Have you ever heard someone gleefully say, “and the kids basically have their own wing in the house! They have their own bathroom, computer, television, everything!” As the parent, I know this feels like a wonderful thing for you to be able to give your child. Your children don’t have to grow up in cramped quarters, as perhaps you grew up. They don’t have to fight over who gets to choose the television show, and they have their own privacy, real privacy. Hate to be the one to burst your bubble again. But your kids having their own wing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The house we moved into as my daughter entered adolescents was a two story bungalow. Initially, I gave my daughter the big room upstairs. The only other rooms up there were the office and a den for her and the kids to play video games. Although I always told her different, she basically had her own little apartment. Before buying this house, we’d always lived in apartments or flats. There was always ample space but never more space than we needed. My daughter loved essentially having her own place. I started to notice after a while that I barely saw the kid! She’d come downstairs to eat and watch tv but most of her time was spent on the computer or doing something else upstairs. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was going on but I could feel that I missed my child. Suddenly there was a distance to which I was unaccustomed. And the intimacy of our parent-child relationship had been impacted.
After about a year, I rented out the upstairs apartment. My daughter’s bedroom was back on the same floor as mine. We put the computer in the corner of the kitchen. Now, instead of her disappearing every day when she came home from school, she was in high school by then, she sat in the kitchen on the computer while I cooked. We talked and shared things about our day. These times are fond memories for me from her teenage years.
In addition to the smaller space giving us the opportunity to interact without trying, it did something else very important in this day and age. The computer was located in a centralized, public space in the house. I have always respected my daughter’s privacy. I never read her journals, I wouldn’t sneak into her email account. But remember, your child is a child and living under your wing because they need your guidance. You cannot offer guidance on what you don’t know is happening. My daughter knew that she anything she was potentially doing on the computer was available for me to see. If she was for example chatting with someone and start laughing, I might come over to see what she was talking about. She might motion like, “hey it’s private! Don’t look!” If I could sense that it was innocent kids playing, I would simply give her space and say, “okay, okay. Sorry!” But I never worried about her being online with some pervert trying to talk her into meeting him at the local Dairy Queen.
Her using the internet while I was cooking often prompted topics of conversation for us. I remember her telling me how great one of the first American Idol singers was. She played a song for me. I told her to look up Minnie Riperton. It ended up being a great musical history lesson for her! Another time, she was chatting with a friend of hers who had the Confederate Flag as her sign-in logo on the chat screen. I asked my daughter who she was speaking with. I asked why this friend would be talking to my daughter, who is of black and Hispanic descent, if the friend was an advocate for the confederacy? Again, we proceeded to have a substantive conversation on southern pride in comparison to southern racism.
The reason I am giving you so many examples is to drive home the point that, there is real value to keeping your children close.
We have become a lonely society. People have more ways than ever to keep in touch with one another. But most of our children do not understand, and many of us parents seems to have forgotten, that text messages, emails, even phone calls cannot replace what happens when two human beings physically interact. One UCLA study found that 93% of communication between people was non-verbal. All the alternative means of communicating are substitutes for physical interaction but they cannot serve as replacements. That’s part of the reason we’re so lonely!
I remember when the Twin Towers went down on September 11. I was at work that day. The whole country was traumatized by the events. The next day, many of us still felt numb and in a state of disbelief over what had happened. Employers were allowing their employers to take the day off. I suggested at my office, which was fairly small in terms of the number of people, that we all have lunch together in the conference room. We had suffered a communal loss. Individual space to grieve was not the remedy. During our lunch, we talked a bit about the tragedy. But mostly we just found comfort in the presence of our fellow people.
Learning how to navigate life is a difficult task. Many of us still don’t have it figured out well into adulthood! Keep your children close so that as things come to their minds, you feel accessible, mentally and physically, for them to talk with you. Keep your children close so that, when they have a bad day or are feeling down, you can see it and offer to comfort them, lend them a sympathetic ear, rather than letting them suffer in silence in their own wing of the house. Not because you don’t care and love them. Simply because you can’t know if you can’t see them. More than their own room, bathroom, television or computer, your kids need you. Just you. Plain and simple.