Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Couple's Realm

Everyone knows that there are certain houses that just make you feel comfortable and at home the moment you enter them. Much of that has to do with patterns -- configurations of lighting and architecture and materials that just feel "right". The landmark texts for dealing with these patterns of architecture are Christopher Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language. These excellent books are must-reads for anyone who has ever wondered what they can do to make a sterile building into a welcoming, livable home, or anyone who wants to build their own house, or anyone who's interested in the language of design.

I just bought a copy of A Pattern Language used on Amazon (but that's another story entirely), and while flipping through it, came across this pattern: A Couple's Realm
The presence of small children in a family often destroys the closeness and the special privacy which a man and wife need together.

Every couple start out sharing each other's adult lives. When children come, concern for parenthood often overwhelms the private sharing, and everything becomes exclusively oriented toward the children.

In most houses, this is aggravated by the physical design of the environment. ...The result is that the private life of the couple is continually interrupted by the awareness that the children are nearby. Their role as parents rather than as a couple permeates all aspects of their private relations.

On the other hand, of course, they do not want to be completely separated from the children's rooms. They also want to be close to them, especially while the children are young. A mother wants to run quickly to the bed of an infant in an emergency.

These problems can only be solved if there is a part of the house, which we call the couple's realm; that is, a world in which the intimacy of the man and woman, their joys and sorrows, can be shared and lived through. it is a place not only insulated from the children's world, but also complete in itself, a world, a domain.

...The couple's realm needs to be the kind of place that one might sit in and talk privately, perhaps with its own entrance to the outdoors, to a balcony. It is a sitting room, a place for privacy, a place for projects; the bed is part of it, but tucked away into an alcove with its own window; a fireplace is wonderful; and it needs some kind of a double door, an ante-room, to protect its privacy.

Make a special part of the house distinct from the common areas and all the children's rooms, where the man and woman of the house can be together in private. Give this place a quick path to the children's rooms, but, at all costs, make it a distinctly separate realm.
Oh, how I long for a couple's realm! The girls have taken over every area of the house, even our bedroom. Their toys and clothes are on our floor, and the baby's cradle and changing table and dresser are in our room. Perhaps we haven't trained them well, but the girls think nothing of barging into our room and jumping on the bed or playing in our bathroom or generally making our room a staging ground for part of their daily romp.

We do have part of this pattern: the master bedroom is very slightly separated from the two other bedrooms, which are right next to each other across the stairwell. The master bedroom is large, and is broken up into two areas, which could be the bed area and the sitting area. And of course we have our own bathroom.

Darwin and I often find that even after the girls go to bed, we need time and space to readjust back to being just Us -- an adjustment not helped by stepping on toys or gazing upon the wreckage of the living room while feeling too tired to clean it up. I'd dearly love to have a space to ourselves, somewhere away from the rest of the world where we can recharge and have a little privacy away from everything else. We're still the same people we were before we became parents; every now and then we talk about how we feel we're still just getting used to being married and having kids. Then we realize: wait a minute, we've been married for almost five years. We've had children for almost four years. But part of the oddness of actually having a family is the feeling of constantly improvising, and that would be far easier to do if we had someplace where we could sit quietly away from the peanut gallery and review our material for our next act.


Rick Lugari said...

Oh, how I long for a couple's realm!


Of course, I'd probably sitting there all by my lonesome, but it would still be something.

Anonymous said...

Even though the house I grew up in was very small, my parents' bedroom (once we hit the age of 3 or so) was off limits without permission. I didn't think about this until several years ago, so at that time we made an unwritten rule that if our door was closed, our kids had to knock and gain permission before entering. It has worked and helps us feel like we can get a break if needed. Our room has always been off limits to seems like the rest of the house was beseiged enough and we have enough stuff of our own!

Amber said...

Thanks for that quote, that was very interesting. I really need to get that book, I've heard such good things about it from such a wide variety of sources.

I really feel the need for that sort of space too... everything just feels so cramped where I live. I think we've done a fairly decent job at not letting the house get taken over by the munchkins (Emma has to have all her toys put away before dinnertime, and the master bedroom is off limits for playing - although it is home to a changing table and a sleeping infant in the evenings) but there is little room anywhere to just sit other than the living room... and that's not particularly cozy. I'm sure something could be done there, but I seem to lack the imagination to figure it out.

But yes, a place to retreat and discuss and plan and look ahead and all that would be wonderful... and if it could be shielded so that the wireless signal could not pass into the space, so much the better. Then I might actually be able to talk to my husband in there. :-D Although he might not ever enter!