Q: My new husband and I both have a child from a previous marriage. My daughter and his son just turned 13-years-old, their birthdays are one week apart. They have shared a bedroom for the past year but we are concerned that they may be getting too old to do that. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: So many parents ask me this question, but the answer seems obvious. Your children were too old to share a room years ago!
Parents combining families rarely think about the pressure this sort of thing puts on their children. The decision to share a room is usually based on how much room is available in the house, but there are other things to consider. Let’s start with the need for privacy. Kids their age are going through all sorts of body changes and rarely do they want to share this with a person of the opposite sex their same age.
Then there’s the social aspect – let’s say your 13-year-old son asked to have a friend sleep over, you probably wouldn’t think anything of it. What if that friend was a girl? Would you have the same response? Probably not, but that’s what you are doing if you allow two 13-year-olds of the opposite sex to share a bedroom. Not to mention, if your daughter or son has a friend spend the night, now you’re having a coed slumber party.
Let’s look it at another way: You have been living together for a little over a year. Stepsiblings the age of your children often have trouble assimilating into a family. They have different likes, different dislikes, different friends. “Being cool” is their social governor. As parents your days are spent telling them to be nice to each other, share, don’t snap. Then you put them to bed and close the door. What’s “cool” now?
The reason I presented it to you like this is so you could see what you have been asking your children to do by expecting them to share a room. They’re subjected to provocative sexually explicit material everywhere they turn – TV programs camouflaged by animation or mainstream social media postings by celebrities afraid their name won’t be in the paper for an hour. Your kids aren’t babies, they’re teenagers. Even if they didn’t share a room, the transition to living as a family is tough. You made it 100 times tougher.
The answer? Move or convert a room, but do it fast. And, from this point on get clear on your own boundaries. You can’t be wishy-washy about things like this. Make sure your kids know the family rules and what is expected, and have that all important conversation about sex and what might happen. They will probably hate that you brought it up. It doesn’t matter ... It’s your job to protect your kids. They aren’t the only ones who need to make good choices.
That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website, exetiquette.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)