I grew up always having my own room. This had its perks sometimes, but I remember being lonely a lot, missing the company of my older sisters. My husband, on the other hand, shared a room with his brother and loved it, having fond memories of pillow fights and comforting talks in the night after scary dreams. As parents we decided this is what we wanted for our sons, to share a room.
So last month we moved our youngest son, Luke, out of his room for about a week so we could paint and redecorate. James was in the “nursery” which we wanted to keep for any future baby Watts. The day before Thanksgiving, we moved both boys into the newly remodeled “Big Boys Room,” fully equipped with new pictures and decorations to appeal to our little construction and aviator enthusiasts. They loved it! We were expecting a really tough transition but surprisingly, the first couple days went incredibly well. They both went right to sleep at bedtime and naps. We kept the same bedtime routine and they seemed to enjoy reading books together, each taking a turn picking one out. James was no longer waking up with nightmares. Luke would even stay in his crib until their special alarm clock turned green at 7 a.m., and then his brother would bring over a stool for him to climb onto. It was too good to be true.
On about the fourth night, James woke up screaming from a bad dream. I rushed in and quietly calmed him down. Luke rolled over in his crib but was soon back to sleep. I tiptoed out of the room and back to my bed, only to be rushing back in five minutes later to yet another outburst from James. This time Luke didn’t fall back asleep, but was now crying and upset. A brief snuggle in the rocking chair and a few lullabies got him settled back in for the night. It was all downhill from there.
Naps were the next problem. Suddenly Luke realized he could jump up and down in his crib, tossing out all his blankets, pillow and stuffed toys only to have his slightly OCD brother pick each of them up and toss them back in — every single time. I thought it was a fluke, the boys were overly tired from the night before, and I reasoned that they would have to fall asleep eventually. Nope.
Naps became non-existent for the next couple of weeks, unless they fell asleep in the van on the way home from somewhere. But then inevitably one of them would wake up and rouse the other. Because naps weren’t happening, our afternoons became stressful. Bedtime routines got cut shorter, tempers were high and patience low. They would stay awake in their rooms for hours talking, climbing in and out of each other’s beds, hauling piles of books in with them to eventually use as flying missiles to send at each other. It sounded like a war zone above us as Justin and I huddled together on the couch, discussing why exactly had we moved them in together in the first place.
We exhausted all our parenting tactics to make naps and bedtime more tolerable. I tried the gentle approach of calmly entering their room over and over again to remind them of the rules, laying Luke back down, tucking in James’ covers. When that wasn’t working, I tried sternly barking at them over the video monitor, to which they would jump out of their skin. Didn’t work. I tried offering amazing rewards for quietly going to bed at night or staying in bed at nap time, but it didn’t work either since neither of them would accomplish the desired task to receive the reward.
Out of frustration, I would stomp up the stairs, fling open the door and scream empty threats like canceling Christmas. I found myself going insane. In an all-time parenting low, I took them each out of their beds one day and placed them in separate empty rooms, proclaiming that they had lost the right to share a room and now had to sleep on the floor of these empty rooms, alone. After that, I sat in the hallway and sobbed, realizing just how tired and frustrated I’d become with this endeavor. I went and put James back to bed where he promptly fell asleep without his noisy brother keeping him awake. I took Luke downstairs and spent the afternoon quietly reading books to him and watching his favorite shows. That evening we put Luke to bed first where he fell asleep quickly, then quietly tucked James in later on, instructing him to be “quiet as a Ninja.” Amazingly, it worked.
Things aren’t perfect. Mornings are still a struggle as they continue to wake up early and act like wild animals until the alarm clock turns green and they’re allowed out of their room. But so far, naps and bedtime have become slightly better as long as we put them down one at a time. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s better than it was.
I’m stubbornly holding on to the dream of the boys sharing a room. In hindsight, I think Luke was too young to have moved them in together. He doesn’t understand a lot of the rules and it’s unfair to hold him to the same standard as James. It’s also unfair to expect James to ignore his little brothers obnoxious antics and fall asleep anyway, though I know full well Luke would stop and fall asleep too if he didn’t get a response from his brother. But getting a 4-year-old and a 2-year old on the same page is almost futile.
So far we are sticking to our guns with this decision and hoping for the best — isn’t that ultimately what parenting is?
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.