Ex-etiquette: When kids share a room ...

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Q. My 12-year-old daughter recently told me her 11-year-old stepbrother tried to kiss her before he went to bed the other night. She was already asleep, and they share a room. We gently confronted him, and he admitted to it, but he was very embarrassed, and my daughter is mortified. My husband and I have only been married six months and we moved into his two-bedroom condo. We obviously need more room, but we felt demonstrating a positive, loving relationship after both of our bad divorces was more important. His son goes back and forth between his mother’s home and ours. We aren’t sure what to do at this point. What do you suggest? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Parents in your position have often confided that they were so excited about finding a new compatible partner and how well everyone got along that they did not anticipate something like you describe. The truth is, you should and I’m glad you asked the question so we can discuss it.

Yes, it is important to demonstrate a loving relationship, but there’s so much more to moving in together than, “Look how well we get along.” This is not only your home, but your children’s home. They need their individual space and privacy just as you do. People change in their bedrooms or retire to their room and close the door for privacy. Parents often see their children as innocent little ones and it doesn't register that their babies have sexual feelings in adolescence. Plus, many school districts initiate sex education at the fifth- or sixth-grade level, not to mention what kids are exposed on social media and movies.

So now you have an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old behind closed doors with limited understanding of what they are feeling, and the consequences associated with their actions. That’s a huge responsibility with very little preparation.

Consider this: If your daughter invited a boy from her class over, they decided to hang out in her bedroom, how much privacy would you allow them? Would you monitor their interaction? When I have posed this question to other parents, they’re answer is usually, “We wouldn’t have let them hang out in the bedroom.” But, you have expected your children to share a bedroom…


And I’m not just pointing this out to parents who have children of the opposite sex. Experimentation is part of life. This does not mean that all will experiment, but it also doesn’t guarantee that they won’t, and that means bonus families need clear family rules and boundaries set up by their parents to guide children through completely unchartered waters. It doesn’t sound like this was offered to your kids prior to your expecting them to share a room.

So, what are the alternatives at this point? Make it a priority to find a more appropriate space for your family. I understand that finances may be a consideration, but so is your children’s comfort.

There is always the possibility that your bonus son can stay at his mother’s until that happens, however, that will open another can of worms. I’m sure your husband will not like that, nor will his son for that matter. The perception in these cases is that dad likes you best and none of this would have happened if you weren’t around.

So, you may have to get creative with sleeping space in your home—but stop setting your children up for failure. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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