Skip to comments.Co-sleeping and a battle for the bed - Older children, even teens, are crowding their parentsí bed.
Posted on 08/16/2013 3:50:38 AM PDT by rickmichaels
Ever since a dresser fell on top of little Gabriel and cracked his head open two years ago, he has slept in his parents bed. Hes six years old now, and the bed has become known as mommys bed because his dad, Tony, sleeps in Gabriels room down the hall. Gabriels older sister Michaela, 9, also sleeps in mommys bed because she felt left out. And the family dog sleeps with Tony, who felt crowded out. It wasnt really supposed to be this way. It went from one night to two nights to every night of the week, says mom Francesca, who has tried to move the kids back into their own beds at Tonys urging. Sometimes I feel torn. They cry and get upset, and I think, Oh my goodness, what have I done?
Francesca never imagined that her marital bed would turn into the family bed. But she is just one of countless parents who are sleeping with their children for all or part of the night. Every night. Fussy or breastfeeding babies, scared or restless toddlers, strong-willed school-age kids and even anxious teens, all of them snuggle close to their loving parents and drift into an oblivious, blissful slumber.
In some cases, their parents do too; theyve accepted the arrangement, or have happily chosen it as a reflection of their ethnic heritage or attachment parenting ideology. But countless others dont: dusk to dawn they struggle to catch whatever Zs they can in between wrestling for covers and dodging elbows and knees. They wouldnt bed-share if their kids gave them the option. These parents, known as reactive co-sleepers among experts, are doing this because its the only way they can get everyone to sleep as much as possible, says Dr. Shelly Weiss, president of the Canadian Sleep Society. Its not their choice.
Its the kind of explanation that is sure to agitate those already inclined to believe modern-day parenting is too indulgentof course parents have a choice, theyll say. The reality is, many parents are making their decisions on the best choice at bedtime amid competing philosophies about what it takes to be a good mother and father. Should you cuddle kids to sleep to foster security and cultivate independence or is it better that they be brave and cry their way to autonomy? How many times must an overworked parent get up in the middle of the night to offer a consoling hug or placating glass of water before its acceptable to climb into the kids bed? Its the single-biggest problem that parents bring up with Denis Leduc, a Montreal pediatrician who co-authored the Canadian Pediatric Societys position statement on safe sleep. By far the two most common questions we get are, How do I get them to be comfortable with falling asleep at night, and what do I do when they wake up?
The matter of children not wanting to sleep is as old as time. But there appears to be a greater appreciation for it now than ever: behavioural insomnia is a relatively new medical term popping up in the scientific literature to describe the 20-30 per cent of kids who have trouble falling or staying asleep, and who suffer for it the next day. It is, in fact, the most common sleep disorder. There is increasing awareness too of the ill effects of fatigue in both children and adults, which run the gamut from memory and concentration problems to irritability, obesity and marital strain.
There is also a new-found expression of frustration among exhausted parents: the 2011 childrens book for adults entitled Go the Fk to Sleep was written by Adam Mansbach, an American dad enervated by his stubbornly wakeful daughter. It includes such verses as, The cats nestle close to their kittens, the lambs have laid down with the sheep. Youre cozy and warm in your bed, my dear. Please go the fk to sleep. The book became an instant bestseller, and a YouTube reading by Samuel L. Jackson, a fan and father of one, went viral.
Its popularity might be due to the fact that in giving and receiving the book parents are encouraged to talk abouteven laugh aboutthis very personal and contentious aspect of home life. Many of the parents who spoke with Macleans were reluctant to have their full name published out of concern about how their bed-sharing could be misconstrued. In a way, how a family sleeps can illuminate much about how they live. Sleep is the first place where [individuals] start expressing their parenting style, says Wendy Hall, a pediatric sleep researcher and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It is a cauldron for how people choose to be with their children, and so theres a lot of controversy that comes up around that.
Discussing their familys sleep habits opens parents up to all kinds of uneasy questionsabout their sex life, their ability to control their children and their childrens ability to control them. It raises larger social questions about whether nighttime has become a convenient substitute for diminished quality time during the day. And everyone has an opinion, welcome or not. Parents are made to feel that if their children arent sleeping well that somehow their parenting is flawed, continues Hall. And people often present themselves as morally superior when their children are sleeping well. Whatever that looks like for them.
