Learning to put your first bra on is hard. Learning to put your first bra on in under five seconds lest your baby brother throw open the door at any moment and see you half-naked? That's substantially harder. Welcome to the life of a tween girl who shares a bedroom with her brother.
Welcome to the life I led for a substantial portion of my childhood. When I was 5, my brother came bursting into the world, full of snips, snails, and puppy dog tails. And after a stint in the bassinet in my parents' room, he was moved into the room I'd called my own for five years. It was a sleeping arrangement that would last until I was in high school -- a brother and sister together, sharing a bedroom.
Needless to say, it's one of the worse things I see parents doing to their children.
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I say this with full understanding that many parents in America don't have a whole lot of money or a whole lot of space -- and sometimes both at the same time.
That's not your kids' fault, folks. That's yours!
The New York Times recently examined the plight of parents who force their sons and daughters to bunk up. They cited an expert who admitted that scientists "haven't really" devoted any time or resources to studying the effects sharing a bedroom with our opposite-sex sibling can have on a child's social and sexual development.
They summed up parents' anxieties over it all in just one -- jarringly immature -- word: ick.
Ick? That's all parents are feeling?
How about a little sympathy for their kids?
Creating a mixed-gender bedroom is not likely to create some sort of Flowers in the Attic-type relationship between your children. I say this as a girl who survived sharing a bedroom with her little brother up until age 15: I had zero sexual interest in my brother nor he in me. We are, in that sense, sexually healthy.
However, those years were uncomfortable largely because while my body was changing, I had no means of escape from the prying eyes and loud mouth of a younger opposite sex sibling. Already insecure and frustrated with the lack of control I had over my body, moods fully at the whim of my raging hormones, I had no refuge.
And my brother, younger, clueless, did little to help.
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He was wont to burst into the room just as I unclasped my bra, screaming at me for having closed the door to "his" room, as I dove, red-faced, for a bathrobe or blanket to cover myself up, screeching "Mooooom" at the top of my lungs. I didn't want anyone seeing my body, least of all my little brother, but I had no control over the matter.
Nor did I have space to hide away the evidence of my march into puberty. We shared not only a room but a closet. There was no corner in which to secretly store a box of tampons, no place to stow a tub of Noxema pads unnoticed.
It was all seen ... and commented upon ... with derision.
To a young (admittedly overly) sensitive girl already struggling to make sense of who she was becoming, those comments were like knives to the heart.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and I see now that my baby brother was simply a little kid trying to make his own sense of what was happening to his sister, in his room. His intentions, while not necessarily good, were not cruel either.
But this is both the beauty and curse of hindsight. I couldn't see it that way at 12.
I could only see myself through the eyes of someone close to me, and what I saw was freakish and absurd.
I wouldn't blame the bulimia I would dive into on my little brother or on our shared bedroom, but it can't be coincidence that nearly 20 years later, I am still markedly uncomfortable with being naked for any period of time outside of the shower. Being naked in this body was simply not something I was ever able to get used to as I didn't have a space safe enough to do it.
Scientists may not have studied kids in enough detail to tell you what happens to them if they are forced to share close quarters with an opposite sex sibling, but they don't need to. I can tell you exactly what happens: the kids suffer.
Not immediately, at least not in the early days when the worst that happens is the younger one wrests a doll's arms off or the older one bops the toddler on his head for stealing her favorite toy. But when puberty begins to rear its ugly head, the child coming of age is forced to deal with an added stress that can deeply affect the psyche.
And why? Because their parents are broke or the house is too small for a second bedroom? Again, that's the parents' fault, not the kids'. So why should the kids suffer?
How do you feel about brothers and sisters sharing a bedroom? Is there an age when they should be separated?
Image via atravellingmom/Flickr