The Brady Bunch was my favorite tv show when I was little. To me, their mix of family fun and drama (always resolved) was perfect. For some reason, I was especially fascinated with the room sharing dynamic. I used to watch all 3 sisters climbing into their respective beds with relative ease and good will and wonder just how they did it without fighting and disrupted sleep (I guess I was destined for my profession). In fact, room sharing is all over family tv shows and movies; it just seems so natural, so fun, filled with a good balance of sibling hijinks and love.
When I became a parent of one child and then two and then three children, I quickly fell out of love with room sharing and then slowly came around and fell back in love with room sharing after a lot of heart ache, misery, anxiety and overall mixed feelings. I just didn't see how it could work, but then very slowly with time and patience and back up plans, it did start to work and has worked well ever since. It has over the years become just what I saw on those shows - a mix of hijinks and love with a lot of fights and reconciliations thrown in for good measure. How did this tale that started off pretty badly get turned around and end well? Here are the important lessons that I learned therefore tips for you to make it work.
- It takes time. It will not go well the first week, it will get better the second week, and it will feel normal after a month.
- Plan for every scenario. Say to yourself, "if Mary screams and wakes up the baby, I will...," and have an answer. I find taking out the older child is usually the better call. Give them a neutral place to be until they can be a better room sharing partner.
- Babies tend to do better if they are allowed to stay in their crib even if they make noise. If you constantly rescue them every time they make a noise, then it will inevitably get worse.
- If you need to sleep train your younger first, do it in his new room (with the older sibling enjoying a sleep-over elsewhere in your home or even elsewhere, grandma's?)
- Prepare your older sibling, tell her what it will be like and how to respond. Explain that you hear the baby and that she - - big sister -- doesn't need to listen to her sister or brother. Instead, she can ... give her a concrete activity such as, 'roll over, hug your kitty, and go back to sleep.'
- Have an alternate sleep space prepared, if your big kid is really bothered by an early wake up from his brother, move the baby to a travel crib if absolutely necessary OR move your older sleeper to a cot or nest in another room or hallway, preferably not your room.
- Trust that they will be able to sleep through more than you might imagine. Use white noise, and give them the chance to learn each others noises.
- Figure out bedtime and practice how to be quiet or whisper - - if your older one comes in after the younger is asleep. Use flashlights, headlamps, a light up turtle or special nightlight to give him some feelings of bedtime in his room, in his bed.
- If your older one is purposefully waking up the baby to get to you (been there), take him out and let him wait until he is ready to do bedtime properly. Don't let him sit on the couch and watch tv with you (you are just rewarding the behavior). Instead have some sort of neutral space to take a break -- kind of like a bedtime time-out. Explain the structure and consequence before you start.
- Point out how siblings share rooms. As mentioned above, it's in most books and tv shows about family. Also listen to concerns and validate them. Create a special big boy or big girl space either in the room or elsewhere in your home, so your older child doesn't feel like he is losing his things and his space.
Please believe me that this does work. It does get sorted out, and you will be AMAZED by what they can sleep through.