In truth, for many families, bed-sharing is a night-by-night effort to lose the least amount of sleep and sanity, which are really one and the same. Its just a way that parents figure out how to cope, says Hall. And like anything that you do, those decisions have consequences, and they may be unintended.
Before Alicia had her son and daughter, she had one view of how to parent. We started out, Oh, the baby will never sleep in our bed, she recalls discussing with her husband. But that plan changed soon after their children were born, and they couldnt seem to sleep on their own. Alicia became a basket case, and eventually a piece of foam on the floor near the never-used crib became the familys primary resting place. Now my kids are 8½ and 5½, and we have all gotten used to a big pile on the queen bed in their room, she says.
As the children have grown bigger though, that setup has become less comfortable for Alicias husband. Some nights, after the kids are asleep, hell switch to the master bedand Alicia will follow him. Without fail, their son will quickly join them. He has radar. Hell make sure he has his hands in my hair, and hell get half on top of me, and say, Mommy, I love you so much, Mommy, Mommy, I need you. Then my daughter will come in, says Alicia, thinking back to a recent night. Like dominoes, the next move is all but inevitable: My husband gets up and goes to the other bed. Again.
Its a scenario that Tracey Ruiz has seen enough times in her nine years helping families fix their sleep problems that she has a coined a term for it: musical beds. Shes worked as a sleep doula in Toronto for nine years, charging $350 for an in-home consultation plus $50 an hour for additional visits, which often include all-nighters. Ruiz has been surprised by the prevalence of bed-sharing between parents and school-age kids. I can tell you that when I started my business I was focusing on families with children under two, she recalls, and just because of demand now Im working with families with children under 10.
While its unknown exactly how many kids share a bed with their parentsthere is a dearth of such researcha look at behavioural insomnia studies suggests that about one in four children depends on mom and dad to get through the night. In many cases, that means co-sleeping. Its often the first thing parents do when the children are very young, says Reut Gruber, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and clinical psychologist who sees families wanting to form new sleep habits. They dont have energy, so they just grab them, put them in their bed and reinforce this pattern. For years. Its not a rare problem, its quite frequent.
Almost always the arrangement persists for one of two reasons, or both: parents dont know how to change it, or they arent really sure it should. It is confusing, says Ana Villalobos, a sociologist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., who studies how mothers express responsibility for their children. A lot of people start reading pregnancy books, and that gets them acculturated into the expert literature. Then they say, Might as well read What to Expect in the First Yeareverybody has that. And people give people books. And pretty soon they have this whole library of expert advice, which is often conflicting. Indeed, a study of 40 American parenting books on sleep revealed that 28 per cent supported bed-sharing, 40 per cent opposed the practice, and 32 per cent didnt include a word about it.
Whereas co-sleeping with infants has been unilaterally discouraged by public health authorities for years because of its link to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), naming the risks of co-sleeping with older children is far more challenging. There appear to be no physical dangers such as SIDS, suffocation, or squashing a little body. And in families where everyone is happy about bed-sharing, or where it is a cultural norm, sleep experts are adamant that there are no disadvantages to the practice.
But among reactive co-sleepers, experts suggest there may be psychological and family function threats, says Weiss, a neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and author of Better Sleep for Your Baby and Child. For starters, it might stunt autonomy: If children go right into their school years and even adolescence with the view that they cant sleep on their own then it doesnt really give them that sense of independence and self-control, says Hall. And that can translate into other parts of their lives where they dont feel particularly confident about dealing with hostilities or other challenges.
And then theres the chilling effect on parents when children literally come between them. Some unhappy spouses, such as Peter (now divorced), admit to using the family bed as a convenient wedgean easy way to avoid each other, even subconsciously. Others, such as Tony, miss the intimacy. Its been pretty much non-existent. Ill mention it to Francesca, and shell get frustrated, Is that all you ever think about? And its really not. I feel that we dont have that closeness anymore. Husband and wife in separate beds, its just not normal to me.
Francesca, like many mothers, sees sleeping with her kids another way: I say, They are small once. It might be hard now, but itll get better. Eventually theyre going to grow out of this phase, and then youll think back and say, Maybe it wasnt such a big deal after all. In fact, a theme emerges in talking to reactive co-sleepers: mothers are usually far more tolerant of sharing a bed with the kids than fathers.
