When's the right time to move your kids into the same room? Becky Pugh recently bit the bullet, and was surprised with the outcome
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Crunch time came one drizzly Friday night in July. We had just arrived in Yorkshire, after six fractious hours on the M1, to spend the weekend with friends. Our boys – aged five and almost two, pictured above – had fallen asleep only in the final moments of the journey.
Our hosts greeted us with icy gin and tonics, and the news that they’d made up the study with a cot for Louis, a camp bed for Arthur and a bevy of teddy bears. Why didn’t we slip the slumbering babes into it and come and relax in the sitting room, they urged?
It was late, we were tired and the friends had gone to so much trouble that neither my husband nor I were brave enough to admit the truth: our boys had never shared a bedroom before, and it was bound to be a disaster if they did. Instead, we took a deep breath, deposited the boys in their beds and said a hurried prayer:
'Please don’t let them wake up all night and howl in horror at the sight of one another, the strange room, the bed they’ve wet (Arthur) or the dummy they’ve lost (Louis). Please don’t let them wake up at 5am and find the sight of each another so exciting that they can’t get back to sleep. Above all, please don’t let them wake our kind hosts or their three daughters.'
By the time the grown-ups hit the hay though, we hadn’t heard a peep from our boys. My husband and I went to bed promising each other that if the rest of the night went badly, we could stick Louis in a cupboard or a bathroom for the next one. In fact, that night and those that followed went so smoothly that we have never separated them again.
I always hoped they would shack up together. But, until the weekend in Yorkshire forced my hand, I was too weedy to attempt it. I was frightened that the upheaval would affect their sleep – and therefore mine. I couldn’t bear to watch months of agonising sleep training unravel before my eyes. (Yes, I am that mother who never travels without a Gro Anywhere blackout blind, who rigidly enforces the rules of the Gro clock and who bans adults flushing the loo between the hours of midnight and 7am.)
Bedtime certainly isn’t as peaceful these days; the boys jostle over the choice of story; they don’t go off to sleep as quickly; and Louis wakes Arthur earlier in the morning than he’d like. But the good outweighs the bad. Every day is topped and tailed with private jokes between brothers, and the connection created in their bedroom seems to seep into the rest of life. They are learning vital lessons about tolerance, generosity and generally rubbing along well with others. They look out for each other now with a whole new devotion.
Fifty years ago, across the class spectrum, a child with its own bedroom was a rare beast. When I was young, I and pretty much everyone in my midst co-habited with a sibling. My cross-generational straw poll throws up overwhelmingly positive memories of doing so – until a certain age, at least.
A friend recalls: “I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was 15. We both adored it. We chatted loads and were never lonely. I’d probably still share with her now – if we weren’t both married.”
My uncle, who has nine siblings, fondly remembers sharing with two of his brothers. “We had tremendous fun. There were endless games and talk and jokes, and a good many rows. I don’t think, at least until very late on, I ever thought about having my own room.”
But the middle-class tendency nowadays, if space allows, is to keep precious offspring in separate bedrooms – maximising sleep and minimising disruption. Writer and presenter Sue Palmer, whose bestselling books include 'Toxic Childhood' and '21st Century Boys', considers this unnecessary. “I can’t see why sharing a bedroom with a sibling on a regular basis would interfere with children’s sleep. The point about a bedroom is that it’s a place for sleeping, and if that’s what children get into the habit of doing in their bedroom, they’ll do it whether it’s a shared space or not.”
Plus, I know of plenty of children who’ve abandoned perfectly appointed rooms of their own in order to bed down with a sibling. Why? Because it is cosy, it is companionable and, crucially, it is a riot.
One mother I know, whose daughters – aged five and three – choose to share a bedroom, says: “It’s fabulous to hear my girls chat and sing at night, and also play in the morning. They love being together. Whenever we suggest that they separate, they scream: ‘No, no, no!’”
Another says: “Our boys started sharing a room when we realised how much easier it makes staying with people. My older son reads to his younger brother, and helps him with his school tie in the morning. They chatter away and don’t come anywhere near our room until 7.30am.
“I am starting to get the feeling, though, that my eldest – who goes to sleep later and wakes up earlier – would appreciate his own space.”
And there’s the rub. Though I will struggle with midnight feasts and pillow fights, I’m determined to enjoy whatever chaos my little boys – united in mischief – throw my way at bedtime. Bunk beds won’t seem so glamorous to a pair of stroppy, spotty teenagers. My only hope is that the bond they’re forging now, in the darkness of their attic room, will be unbreakable by then.
Becky Pugh is a freelance journalist. You can follow her on Instagram at @BeckyPugh