Co-Sleeping Is Not A Reason For A Guilt Trip

by Clint Edwards
A mother enjoying co-sleeping with her baby in bed
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty

When my first child, Tristan, was born, he wouldn’t sleep for the first three months unless someone sat up on the sofa and held him like a football. I don’t know if this counts as co-sleeping though. We weren’t in the bed, and resting my head on a pillow nestled between our bookshelf and the couch arm wasn’t the most restful. He was sleeping, sure. But my wife, Mel, and I weren’t.

We took turns. Mel usually took the first half of the night, and I took the second, and after three months of this, once we finally got him to sleep while lying down, it was in our bed. He was not interested in the crib, not even a little bit, so we co-slept with him. I can’t remember how long we did this — it’s been over 10 years now — but it was probably somewhere between 9 months and a year. And let me tell you, after three months of struggling to sleep sitting up on the sofa, sleeping with a squirmy baby in the bed felt like heaven.

The wild thing is, after all those months of sitting up with him, trying desperately to get what sleep we could, putting that little dude in our bed sounded like a wonderful option. Naturally, though, lots of parents judged my wife for co-sleeping. They didn’t judge me for it despite the fact that I was the child’s father and completely on board with having our child in bed. It always came down to judging my wife. In fact, I recall having a conversation with a friend of mine at church. He mentioned that I looked tired, and I said that Tristan had been in bed with us.

“Wow,” he said. “You need to talk to your wife about that because it needs to stop.” Then he went on about how we needed to let our son cry it out.

I was a new father, and a relatively new husband, so unfortunately I just listened as he spoke. But I remember sitting at home later that day and wondering why this was my wife’s fault. Then I took a step back and wondered why it was anyone’s fault, and why he felt the need to even have this conversation with me.

I mean, honestly, when someone says they are tired and they have a child three or younger in their home, what you should do is give them condolences, because the reality is, consistent sleep at night is about as likely as getting an bill passed into law — it happens, but not all that often. This is true regardless of whether the child sleeps in your bed or a crib.

But all that aside, I wasn’t so much offended by his advice, as I was that he assumed it was my wife’s fault. Or that he seemed to feel like I was in some supreme position of power to come down on her like some mighty sleep king and put a stop to all this madness.

Bottom line: Mel and I are in a partnership. Sure, we argue from time to time, but it is all in an effort to find a compromise. This is true in all aspects of our relationship — from our budget to our housekeeping to our sleeping arrangements. Furthermore, neither of us is to blame if one of our children isn’t sleeping. In fact, no one is to blame, not even the child, because children not sleeping for the first several years of their lives has much more to do with the reality of children. Some are good sleepers, some suck at it. Blaming a parent for their child not sleeping is like blaming gravity for breaking an egg.

Now I know there are going to be a few sleep experts out there with all the reasons we should pay for their advice, and to you I say, “shut it.” Because the reality is, what parents of young children need right now is support. They don’t need someone throwing advice that may or may not work, and they don’t need someone judging them for co-sleeping. And mothers totally, 100%, don’t need people trying to put the blame of a sleepless child on their shoulders.

Because here’s the reality of it: I have three kids. My youngest is about to turn four. Unless one of them is sick, they all sleep through the night. All of them have slept in our bed for different amounts of time. All of them have moved out when we all felt they were ready. And with each child, Mel and I discussed how to best care for the child in the night, and came to a decision that worked well for our family. It all worked out. It was rough, but parenting young kids is rough. It’s rewarding at times, and other times it makes you want run away and live in the woods. End of story.

I cannot point to a single moment when another parent’s judgment made things better or easier. What we all need to do is spend a little more time focusing on what works for our individual families, and a little less time worrying about what everyone else is up to. We need to realize that all children are different, and have faith that parents are doing everything they can to get their child to sleep, and all of it is rooted in partnership and agreement. And if a child isn’t sleeping, that is no one’s fault. And if a parent is co-sleeping, they made that decision because it was best for their family.

Deal with it.

Ultimately, what we need are more hugs, and less judgment, because being a parent is the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and doing it all on little sleep makes that even more difficult. Let’s be a tribe, people. Let’s all trust and love each other.