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Our Family Bed

Just after publishing When Breast Isn't Best (where I was thinking a lot about the pressures that we put on moms and the guilt that follows and how parents have to make hard choices based on what's best for our whole families), I saw a Tweet from my friend, Sara, about her post called “The Family Bed: When Did You Stop Co-Sleeping?”

Sara explained how each of her three children slept in her bed or in their own bed, by their choice or by the necessity of the situation. She did what was best for her family – for each of the children.

But then, at the end of the post, Sara wrote:

He became so used to sleeping with us and now it seems he'll be here forever. He told me last night, as we fell asleep next to each other, “Momma. I'm never going to leave you. Even when I'm a man, I'll sleep right next to you.”

I cried.

I feel bad for Sara. She feels like that's true, like he's never going to leave her bed. She wants to put her son into his own room, but he doesn't want to go. It's a sticky situation.

A few lines later, she wrote:

I've built an unbelievable closeness with this child due to a fear we all had when our lives were in shambles, but he's developed an attachment to me that needs to dissipate… and it breaks my heart into a million pieces.

And that made me wonder, why does the attachment need to dissipate now? If there's a reason, if it's best for Sara and her husband and their son, then so be it. He needs to move out.

But is there always a reason?family bed

I don't know if this is the case for Sara, but I know other parents who've felt that they had to have their kids sleeping in their own rooms by X months or years, just because. I had this precise conversation with a friend just last week.

Why do parents feel pressured to put our kids into their own beds just because they're a certain age or just because we have enough space to give them a bedroom?

It doesn't make sense to me.

When Grace was born, a family friend told me about how he raised his three children. “You let that baby sleep with you. She knows what she needs, and what she needs is you,” he said. “My wife and I let our kids come into our bed whenever they wanted to. Sometimes it felt like a party.”

Joe asked if that would create a bad habit. He was worried that the baby would want to sleep with us forever.

“My kids all slept in our bed for part of the night until they were in school. Tom* slept with us until he was in the second grade – don't tell him I told you that! He'd be mortified! But he did. He needed us longer than the others did. That's what being a parent is about, give each one what he needs.”

That conversation stuck with me for three reasons.

  1. He agreed with me.
  2. Our friend is a doctor, so his opinion carried a little more weight with me than someone else off the street. He sees lots of children, and he sees both good and bad parenting.
  3. Our friend's three children are all college educated, successful adults. They are all independent and intelligent. They all earned scholarships to play big time college sports. One of the three is now a professional athlete; one has a doctoral degree. Clearly, our friend and his wife did a great job of nurturing and developing the people God entrusted to them.

In light of that discussion in the early weeks of Grace's life, I strong-armed Joe we decided that we'd have a family bed. Grace would be welcome to come into our bed whenever she needed to.

In the last four years, she's needed to a lot.

When she's stressed or sick or having a growth spurt, she spends more time than usual in our bed. She needs to. In the weeks following our 2009 car crash, she didn't sleep in her own bed at all. She was too traumatized.

Grace usually starts out in her own bed at bed time. If she wakes up because she's had a bad dream (or lately, because she's wet the bed or rolled over on a toy or feels insecure or just because), she comes over and crawls in with us.

We were concerned about how things would need to change when Allie arrived, but that, too, worked itself out.

Allie sleeps in our bed about half of the time, and Grace ends up in our bed five nights out of seven.

It gets a little tricky when all 4 of us are in the queen-sized bed, but everyone has a spot and we all sleep well enough. Allie lays between Joe and I. Grace spreads out at the bottom of the bed so that she doesn't accidentally kick or roll on the baby.

Once or twice a month, we have a sleepover and allow Grace to sleep all night in our bed. It's a special treat that she looks forward to.

I know that Grace and Allie aren't always going to need or want to wake up with us. Eventually, they're going to grow up, and they are going to want their own space, far away from Joe and me.

I'm not rushing toward that day.

Actually, I'm trying to delay it as long as possible.

Because that's what works for us.

*I changed the names and identifying details of our friend and his family to protect their privacy.

