where her daughter sleeps. The bottom bunk is decorated with contraptions and Hot Wheels hanging from yo-yos by strings off the top bunk. This is where her son sleeps. The clothes on the floor are mainly the boy’s, as the girl is very careful to put all of her clothes away in her drawers. The top of the dresser is taken up by all the novels her daughter is in the middle of reading. In the morning when they wake, the daughter grabs her clothes from the dresser and quickly dresses on the top of the bunkbed before her brother gets up. If he wakes up, she instructs him to stay where he is so that she can finish dressing. Or she will wait till he gets up to go to the bathroom, and then locks the door behind him. He has no choice but to wait outside the room till she is done so that he can get dressed as well.
The mother tries to apply for a three bedroom in the same complex. When it comes to low-income housing, the choices are slim. Many low-income areas have very poor living conditions and a lot of crime. Her biggest concern is that her kids grow up positively. Despite their thin pockets the mother insists that they will live in a place where they can feel safe. This home, while small, has a high level of comfort and serenity. The neighbors are kind and friendly. The evenings are quiet. The kids have friends that come by every day to see if they can play, and all the parents have formed an alliance with each other to look out for each other’s children. It is a bonded community, and the mother knows that if she were to leave to find a bigger home she could afford, it would not be like this. She knows because she has looked. She knows because she has read the news stories from the same areas that hold the lower income houses. So the mother is forced to be at her manager’s mercy when it comes to getting a bigger apartment.
Unfortunately, the mother is not the only one in her predicament. There are many families – some with single parents, some with both parents in the home – that have small children and require a bigger home. The mother puts herself on the waiting list for a three bedroom, even as she wonders how she will some up with the extra $300 a month it will cost her. And she waits. And she waits. But the thing is, with the economy the way it is, no family is willing to let go of their apartment, and no family is able to exceed the guidelines for living in such a place. So the mother is forced to endure living in a small apartment where her tween daughter and adolescent son are forced to share a room.
Meanwhile, the daughter and son have grown to hate each other more than anything. They bicker constantly, mostly over the small amount of space made even smaller by the son’s messy habits. The daughter bosses the son around. The son purposely aggravates the daughter. The privacy issue is visited time and again as each complains about having to be locked out of their own room. And it gets tiresome for each to take turns using the room or to have to go in their mom’s room to dress. Their tight quarters cause them to feed off each other, and then cry out to their mom to referee. And the mother finds herself at her wits’ end, unknowing how to resolve this issue once and for all in a situation that seems hopeless, and knowing more than anything else that as the kids get older the need for their own space is getting more vital.
The issue on brothers and sisters sharing a room is never black and white. Sure, it’s ideal if they have their own rooms. But what if the choices are slim and it just isn’t possible? What then? Leave your thoughts in the comments, or join the discussion in the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.