Like Peas in a Pod …

Bert and Ernie, Laverne and Shirley, the Veggie Tales’ French Peas and me. We all have something in common. We are veterans of sharing a room with someone else.

As the oldest of five children living in 1400 square feet, I was destined to grow up sharing space with another. The trend continued when I left home for college. And again when I got married. Sharing small spaces became an art form when my husband and I brought our first baby home to our 250-square-foot studio cottage. Talk about peas in a pod! We were cozy, indeed. Today we have three young boys sharing one bedroom, usually quite peacefully.

When I was young, my parents’ decision to have us share bedrooms was an economic one. It didn’t make financial sense to buy a six-bedroom house just so the kids could have their own rooms. When you think about it, the one kid per room ratio is a new trend for Americans, having become possible for many only in the last 60 years or so. For hundreds of years, entire American families lived in just one or two rooms. Today, it is still one wise way for a family to cut the budget — to move to a smaller, less expensive home and live with a little less space.

Some parents choose to pair up their kids because it frees up bedrooms for other activities. If your children only use their bedrooms to sleep and dress in, let them camp out together in one room and use the extra space for other purposes: a media center, a family library with comfy chairs and desks for studying, or a playroom.

Practicalities aside, there is great joy in hearing your little babes giggle together after “lights out”. Sure there are squabbles, but life is full of disagreements. In fact, when you consider the other roommate situations in your children’s futures — namely college and marriage — it is to their benefit to learn how to cohabitate efficiently, tidily and peacefully.

Whatever your reasons for bunking kids in one room, there can be roadblocks to a harmonious coexistence. Two of the biggest challenges are how to curb the mess created by more than one kid in an area and how to keep the peace when space must be shared, especially when habits and tastes are decidedly different. Surmounting these hurdles will not only result in family tranquility but will better equip your kids for the future.

Here are some techniques that can help siblings (and spouses) live happily in one room:

Give each kid his own place for special treasures.

Limit the size of this keepsake box and regularly sort through the treasures together. Be considerate; what you see as junk may be valuable to your child. Draw him out through conversation. Why is this important to you? Can we display it instead of stuffing it in a box? Can we take a picture to remember it instead of storing it?

Establish a chore system.

A major element of roommate squabbles is the argument over whose mess it is and who’s going to clean it up. Be proactive. Bedroom cleaning tasks can include stripping the beds of dirty sheets, remaking them with clean linens, vacuuming, dusting, and taking dirty clothes to the laundry room and sorting them. Rotate the jobs amongst the troops on a regular basis. Offer assistance where needed. Make each child responsible for making his own bed, depositing dirty clothes and linens in the hamper, and putting clean clothes away.

Consider the habits and health concerns of each and make allowances as necessary.

One of our boys struggles with springtime allergies that are exasperated by the ceiling fan and open windows. Usually his older brothers are happy to cooperate with his needs. Occasionally, when the other two are too hot to sleep, we allow someone (or two) to sleep in the guest room.

Offer a listening ear to your children when they are struggling with each other.

Be attentive to each side’s perspective and encourage their problem solving skills. Offer solutions to their disagreements and let them choose a course of action, when appropriate. Don’t hesitate to lay down the rules of the home when necessary. Demonstrate patience throughout.

Create a quiet retreat spot for each kid.

This is important, especially as children grow older and desire occasional solitude. A place to read or think without the presence of a pesky sibling can be helpful on rough days. Designate a cozy corner of the basement or a sunny window seat for each child as his special place to be.

Present opportunities for the roomies to “bond.”

Think of all those team building activities your employer has used. Creative projects usually help unify people. Encourage your kids to create posters and signs for their door and room and to choose some of the décor together. Create a nickname for the room or for the pair of siblings. Reveal the fun to be had in sharing a room, in sharing life together.

It may take some adjusting, but there are benefits to your kids’ sharing a room. Perhaps you can spend less money on housing costs. Maybe your entire family will enjoy game nights in a new playroom. Above all, you will certainly be able to watch with fascination as your children mature and learn to live considerately and peacefully with someone of a different temperament. I’ll bet your sons- and daughters-in-law will thank you.

Jessica Fisher is a freelance writer living near Kansas City. She and her husband share the joy of raising four young boys.