Six years ago, when our twins were born, we added a second floor to our home. One day Gary, our builder, took me aside. “Let me design a bedroom that will be a sanctuary,” he said. He went on to describe a room of enormous proportions, complete with cathedral ceilings, walk-in closet, master bath with jacuzzi…you get the idea. I was a sleep-deprived, frazzled mom of three kids ages 2 and under, and a sanctuary sounded, well, awesome to me! And so I readily, gratefully agreed.
Of course, you all know what became of that sanctuary, right? Within about 2 minutes of our moving in, it was strewn with toys, clothes, and baby paraphernalia. The closet became a tiny playroom, lined with stuffed animals and more often than not, various articles of our clothing that had at one time been clean and wrinkle-free. Our queen size bed was usually occupied by one or more small people whom I termed “heat seeking missiles” because no matter how far I rolled, they always seemed to follow. And the jacuzzi, in which Ted and I were meant to rekindle our romance? Turns out it made the perfect wading pool. Too full of toys to accommodate a full-size human being, it became the property of the small fry. So much for the sanctuary.
Time went on, and Maggie eventually joined our family. We were faced with the reality that we had four kids, three bedrooms (including ours), and a problem on our hands. The twins were struggling to share their room (they never, not once, were able to fall asleep together, which led to all kinds of issues – and, in fairness, to a few funny stories, too). Thomas was annoyed that he couldn’t share his room, which was large enough only for him. And Maggie, it seemed, would inhabit a corner of our bedroom until she was eighteen.
Added to this was the toy factor. My kids have always played big. They are almost always knee-deep in some fantastic imaginary world, which is truly fabulous. Unfortunately, it usually requires them to be knee-deep in props, too, and this is not so fabulous. Their rooms were so messy that I seriously felt an “enter at your own risk” sign would not be amiss. What truly amazed me was how I could spend hours cleaning and organizing, paring down the amount of toys, throwing out the junk, and still, in a matter of minutes, the whole thing would look like the scene of a particularly vicious tornado.
When we found radical unschooling, a lot changed for our family. Gradually, we let go of strict bedtimes, gave our kids more food freedom, and pursued our passions instead of a curriculum. Our mainstream ideas of parenting were shifting. But we still struggled with the whole upper level of our home. It remained an enormous mess; our room, tub and bed were still invaded regularly, and “sanctuary” wasn’t even on the horizon.
We tried everything we could think of, but nothing seemed to work. Our kids still weren’t falling asleep peacefully. You still couldn’t walk across a room without serious risk to life and limb. Toys were broken, clothing lost to some remote laundry abyss, and sleep was as challenging as it had been all along.
So what did we do? We abandoned all conventional cultural wisdom and embraced something that would cause certain parenting “experts” to drop their teeth.
We did away with bedrooms.
We’re more than a month in, and I am thrilled to report that we’ve finally found that elusive sanctuary we’d been looking for. Turns out that keeping the kids out wasn’t the secret; it was letting them in.
Check out part two to find out what changes we made and why our entire second floor is now truly a sanctuary.