Evas husband, Josh, sleeps with their eldest daughter, who is six, in her bedroom, and has for most of her life. Eva sleeps with their infant son in the master bed, and their middle daughter sleeps by herself in her own room. Its not a big deal, says Eva. It seems natural to me. And since they dont plan on having more kids, she is relishing this time with their baby: Hes my little prince. Josh, however, is ready to reclaim his bed. I just dont sleep well, he says. If it were up to me, [our son] would be in a crib.
The willingness of many mothers to put up with bed-sharing for longer than fathers may point to a phenomenon thats captivating sociologists such as Villalobos. Her forthcoming book, Motherload, describes moms increasingly taking on responsibility for their childrens physical, emotional and financial security when the economy, geopolitics and public health and safety become less secure. Safeguarding them from sleepless nights might be an extension of that.
She also suspects many mothers find their own sense of security in their children. You cant really depend on marriage to last forever. You cant really depend on your job to last forever, explains Villalobos. So for a lot of women, the one thing they can think of as a guaranteed bond is the mother-child relationship.
Its a stunning analysis, and it may not be too far off the mark. I enjoy the cuddle, admits Alicia, and in some ways I feel better when theyre next to me. Its like I dont have to worry about them. But she also sees bed-sharing as a bonding opportunity for the whole familywhich can be hard to come by. For some people, co-sleeping is definitely a way to have the closeness thats not afforded by the fact that everybodys running from here to there trying to make ends meet.
Thats not to say these families go to bed begrudgingly with their kids one night and wake up the next morning as co-sleeping zealots. Rather, they are making the most of their situation. If you get home at 6:30 p.m. and your kid goes to bed at 7:30 p.m., then do you want: a) an hour with them? Or b) nine hours with them? asks Villalobos. A lot of people will choose b) because its a form of intimate connection and it makes [everybody] feel like theyre having a relationship.
As a family doctor, Ellen is supposed to discourage co-sleeping. But I dont follow the books. I say, Do whatever you thinks is right, she says. So as a mother, Ellen often co-sleeps with her five-year-old daughter, whose neediness comes and goesaccording to what, its unclear. These days, shes kind of afraid of the dark, says Ellen. So Im not going to fight it. Partly Ellen is so accepting of her daughters desire for company in bed because she remembers wanting it too as a child. I slept with my mother. I think I was 12 before I ventured into my own room, she recalls. Ellen wont expect any different from her daughter. Im sure she will end up back in her room when shes ready. When the time is right, itll happen.
Exactly when is the right timeor put more pointedly, wrong timefor a child to sleep with a parent is one of those questions that can make people squeamish. Many of the experts who spoke with Macleans know of teens sharing a bed with their moms and dads. Often, their circumstances are complicated by factors such as anxiety. But by and large, the consensus is that as children become less childlike, co-sleeping should end. Certainly when children start to have their first signs of pubertal maturation is probably the right time not to [bed-share], says Leduc, past president of the Canadian Pediatric Society.
Many reactive co-sleepers refuse to wait that long, however, and instead resort to professional help. Doula Ruiz, who also goes by the name sleep teacher, starts by sitting down with the whole family. I say, We are going teach everybodymom, dad, the dog, everybodyhow to sleep in their bed all night long. So the focus isnt just, Were going to get Suzie out of the bed, she explains. Any items in the childs room that may be dangerous during a tantrum are removed. Bulbs may be stripped from lamps and ceiling fixtures so the child cant turn on the light to avoid going to sleep. And, with military exactness, the new bedtime routine is reviewed.
It is a lesson in the art of negotiation. The child gets to choose, should the bedroom door be open or closed? Tonight, mom will sit beside the childs bed until he or she is asleep. Tomorrow night, in the hallway. Masking tape may be placed on the floor in a trail from the childs bed to the parents room; each night, a parent sleeps on a taped spot further away. If children insist on being in the parents room, they have to sleep on the floor. Its a really fast change when youre ready to commit to it, says Ruiz. Usually about three days. Two weeks and it really is a habit.
Gruber has also seen remarkable changes, quickly. But first, moms and dads have to move out of their own comfort zone. Many parents are very caring. Sometimes being oversensitive to your childs requests can get you set into this trap, she explains. So what can be a great asset in terms of parenting can sometimes work against you if you dont know when its better to give the child more opportunity to learn how to go to sleep. Her message to those struggling with bed-sharing is singular: Parents dont have to accept that this is just part of having children.
