The Oasis Mirage

Is Your Master Bedroom Hurting Your Family?

"Oasis." It is such a calming word; we all hear it, and we want to disappear – to bathe in the crystal blue waves of the Mediterranean or sip a Margarita under the sunlit palms on the coast of Mexico.

When you look up "oasis" in a dictionary, you will find that it has several definitions – the first of which describes an area in a desert surrounded by lush foliage and fresh water. The remaining definitions are sprinkled with phrases like "refuge from," "retreating to," and "escaping from." We in modern America generally use the term "oasis" as a catch-all word that describes a desperate cry to escape from the stresses of modern life. Even the apartment complex where my husband and I live – in the middle of the dry, desert-scape of Colorado – is called "The Oasis Apartments."

But today, the ideal of an "oasis" has also attached itself to the search for master bedrooms among today's homebuyers, and developers have caught on and designed their bedroom suites to become that longed-for place of refuge. However, whether the designers realize it or not, the way modern bedrooms are designed, for both adults and children, is shaping the family and may even be contributing to isolation and fragmentation in what were, a few decades ago, healthier communities.

My husband and I have a guilty pleasure: watching HGTV and reveling in home design makeovers and renovation jobs in older outdated residences. It's loads of fun, but it gives you a striking look into the psychology of today's homebuyers, particularly those interested in single family homes. We've probably watched fifty episodes, and I can't remember a single episode where the buyers of the homes didn't use the word "oasis" in relation to their master-bedroom.

Today's society has changed when it comes to the nuclear family. I have seen it over the years in my work with youth in various communities: today's family has become more secluded and less involved in volunteering and outreach, becoming instead more self-oriented and inwardly focused. It seems that this widespread and unfortunate trend was set, often unintentionally, by many well-meaning parents. The parents of today's young children and teenagers do their utmost to drive their kids into success. These efforts are all well-intentioned, but they play out in an unhealthy way: Boy scouts, band, ballet, soccer, character-building camps, piano lessons, and tutoring have all consumed the parents' time so that they leave the house at six and don't come home until 9:00 at night. The parents, who once swore "til death do us part," suddenly are "parted" every day, all day, until exhaustion drives them into separation emotionally, physically and relationally.

In this light, the desire for a master "oasis" makes sense; the parents have a subconscious desire to rekindle their romance – and not necessarily in a sexual way. They simply feel the desperate need to relax and reinvigorate themselves and their relationship before the rat-race of life drives them mad.

And unfortunately, the master bedroom is not the only room in the house that has expanded, to detrimental effect. Bedrooms in general have gotten bigger, and grown in number. Family sizes are shrinking, but bedroom numbers and bedroom sizes are growing.

Sometime within the last 15-20 years it became disgraceful for two children to share the same bedroom. If parents have a five bedroom house and four kids, two boys and two girls, each child will have their own room, rather than each gender sharing a room and leaving at least one room available for other family activities or guest accommodations.

I remember watching one episode of HGTV's "Love it or List it" in which a couple had a three-year-old daughter with a massive bedroom, large bed, princess toys, bookshelves and ample space, but they told the real-estate agent that it was "unfair" to their daughter to give her so little space to use as she pleased. What does this lavishness do to the child?

This societal demand to give children individual rooms and to increase those room sizes simply gives the children more excuses to lock themselves in their rooms and avoid contact with each other. The kids turn to social media, video or internet games, and sadly even, and all too often, porn. No guidance from parents (usually simply because they are too busy) and no contact with siblings increases the solitude of each child, and they miss out on the beauty and goodness of conflict and resolution, love and encouragement, and accountability.

Though sharing a room with siblings creates conflicts of its own, the benefits far outweigh those conflicts.When I was a child, I witnessed the seclusion instigated by separate bedrooms in my friends' homes, and as I grew older, I began to recognize the contrast to my own family's experience. In my childhood home, two boys and two girls each shared bedrooms in a very small house, and, partly due to sharing these small spaces with each other, became best friends. We fought, and we made up. We got jealous, and we got over it. We shared secrets whispered in the dark of night, played pranks on each other, and told stories after lights' out that created memories for years to come. That relationship and those memories were so precious to my sister that she lovingly mentioned them in her maid-of-honor toast at my wedding.

It is not a simple solution; decreasing bedroom size and sharing living spaces does not necessarily solve all of these relational problems. But these seemingly minor adjustments can play a large role in defining who the family is as a whole and who the members become as individuals. I don't think anyone can blame today's parents for wanting a "master-oasis" - a place of their own away from the children where they can live adult lives. But a spa bathroom with a rainfall showerhead, jetted tubs, and a king-sized bed with multi-thousand dollar bedding is not the answer.

A home with less individualized space and more community-based "hang-outs" is much more conducive to healthy, happy people. Such a home would have rooms designed for and dedicated to communal activities: music rooms for mini "concerts" or sing-alongs around the piano on holidays; parlors where girlfriends can gather and share coffee, crumpets and conversation; that old-fashioned smoking room complete with cigar boxes, brandy, and business talk; large oversized dining rooms for hosting guests and loved ones; family rooms centered around conversation spaces instead of the television; and other such purposefully designed spaces. Through such rooms , our homes can help us give back to society by living generously and living well and, in turn, living the beautiful life we all long to live.


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Image above from Flickr use Jeremy Levin via Flickr Creative Commons license.