Our friends can't understand it. My husband and I have chosen to just over 1,100 square feet with three roommates who don't pay rent, peee pretty much everywhere, and make excessive noise at all hours. And they all one room.
When we bought our home, it had just two bedrooms and one bathroom. Pregnant with our third child, I insisted on renovating, converting an oversized entryway into a teeny tiny third bedroom. But it's a project room when it's not a guestroom, home to my scrapbooking supplies, sewing machine, and the collection of high heels I rarely get to wear anymore.
The kids' room — because that's what it's called when there's only one — has a set of bunk beds a crib. In another year or so, we plan to get rid of the latter, instead pulling out the trundle in the evenings for our youngest and sliding it back under the bottom bunk each morning.
There are definite downsides to the situation. Though they have mostly learned to sleep through one another's stirrings, my six-year-old sometimes wakes the baby when she noisily climbs down to use the bathroom at night. And when our one-year-old is sick and hollers at the top of her lungs, I end up finally rocking her back to sleep, eager to rest my screaming shoulders, only to find that the older two are wide awake and interested in the type of midnight chatting and hugs that I can neither deny nor enjoy.
So why do we do it? I grew up as the oldest in a family with six kids. You'd think that would mean physical pile-ups, but we were raised in a sprawling suburban house. We each had our own room which contained our own TV. When we argued, we threw a few verbal and literal blows, and then retreated to our own space. Even to this day, when one of us gets angry, the tendency is to take off: Leave the room, hop in a car, go home. Old slights fester and new wounds just deepen the pain.
My husband, on the other hand, is one of four boys brought up in a three-bedroom apartment in New York City. He and his brothers are superb at conflict resolution. They are all unfailingly polite and considerate, and when things do come to a head they're discussed and resolved. Here's the thing though: When they were little, they fought like cats and dogs. But they had nowhere to run. They had to learn to express themselves, disagree, work it out, and move on. As a result, they can now process and forgive in both personal and professional situations.
Our strategy is to encourage our kids to develop the same coping skills by limiting the space available to them. We see it working.
"No," my older daughter yells, "you're doing it WRONG! That's not how I said. You're RUINING it!"
My four-year-old son, clearly crestfallen, scurries out of the living room and into the bedroom, vaulting over my nursing chair and flinging himself down onto his bunk. My daughter follows.
"Get out!" he shouts.
"No," she says, "it's my room too."
I keep my distance, listening in on the baby monitor. A long silence follows. Then, "I guess we can try it your way just once," she says.
"Okay," he sniffles, "and then we'll do it like you said two times and then three times my way and then four times your way, okay?"
They emerge holding hands, broad smiles across their anger-mottled and tear-stained faces, looking like a scene out of some sort of post-apocalyptic Pollyanna.
The exchange reminds me of my own happiest childhood memories, when we vacationed each summer to a small house on a remote North Carolina beach. As in, so remote that it could only be accessed by four-wheel-drive vehicles driving over the dunes, and grocery runs happened once a week. We competed for control of the one TV, which only showed movies, and pretty much all we had for entertainment was each other. We bickered and we cried, but all on top of each other, we thrived.
My husband and I built the third bedroom with these thoughts in mind. This way, we won't have to move to a bigger place. When puberty makes it uncomfortable for all three kids to a room, our son will get the little room and his sisters will continue to split the big one.
Hopefully though, with their doors directly across the hall from one another and just one bathroom to go around, we'll still have the type of cramped jumble that breeds a close-knit family, individuals who know how to talk things through and work together.
We get why our friends like more breathing room and less conflict. Right now a little space would be great. But creating love that can endure all trials? In our experience, that's better.