But many do, and they even sometimes come to like it. Eva and Josh have taken pleasure in ﬁnding creative ways for intimacy. Weve made it work, she says, and its kind of fun and crazy. And Tony and Francesca have made a pact to start a new sleep routine before the kids go back to school in the fall. On weeknights the kids will be in their own beds. Its worked beforein the spring, in fact. But once the family got off the school schedule, they reverted to co-sleeping. Francesca is hopeful the plan will stick this time.
For Alicias family, the bed has become a safe place for her children to share their feelings. Its like pillow talk, she says. In fact, just the other night Alicias 8½-year-old daughter pulled her close and confided, Mommy, I think Im getting too old to sleep here. I dont want to be alone, but I think Ill sleep in the other room. She was amazed to hear her daughter sowing her independence and sorting out her needs and wants.
All Alicia said was, Thats ﬁne, and if you want to come back in the night, thats fine. But all she was thinking was, Thats awesome!
It’s going to take a loooong time to turn this mess around.
Culture’s a big part of this too. Here in India, it’s common for families to share a bed, even with older children. This may in part also be due to a lack of available bedrooms, as some houses here are quite small. As I recall, co-sleeping was part of what got that family in Norway in trouble, that the parents were co-sleeping with their kids and the Norway government thought it was abusive to do so.
This whole article is just sick.
Parents make the mistake of allowing this to happen.
Once started it’s hard to stop.
My wife and I have slept together in a normal sized double bed for 50 years now. No kids or dogs allowed.
I like having her near.
Urine is the answer. Get a bedwetter and wake up in that, in your bed, and it’s “get the F-K out!” Worked for me!
Dad has to give mom and ultimatum: You and me or another house and me. The adults are one, the kids are merely the product of that commitment and love. The parent relationship must come first or the kids will live on mac-n-cheese and spend most of their life wishing they had parents that stayed together.
This calls for every child to have a government monitor from birth, as in enlightened Scotland! Employ more government workers! SEIU members!
I know a family like this. They have a 13 year old boy, 9 year old boy and 7 year old girl in the bed.
They are all overly attached to Mom. Parents can’t vacation because the kids have panic attacks.
The 9 year old went to sleep away camp for the first time this summer and had to be picked up after 3 days because he threatened to kill himself if he stayed. Camp said get him out of here.
I find it sad and disturbing.
Maybe the pro-Democrat purpose is simply to give the readers an opportunity to run down other people. One might say that at the heart of the statist worldview is the idea, “I’m better than all those other people who (fill in the blank), and I deserve to run their lives my way.”
So much of this is just sick and wrong. When the kids rule the house and call the shots, the marriage is doomed for failure. They’ve made little idols of their children, to the detriment of all.
On a lighter note, the “Go the F—k to Sleep” book is absolutely hysterical.
Now we have people in charge that want to destroy the fabric of western civilization and these type of people are portrayed as the new normal for the express purpose of increasing the size and scope of government.
After obama is done with the US Economy and meddling in world affairs, everyone will be sleeping together with family members huddled in some hovel to keep warm, these people are getting a head start.
Seriously, this is what happens when parents refuse to cut the cord. Look at the number of individuals in their 20s who cannot get along with constant help or advice from their parents. Why? because they were not tought to be self relient, some times that teaching comes with the sink or swim approach to life. I had a GF long ago who decided to move to a motel near a college campus where her son entered as a freshman because she wanted to ensure he was all right. (he was fine and his name was not Doughlas Macarthur either). Eventually her meddling led him to transfer to another college 1000 miles away, he wanted to get away! We both did!
First, I did not read the entire article.
Second, it sounds like the author is trying place a “condition” on this (as in psychological).
Third, I’m sure someone will come up with a medication for it (and make a profit).
I agrees w/you TC. I know you have more kids the. I do (I’m a piker...only 5!) BUT I think our “normal” mothering skills are lacking in many “newer” moms.
$50 per hour for sleep counseling? Maybe this will be a little “start up” business venture for me. Seriously! My oldest son, who coaches several kids teams admits he uses my “attitude” to get adolescents moving.
