You might not think that how you parent and the space you live in are related, but as I wait for our new house to be built I’m anticipating aspects of my parenting that will be positively affected by the change. Having separate rooms for the kids and having a proper dining area are just two of the important changes from our current situation that will help me as I guide my two spectrum-kids through adolescence.
The feeding therapy program for Mr. Boo is going well. His weight has stabilized and he’s eating a well-rounded diet, but I have been unable to make meals at the table happen regularly. Even just doing dinner has been difficult, due to the fact that the one space we have for eating serves as my desk and home office. To prepare the space for a family meal, I need to clear off the table (which means finding space to put all my stuff), pull the table out from the corner, and then gather chairs from various locations around the home.
Having a proper dining table, a dedicated space for eating, will be a huge help with that. I plan to have ALL meals take place either at the dining table (family meals) or at the eating bar (kids’ meals and snack time). Not only will this help expose them to a wider variety of foods, but it will provide some much-needed family time…yes, despite being homeschoolers with mostly-work-at-home parents, older kids means less time spent interacting with each other. The few times we’ve had family dinners, I have really enjoyed the conversation and the sharing that goes on.
Having separate bedrooms is also going to help me address some parenting issues. My brother and I shared a room for the first 12 years of my life, and I have very pleasant memories of playing with him and whispered conversations after the lights were turned out. My kids have enjoyed the same relationship, for which I am very grateful. But now that they are entering their teen years, certain issues are coming up around privacy and needing a space of one’s own. They get moody, and when they are together each provides an easy target. Personal space and personal stuff is becoming increasingly more important. But bedtime is also an ongoing issue, and that’s what will change for the better when they have separate rooms.
Miss Em has been independent in regard to bedtime for a couple of years now. Hard to remember now that I had to put her to bed until she was 10 years old! Now she puts herself to bed, and at a reasonable time. When she knows she needs to get up early, she goes to bed early.
Not so for Mr. Boo. He still lacks the maturity and self-regulation to forgo the pleasures of whatever-he’s-doing-at-the-time in order to get a good night’s sleep – even though he knows that having to get up when you haven’t slept enough really sucks and makes your whole day lousy. Up until fairly recently, I was putting him to bed, ensuring that lights got turned out and computers put away at a reasonable hour. He always hated being told it was bedtime, and I always hated having an argument when I was at my most tired.
There were other reasons to hate bedtime: I couldn’t go to bed early if I was really tired or sick (Hubby is often away for work). Miss Em couldn’t enter the room while I was putting him to bed, because she was too much of a distraction for him. It didn’t seem fair to boot her out of her space at a time of day when she was winding down herself and wanting to relax in bed. Mr. Boo was also chafing at being “treated like a baby”, but a few trials over the holidays showed that he just didn’t have the self-discipline to pull it off on his own.
So we came up with a compromise: I would no longer put him to bed, but when his sister said “lights out”, he had to obey. Miss Em is naturally a “take-charge” kind of gal, and doesn’t find it difficult to enforce bedtime (most of the time). She also somewhat enjoys being able to set bedtime for the both of them. They have even developed a routine where she reads to him before lights out (bad fan fiction and not-so-creepy pastas* are favourites). But on occasion, he gets resistant and she has to deal with his antics. And sometimes she just doesn’t feel like taking on that responsibility. That’s when I feel guilty; it bothers me that I have essentially pawned off my parenting duties onto my daughter. But it was the best solution we could come up with, and all agreed it was their preferred choice, if not an ideal one.
But…when the kids have their own rooms, Miss Em will finally be absolved of bedtime parenting duty. She can go to her room whenever she pleases, independent of her brother’s needs or moods at the time. Hubby and I will be able to enforce a lights-out time that meets his needs, while still leaving Miss Em with the freedom to set her own hours. She will be able to get away from her brother and claim a space of her own, which is increasingly important as she gets older.
As I dream about moving into our new home and how that will change our day-to-day lives, I see a connection between the spaces we live in and our ability to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Our current house was never meant to be permanent, but with the kids getting older I’m finding myself increasingly hampered when it comes to implementing new parenting strategies. Perhaps that has made the relationship between parenting and living space more apparent to me. It was certainly on my mind while I was designing our new house, and I can’t wait for it to be done!
* creepy pastas is the Internet term for what we used to call “urban legends”; some of them are written badly enough that they end up being funny, and those are the ones my kids enjoy reading