Since writing my posts about our move to a family bed, I’ve gotten a lot of questions. Because we made the shift in our thinking gradually, each step that moved us closer to this decision seemed easy and natural. But looking at it from a more traditional perspective, it can seem quite radical (which is kind of funny, because I’ve always seen myself as being about as mainstream as they come!)
I thought I’d share some of the questions that have come up and my thoughts about each one. If you happen to be wrestling with these same questions, I hope this helps you along your journey. And if you have questions that I haven’t addressed, please feel free to write in and ask them!
Is family co-sleeping legal?
Yes, it is! It is practiced by most of us parents at one time or another, even if we don’t call it “co-sleeping”. How many of us have been woken in the middle of the night by a child in distress, and, too tired to do anything else, slid over, lifted the covers, and ushered our little one into bed with us? And lots of kids with their own bedrooms don’t actually sleep in them – they’re on the floor in their parents’ room, or the spare bunk in a sibling’s .
Is it inappropriate for children of different genders to be sleeping together?
I think it’s important to identify the fears or concerns that lead us to ask this question. What worries us about this? Our society has become increasingly aware of the very real problem of sexual abuse. I suspect that this lies at the heart of our concern about letting our sons and daughters sleep together.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each parent will have a unique level of comfort. Ted and I are very comfortable with it at our kids’ ages. How we’ll all feel down the road, I’m not sure. I imagine our arrangements will always be evolving to meet the changing needs of each of us. Already, Thomas often chooses the twin bed that is next to our king; he likes being close but not necessarily in bed with anyone else. For now, our kids are falling asleep together with one or both of us, after an enjoyable time of stories and snuggling. The result is closeness and nurturing, which is perfectly appropriate.
How do you and your husband maintain your intimate life?
Surprisingly, this change has actually helped us. We have to be intentional about finding a time and space to connect. But as it turns out, all parents of young kids – regardless of sleeping arrangements – need to be just as intentional. The problem is, with a traditional sleeping arrangement it’s easier to let it slide, assuming that just sharing the same bed with a spouse will be enough.
Becoming more intentional has put some of the spark back into our relationship. This seems to be a pretty common theme among families who co-sleep, and one of the many benefits.
Don’t you disturb one another?
That hasn’t been our experience. Our bedroom is large enough to accommodate enough beds so that we have plenty of room for each of us to sleep comfortably. It’s been a pleasant surprise to discover that the amount of night waking has been drastically reduced. Bad dreams are easily soothed, and the kids are able to fall back to sleep quickly and easily whenever they’re roused.
Aren’t you just letting your kids rule the roost?
Too often we make the mistake of assuming that want and need are mutually exclusive. We immediately default to that “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” way of thinking that cautions us to teach them young that life if full of disappointments, and, in the words of Mick Jagger, “you can’t always get what you want.”
In the case of co-sleeping, however, there is a lot of convincing research that points to sleeping near our young as the most natural arrangement. As it turns out, this seemingly childish desire not to go to bed actually reflects a powerful instinctual need. Kids don’t protest bedtimes, asking for just one more story or another drink to be manipulative. They are prolonging their contact with us, their parents, because that’s what makes sense to them instinctually. Being separated for eight or more hours goes against their instincts, and this is why they protest.
Aren’t you harming them by living a life so radically different from their peers? Won’t they be teased and ostracized?
As parents, we all want our kids to be liked and accepted. We want them to move gracefully through the world with maximum joy and minimum pain. We can’t help it…that’s how we’re wired! But we are mistaken if we assume that by making our kids conform to society we’ll prevent teasing and painful exclusion. We need look no farther than our schools to see this isn’t true. Even the most regular kid can become fodder for bullies these days; no one’s immune.
By nurturing a deep, close relationship with our kids we encourage them to blossom into their own unique selves. By accepting them, we help them to develop a strong sense of who they are and foster healthy self-esteem. Our kids’ sense of self-worth is not wrapped up in the approval of their peers, which Ted and I see as quite a good thing.
So, are you saying that parents who don’t practice co-sleeping are doing something wrong?
Even when our parenting styles seem to be worlds apart, almost all parents have something powerful in common: we all have a deep love and concern for our children that prompts us to strive for their good. We may not always agree on how to go about it. But at the heart of the matter, we’re very much the same.
I try hard not to judge other parents or parenting styles; judgementalism is both destructive and divisive. Instead, I focus on the loving concern we all share. It’s not my intent to discredit other parenting styles or to make parents feel judged. Instead, I want be a voice for the less well known perspectives out there. I want to let parents know that we can give ourselves permission to listen more to our instincts and less to the expert of the day. That questioning those things we take for granted can be important and beneficial. Whatever our conclusions, we’re better parents for having taken the journey.
If you are interested in the research surrounding co-sleeping, check out the articles at The Natural Child Project .