A few years of “sleep doula” gig; write a book; get a reality show. I can see it!
Easy solution to this problem... Just toss a couple of dead bugs under the sheets before the kids get into your bed and let them see them ! You can say “I don’t know why all these bugs keep getting into the bed ? I think they are invading my room “ ! The kid(s) will never want to sleep with you again...
As soon as our little player to be named later, due any day now, makes her appearance into this world, I’ll be nursing number three. I’ve never co-slept. Frankly the idea scares the hell out of me. I did fall asleep one time with my son and he had wiggled his way down into my lap. That shaved a few years off of my life when I woke up and saw what happened! In addition to my fear of smothering my baby, co-sleeping is just a bad idea to begin with. I know couples that haven’t slept alone for years. That’s not healthy. Mom and dad need that time to sleep and enjoy the physical part of a healthy marriage. I know moms that argue the, “Families did this for centuries,” angle, but people did a lot of things for centuries before learning new things.
My youngest is 16, a few of his friends are also the youngest (have older sibs) but most are either onlies or the oldest. A conversation, from a few weeks ago haunts me. My son’s 16 year old contemporary’s mom was chatting at a sporting event. The subject was the rotten (rainy) summer we have had and how the grass/weeds growing like crazy. She agreed, because she was having to have the dog poop removal service come out everytime the landscaper guys come to cut the grass. Yes. She HIRES people to pick up dog poop and to cut the grass and she has an able bodied 16 year old in the house! And this family lives in a nice neighborhood, but NOT a yuppie McMansion type...I cannot fathom that the 16 year old does no yard work or my guess, chores at all!
We had a heck of a time getting our youngest out of the bed at age 5. We told her that when she started kindergarten, she was a big girl and had to sleep in her own bed.
I think my wife was just as upset as my daughter.
She (my wife) had gone though ovarian cancer and all the ramifications the year before, and I think she realized this was her last baby.
It was hard on all of us.
A lot of what I think is common sense has people staring in disbelief. I got chewed out by a woman at a swim meet this summer (not on our team) because I told a group of boys including her son that they could stay in the room where we were entering the meet data “if they kept their mouths shut.” They had walked in, plugged a video game into the wall, and started talking at the top of their lungs about it, oblivious to adults’ working.
“You could have said something kinder! You can’t tell children to keep their mouths shut!” Well, I didn’t ... it was a conditional, “IF they kept their mouths shut.” In retrospect, I should simply have told them they couldn’t hang out in the room.
My answer to those who took offense to my words
would have been——— “They don’t like what I said?? Tough!!”
This lady said, “You don’t tell children to shut their mouths!” and I said, “Actually, I do!” Then she hustled her son and his friends out before they were traumatized by my brutality ... and my goal of having it quiet in the room was achieved.
I was kind of shocked, though, because I don’t usually meet these sensitive, modern parents - or if I do, they’re not being obvious.
Can’t imagine hiring someone to pick up dog poop. But we didn’t often ask our son to mow the lawn. His allergies meant he’d spend two days dealing with the health consequences. He and his wife chose to live in a condo - and that’s a large part of the reason!
Those kids have to be in the real world sometime. There’s a time and place for everything, and that mother ( and other permissive mothers) aren’t preparing their kids very well. Glad you stood your ground.
This no chores stuff has been going on forever. I recall having the conversation 15 years ago. Parents shrug and say: “They have their whole lives to work.” End of discussion. Now, those same kids are in their 30s, living at home, on benefits or have been drafted into the family business. If they are in the family business, they seem to wander in and out over time due to wanting to travel or convincing the parents to pay for more school and have never held a real job or if they have, it’s not for long.
Apparent income can be misleading. I know of several instances where the inheritance from the grandparents materializes just as the parents are set for retirement and the *kids* are in their 40s. Sometimes, not even the recipients ever knew there was any family money to be had.
Meh. My daughter had a live scorpion in her room last night. She found it on the floor when she was using her little book light to find a dropped chapstick cap.
Once the scorpion was dispatched (by me, of course), she went right back to bed.
Hard work always has been the cure for insomnia.
I wish my kids were that easy .. But they have never slept in our bed. I won’t allow it.
The closet one came was sleeping on the floor in our room, and that was to appease my wife more than the kid..
“Shes worked as a sleep doula...”
They misspelled “swindler.”
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