If you met my 11-year-old, you’d see first and foremost that he is an extremely bright, chatty, self-assured, pizza-loving, video-game obsessed kid. He just started middle school, and is thriving. He’s been busy working on his audition for the school play, and is also working his tush off to make the honor roll. He’s opinionated, fiercely independent, and a good friend.
Oh, and every night he sleeps beside me, in a little bed next to ours.
Half of you are shaking your heads thinking, WTF? An 11-year-old sleeping in your room? Some of you are thinking: “Well, that wouldn’t work for me, but to each their own.” And then there’s a small group of you are silently nodding along, happy that someone is finally talking about how freaking normal this is.
I would never say that all big kids should sleep in their parents’ room. That’s bonkers. I know for a fact that it wouldn’t work for many kids or their parents. Many parents need their space, and I get that.
But the fact is that it isn’t uncommon. It’s stigmatized for sure, but more families than you might think let their big kids sleep in their rooms despite the stigma.
In Japan, for example, where almost all families start off bed-sharing, many big kids sleep in their parents’ room until they are teens.
“Japanese parents (or grandparents) often sleep in proximity with their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river – the mother is one bank, the father another, and the child sleeping between them is the water,” writes James James J. McKenna, Ph.D., an anthropology professor and leading expert on infant sleep.
The fact is, thinking that sleeping with older children is inappropriate or wrong in some way is an American social construct, one you don’t have to buy into if you don’t want to.
Here’s how it happened with us. Like many parents, we co-slept (following all the safety guidelines) with our babies because it made night-waking and nursing easier. Then, when they were toddlers and preschoolers and still woke at night (sickness, bad dreams, restlessness), we invited them into our bedroom, pushing a toddler bed, then a big kid bed, right up next to ours. It was partially to save our sanity, and partially because we liked the closeness and connection.
When he was 5 or so, we set up a bed for our son is his own room. He still has that bed in there, and he sleeps there…sometimes. But he just prefers to sleep in our room. He’s always had trouble falling asleep (unlike his little brother who easily melts into sleep) and is extra needy at night.
Like I said, he is a very independent spirit, and night and evening are often the only times that he will really let loose and talk about his feelings, especially as he’s gotten older. I’m gonna hold onto that as long as I can.
If things were different, and I really wanted the bedroom to myself (my husband and I find time for intimacy after our kids go to sleep, in other rooms of our house), I would be able to lay down the law with him and have him sleep in his own bed.
In fact, there have been a bunch of times – either because I was sick, or my 6-year-old son (who also sleeps in our room) was – that he was easily able to sleep in his room. He’s also slept away from home on several occasions with no issues.
I’ve asked him why he still likes sleeping in our room, and he says that, for him, having those special moments at night with his parents is just really important to him. If there were a good reason why I shouldn’t offer that to him – or if he or I were suffering in some way as a result – I would say “Enough already!”
But that’s not where we are. And I’m happy that there is one small thing like this that can make his life a little sweeter, and keep that special line of connection between us even as he stretches himself away from me.
That’s the thing – he will not want to sleep in our room forever. The teen years are around the corner, and I have a feeling he will be running as far away from us then as he can.
But I’m going to let him hold onto this last shred of childhood as long as he wants to. Because why the heck not?