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Open Floor Plan? No, Thank You

A living room featured on HGTV's show "Fixer Upper" (HGTV.com photo)

Every once in a while, I stumble onto some wisdom.

My Army husband and my children had a four-day weekend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They all got Friday AND Monday off from school and military work.

Yay! ... Right?

Well ...

For a work-at-home Must-Have Parent, a four-day weekend means that at least two days of my normal work week were "bring the whole dern family to work" days. In other words, not productive. And definitely not quiet.

On top of that, our beautiful home has an open floor plan and no place for me to have an office. Because where do you put an office when there's just enough bedrooms for the inhabitants and the rest of the house is as open as the Kansas sky?

Normally, this is not really a problem. When everyone is gone for the day, I sit at the peaceful and quiet (and sometimes even clean!) kitchen table, typically getting most of my heavy-concentration work done before everyone gets home.

But by Sunday night of that four-day weekend, I was fantasizing about doors. Big doors. Heavy wooden doors. With locks.

And by Monday, I had posted this on Facebook:

Day 4 of a long weekend: caught myself yelling at the house hunters on "Fixer Upper:" "No! You don't want an open floor plan house! You won't have anywhere to hide from your family!"

Within seconds, friends began to chime in with their own open floor plan remorse.

My friend Erin said this: "... an open floor plan means you can't section off your house according to what is clean and what is not. An open floor plan for me means the entire house looks like I had a massive rave party the night before ... all the time."

And Lily said this: "... you don't have a room to shove all the toys and crap and the basket of laundry into when guests suddenly arrive."

Claire said: "We used to call our open floor plan the 'indoor track.' My favorite place to hide was our walk-in pantry. Privacy and snacks."

Allison added: "Everything needs to be cleaned. Kitchen, dining, living ... the whole space ... because the open floor plan invites everyone to eat at the dining room table and lounge in the living room. I am washing slip covers and cleaning up stuff from all over. It doesn't matter how gorgeous a kitchen is -- unless it's clean, it's ugly ... and being the most used room of the house, it is rarely clean."

Even though I had only intended to make a joke, I was clearly onto something.

And then my friend Jill explained the whole open floor plan dilemma with this one hilarious comment:

"OMG [people think] 'We need an open floor plan so we can interact with our guests when we are in the kitchen preparing the food for entertaining. We need a master bedroom with a huge suite that has jetted soaking tub large enough for my 6'6" husband and a unique extra room for a man cave.' No -- no, you don't. Because once you have kids, kiss your cocktail party throwing social life goodbye. It won't be in your budget to fill up that tub more than once a month and the man cave? Why should your husband be the only one who gets a place to hide from the kids?"

I realized that the issue we were all alluding to wasn't really about home design -- it was about control, privacy and personal space -- the very things we all lose when we become parents.

For me, the simple solution would have been to tell my husband that I had work to do and ask him to take the kids away from the house for a few hours on Friday and Monday. He would have done it. The weather was great that weekend, and there were tons of things they could have done. Or I could have left and gone by myself to Starbucks or something.

But something in my mom-guilt addled brain told me that it was wrong for me to want, nay, NEED time away from my family. Rather than choosing to spend a few quality, enjoyable hours with my family after my work was done, I chose to spend all the hours with them, irritated and anxious.

Working at home exacerbated my problem because I was also feeling stressed about not meeting my deadlines. But even if I hadn't been trying to work from home, I likely would have felt exposed and annoyed.

Just like those home buyers on "Fixer Upper" -- I thought I was supposed to want those large open spaces and those times when the whole family is together at once doing ... something. What? Who knows? Most of us probably don't think that far into the fantasy. Maybe playing Twister?

But Twister is only fun for about an hour. And a family movie lasts about 90 minutes. At most, those stretches of awesome family togetherness are apt to continue for no more than three or four hours. The rest of the time, it's very likely that we're going to get on each other's nerves. And you know what?

That. Is. Totally. Normal.

So I've decided that our next house will have nooks, and hiding places and an office. Maybe even a formal living room. Because, as my friend Jessica explained, formal living rooms might be the saddest casualty of the modern design revolution.

Jessica said: "Our parents duped us all. On top of having a constantly clean room, the formal living room was also their secret hiding space. I know I never interrupted a conversation in that room nor did I enter without permission. I would literally stand in the doorway until I was recognized, only to politely ask a civilized question and then excuse myself and leave, never stepping foot in the room."

Doesn't that sound like heaven?

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting Family and Spouse

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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