© 2011 – 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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8 thoughts on “Our Family Bed”

  1. I’m right there with you! I think Aiden has spent an entire night, start to finish, in his own bed…maybe…two nights in his 4+ years of life. He starts each night in his bed, but staggers across the hall at some point and crawls up in bed with us. We don’t even wake up anymore; we’re just used to him being there. The nights I get aggravated because he’s grabbing my hair in his sleep or he’s hogging my pillow…I try to remember that one day he’ll be older and won’t want to snuggle with me. (As a mom of an 18-year-old I know that day comes all too quickly!!!) BUT I have to say, Miss Savannah has never been one to co-sleep. We really struggled with what to do when I was pregnant with her, and how we’d all fit. But then the little stinker has slept every single night in her own bed just as peacefully as you please! Each child is different and has different nighttime parenting needs. We do what works for the child…

  2. Tara- You’re so right. I have no idea why I feel like he “needs” to move out right now, maybe because of his last comment that he’ll never leave me. Maybe because he’s turning 4 next week. Maybe because he’s stayed in bed with us a lot longer than any of the other kids.

    I don’t know why I feel like I’m hurting him by not making him go to his own bed, but the fact remains that I’m not ready for him to go. I love having him there. He kisses me goodnight, then kisses me good morning. He spoons me. He checks on me if I get up on the middle of the night. He covers me if he thinks I’m cold… so maybe I have him in there for me? Maybe I PUT him in there because I was traumatized by our situation before and he was all that comforted me.

    Whatever the reason may be, you’re post made me feel differently. Why should I make him leave when we both need eachother? 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing this! Our son, Noah (our first baby) is now 11 months old and his crib is still in our room & he usually sleeps 2-3 hours in his bed and then when he wakes up wants to come to bed with momma & dadda. And we’re ok with that…we love co-sleeping him. I appreciated reading your thoughts & stories and knowing that it’s ok not to rush him out of our room or put a deadline to get him into his own bed.

  4. My daughter just transitioned to a toddler bed, so now that she’s able to, she keeps walking into our room and wants to sleep with us. Every time we meet with the pediatrician, she asks us if our daughter is sleeping in her own bed (as if this is what is expected for the child at this age), so I kinda have this feeling like we shouldn’t be allowing my daughter to sleep with us. But it just feels right sometimes to let her sleep with us. I know that for me, I love the comfort of having my husband next to me and when he travels and I’m in the bed alone, I feel a little lonely. I keep thinking about how comforting it must feel for my daughter when she comes to sleep between her two parents who love her so much. I definitely think the whole co-sleeping topic is similar to breastfeeding, where there’s the idea that breast is best and so is getting your kid to sleep independently in their own bed. But why does it have to be so cut and dry? What’s wrong with trying the breast and maybe it’s not going as planned, so you switch to formula? What’s wrong with letting your baby/child sleep with you every now and then? I think parents (mainly moms) are oftentimes so judgmental and just try to act like what you’re doing is wrong and what they’re doing is right.

  5. I currently have 2 of my kiddos (3 year old and 8 month old) in the bed with us every night. Occasionally, my older boys (ages 7 and 12) come into our room and sleep on the floor to be closer to us.

    I haven’t used a crib for any of my 4 boys. Mostly because I couldn’t bring myself to leave my newborn baby in a place that seemed so cold and lonely. I wanted to snuggle my babies and hold them close. Also, co-sleeping has allowed me to get more sleep – I just nurse the baby as I fall back asleep.

    At the time, we are living in a 2 bedroom (1100 sf.) apartment with 4 boys (and 2 adults), so we don’t really have the room for an extra bed anyways. For me, co-sleeping has been done somewhat out of necessity. Although, I must say, even if we lived in a huge house with several bedrooms, I would most likely still have a bed full of munchkins.

    Sometimes I feel like I should encourage my 3 year old to sleep on his own (usually because someone else mentions that he is “too old” to be sleeping with his mom and dad). Then I think about the fact that in a few years, I won’t have any little feet in my bed kicking me as I sleep. My boys will be more independent, and not want to be so close to us. To be honest, that makes me sad, and makes me want to savor every single night that I have with them in our over-crowded bed.

    I know that I will look back on my years of co-sleeping as a time of bonding and joy with my children. I don’t believe that I will regret one minute of the time I’ve spent snuggling with my little guys…

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