On my morning drive to work today I was listening to a couple of radio DJ's talking about the problems with allowing your child(ren) to sleep with you. They asked for listeners to call in if they were parents with kids in the bed. Each parent that called in would admit in very sheepish, guilty tones that yes, their little one did sleep in their bed. One woman didn't want to share her first name for fear of being "found out", and another even admitted that she has lied to her child's pediatrician about it.
Most mornings, I'd have changed the station because I generally prefer hearing and singing along with music and songs that I like. This morning, however, found me missing my 14 year old daughter terribly! She's on vacation, visiting my family for the week as she does each and every summer. This year her short term absence has been harder on me than ever before. I'm not exactly sure why, but I suspect is has much to do with how mature and competent she is, how she hasn't needed to call me every day during this trip away, and how each of my family members has commented in phone calls or emails about how "grown up" she is. And isn't all of that just sooo exciting? Not for me it's not! Although her growing up and maturing is a wonderful and healthy thing - it's a melancholy thing for me too. It makes me long for the days when my little girl snuggled up and slept with me.
Yes, it's true... Rebecca slept with me every night of her life from the age of 13 months thru 11 years old, and then off and on at various times during her 12th and 13th years. I admit this with no guilt. I don't feel sheepishly about it at all. For us, co-sleeping was a good thing.
If asked, I think most Americans would probably say that children should never sleep with their parents, citing dire possibile outcomes such as destroyed marriages, suffocated infants, poor future sleeping habits, or even the creation of a child's over-dependence on the parent(s).
It's important to note that my marriage was destroyed before my daughter's birth, so that was not an issue for me as a single Mom. I'm sure there are marriages where this would cause an issue, as men don't generally care for the idea of co-sleeping from what I hear. However, the notion of children sleeping seperately from their parents is actually only about 150 years young here in America. Prior to that most young children slept with their parents or other relatives as the majority of families at the time simply could not afford living arrangements that allowed seperate sleeping quarters. Additionally, it assured that all members of a family, down to the tiniest sibling, stayed warm through the night. I also know current-day families who share a bed with their children and all involved are happy and really ok with the arrangement (Yes - even the Dads).
For very small infants there may be some validity for being cautious about co-sleeping, but definitely no reason to sucuumb to the media's fear-mongering about it. Reports about infants dying from being rolled over on by an adult have been grossly blown out of proportion. They come from data collected between 1980 - 1997 which shows 2,178 cases of unintentional mechanical suffocation of American infants under 13 months old. An alarming number when stated alone, though a closer look through the data shows us that only 139 of those suffocations occurred in an adult bed. The same data shows 428 suffocations occurred in a crib where the infant was sleeping alone. Also, the advice to have a sleeping infant lie on their backs instead of their stomachs wasn't the advice being given during the majority of years the report data was being gathered.
As for co-sleeping developing poor future sleeping habits...I beg to differ. In my own childhood I was petrified of sleeping alone, and had such trouble successfully going to sleep by myself that my sisters took turns for years (until I was done with middle school) sleeping in my bed with me, or having me sleep in their beds with them. All members of my family got a better night's sleep when I was sleeping with someone. Rebecca, now in her own bed, adores sleep and gets plenty of it. If her current sleeping habits are not good it would have to be because she sleeps too much!
With regard to the potential problem of the child becoming overly dependant on it's parent(s) - I would have to disagree also. While I do feel that the years of nightly giggles, snuggling, deep conversation, light conversation, and comfort and security that come from being physically close to a family member have helped create an incredibly deep bond between my daughter and myself - she is very independent. Rebecca is capable of doing all sorts of things without me holding her hand or holding her back. She has an inner confidence that I did not possess at her young age (I wonder if I even have it now). She knows she can depend on me - but she does not feel that she has to depend on me for her own sense of well-being. She's very well-adjusted if I do say so myself. And I do.
All of that to say this: Should we really assume that we know what's best for another family? Should those of us who do allow our children into our beds feel guilty and shameful for doing so? Should those who have their children sleep in their own beds feel that they're doing this parenting thing more successfully? Or rather, should we acknowledge that every family is different. Every family situation varies from one to another. Every child and every parent is unique. Because of all these differences, variances and uniquenesses - bedtime, and the innumerable other parenting decisions, actions and duties we as parents are responsible for - will be handled differently and uniquely in various homes - and whatever way it's all handled in each home is O.K. if it allows the family to get the rest they need to function well together and makes the home a happy one.
I remember people offering, always unsolicited, advice (that's my nice way of saying "I remember people cramming their opinion down my throat while 'tsk, tsking' me") to "Girl you better get that child out of your bed!" So as a young and new mother worrying myself nearly to death about it, I worked up the courage to fearfully ask my pediatrician if it was wrong or harmful to let my sweet child nestle in with me each night and sleep in my bed. His response was "The only thing wrong with letting Rebecca sleep with you is what other people have to say about it. You and only you know what's best for Rebecca and you're doing great so far." God Bless You Dr. Ramey!
My advice, and I offer it the most loving way I know how, is this:
Whether you tuck your child into their own bed tonight, or into yours - make sure you place a kiss upon their cheek, rub their back for a few minutes, get close to your child and breathe in their sweet scent, tell them you love them several times - and then one more time just to be sure they know.
And while you're doing that, I'll be doing what I have done each night while she's been gone... on my way to bed I will stop in her bedroom doorway and stare into the darkness at the bed she left unmade 7 days ago with a dull ache in the pit of my stomach asking myself things like:
Does that over 5 foot long body indention in the messy covers really belong to my little girl?
Is that small flashlight what she's using late a night to write down in her journal all of her secret thoughts, hopes and dreams?
Or worse... is she using it to write her secret bad thoughts and opinions of me?
Or... is she using it read another "Twilight" book instead of finishing "To Kill a Mocking Bird" like I want her too?
Do all of these posters of Robert Pattinson bring her sweet dreams, or do they keep her up sighing and giggling to herself long past when she should have fallen asleep?
Is she really this close to 15, which means we're only a very short time away from 18 years old and her... FUTURE?
And yeah, that last question there - that's the one that looks back at all the years of my precious little girl sleeping in my bed with nothing but Thanks to God for so many happy nights spent with her - that time passed all too quickly and now no matter how tightly I cling to my efforts to keep her young, innocent and mine all mine - she manages to slip through my fingers a little at a time on her way to becoming a young woman ready to take on the world. Yes, there's a long way to go - but it will be a painfully short time to get there.
If you have a moment, listen to the video attached to this link - it's the song Rebecca says she hopes we'll dance to together at her wedding one day *insert my stiffled sob here*...