When musician Kari Lee needed a music room in her house, she and her husband moved their son into a bedroom with his two sisters. When the Leahy boy/girl twins were born, their parents felt it would be easier to have them in the same room. Even first lady Michelle Obama shared a room with her brother, Craig Robinson, while growing up.
Fifty years ago, sharing a room was common. Then it went out of fashion. Today, due to the economy or just a desire to downsize and live smarter, kids are starting to share rooms again. And sometimes those siblings are brother and a sister, either by necessity or choice.
Many parents have fond memories of sharing a room. Or, at the very least they recognize the value of the lessons they learned while sharing.
"Sharing a room helps kids learn to interact with other people, how to share and respect private space," says Dr. Mark Sharp, a clinical psychologist in Oak Brook. "All of this has to be worked out at some level when you share a room, and those are all useful life skills."
Other parents find that when brothers and sisters share a room, the squabbling is much less than between the same-sex siblings.
"There is usually more competitiveness and rivalry with same-sex siblings," explains James J. Crist, author of Siblings, You're Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together! "Siblings of the opposite sex just don't breed that same conflict. It's the same way that girls in the classroom can moderate boys."
The Lee children range in age from 7 to 12. "We're trying to make use of the space in our house the best we can. We have one huge bedroom that fits three full-size beds and still leaves plenty of room," Lee says. They bought floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to allow each child to have their own space and are considering painting one of the walls a color for each of them.
Many parents find kids actually spend so little time in their rooms that it's not much of an issue.
Rory Leahy of Clarendon Hills has boy/girl twins who shared a room until fourth grade. "It wasn't like they made it a social space. They get along really well and it was a nice experience for them."
Sharp recommends parents work with their kids to set up an expectation of personal space and privacy. "Kids may want to help determine those rules, to decide what is theirs and what is shared," he says.
Eventually some special accommodations need to be made, particularly as kids approach puberty. This doesn't mean they need to be split up. For the Lee family, this involves rotating the morning and evening routines. "My kids usually get dressed individually in the bathrooms after a shower. Or they rotate brushing their teeth and changing in the morning," she says.
Crist agrees. "The one issue that gets problematic as they get older is the sense of modesty," he says. Often a simple adjustment is all that's needed.
"Once they are aware of the differences, they just shouldn't undress in front of each other. Use the room for sleep and play. If parents are concerned, have a rule of leaving the door open," Crist says.
It's always important to talk to kids directly and see how they feel about it. If parents set ground rules and discuss privacy and boundary issues in advance, they're much less likely to see conflict.
Brothers and sisters who share a room receive a lifelong lesson in how the opposite sex thinks and acts. They learn how boys and girls are different and how they are the same. They're not nearly as prone to stealing each other's toys and are more likely to be protective of each other.
Sharp says they also are more likely to have a healthier attitude towards the opposite sex. "By sharing a room, they're more open to a different dimension of gender relationships. They're more comfortable with the other gender."
Above all, sharing a room can forge a closeness like nothing else. "I love hearing them talk to each other," Lee says. "They talk about everything at night when the lights are out. I really think if they were by themselves it would be a different relationship."
Laura Amann is a freelance writer living in Elmhurst and the mother of three girls and one boy. Her son and daughter choose to share a room.