Q. My sister-in-law and I have quite compatible families--happy and active--and we are involved with our children and their activities, but we have a problem we would like to resolve. (We have eight children between us.)
What do you do about a child's bedroom when she goes off to college and there are several other children sharing a bedroom and waiting to take possession of her room?
Our eldest, a college student, shares quarters in a dorm at school and we'd like her to have some privacy when she comes home. The answer seems simple until we try to explain this to her two younger brothers, 12 and 14. They feel resentful because they have to move out during the holidays and summers, and the college student feels somewhat displaced because her brother has made drastic changes in "her room."
We don't want the college student to feel as if she has been thrown out, but how can we justify an empty bedroom when the others are sharing the one other small bedroom?
We have tried logic, common sense and as a last resort told them how it will be, but there is grumbling and complaining and hurt feelings no matter what the solution.
My brother and his wife have five daughters--18, 17, 15, 12 and 3--and the problem is about the same, although the girls don't make as many changes.
We believe in harmony and try to be sensitive to each child's personality and psyche, but we are becoming a little distracted trying to please everybody. HELP!
A. Where is Solomon when you really need him?
Parents are blessed if the bedroom dilemma is their biggest problem, but it takes true wisdom to solve it.
It also takes time--like four years--and then the child is out of college and has an apartment of her own, but the sense of displacement never really leaves. Even when she is married with children of her own she still would be happier to know that her room is unsullied and untouched--a museum to her youth.
This has little to do with jealousy or selfishness, but with a sense of security: It's the place where she belongs. It is her sanctuary, the last place she ever lived where someone else took care of her. No one gives up this haven willingly.
And yet, of course, time does not stand still; the younger children have their rights and you can't be expected to have the money or the space to maintain the dreamhouse--and the dream room--each child remembers.
What your daughter needs is the reassurance that there is always room for her, whether she has her old room or not, and that she still has her place in the family, whether she goes away to school or a job or gets married. It's the estrangement that is really the crux of the problem.
She comes home to brothers or sisters who seem to have grown overnight, memories she has no part of and family jokes she doesn't understand: She feels like an outsider. And when she tries to tell you about some silly time at school and you look baffled, she realizes how much she has changed, too. This not only brings a sense of loss, but it's hard for your daughter to believe that she is as welcome as ever, when there is a new chasm between you.
Summers and holidays have to be the time for talking and catching up, making new family memories and resolving to write more so the family can keep in better touch.
Summer is also the time to work out more amicable housing solutions, with the younger children having as much input as their big sister.
She does need her own room when she's home--since she can't share it with a brother--but they both must recognize that they're on a time-sharing plan. Both must decide on what the place should look like, perhaps paint it together and choose or make a new bedspread and curtains.
They also should decide about their personal possessions, since they probably will be the focus of arguments. Your son clears his closet completely, takes out his gear, cleans the desk, puts his wall decorations away for the summer (but not the holidays) and cleans the room well. Your daughter does the same thing before she goes back to school in the fall. It's important for both of them to be sensitive to each other's feelings.
Because your younger children are the same sex, you have another option. Your sons could share their same old bedroom and turn your daughter's bedroom into their own living room or their own guest room for their friends--including their sister when she comes home. It wouldn't look like it did when she lived there, but she wouldn't be moving anyone out of his room.
And will these solutions erase your children's sense of displacement? No, but they may give you a little more harmony, which is just what you need. Parents also have their sensitive psyches to worry about.